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STATE SOCIALISM., Issue 8032, 8 October 1889
Mr Josiah Royce, the American to whose remarks on colonial characteristics we called the attention of our readers a few weeks ago, asks if the problem of State Socialism is to be worked out in these young communities of the Southern Hemisphere. During his sojourn in Australia and New Zealand he saw that the people everywhere looked to the Government for assistance in a manner which was to him, as an American, altogether new. Not only did the central authority provide railways and other public works, but it was constantly intervening in every direction. He quoted some characteristic utterances from the speech of an Australian Minister, in which that functionary showed how his Government had constructed its budget so as to give something to everybody. Encouragement to the mining industry, reduced railway charges for the sake of the farmers, new duties and increased duties for the sake of the town manufacturers, changes in the law to benefit arid areas, a refrigerating depot, bonuses, etc., etc. These were some of the numerous favors offered, so that neither town nor country could complain of Government neglect. All this was so different from what Mr Royce had been accustomed to in his very democratic country, that the conviction was almost forced upon him that the Australasian colonists were deliberately trying to work out a new experiment in the art of government. But there is really no such purpose. Mr Royce has himself indicated how the state of things which astonished him so much began. Australian colonisation was originally a purely Government affair, the first settlements being composed of convicts and officials. In such circumstances the Government was, of course, all in all. It was not only supreme, but constantly operative, throughout the whole domain of human life. Certain habits were thus formed, which stuck to the colonists after they became their own rulers. They kept up the old practice of looking to the Government for assistance in all their enterprises. Mr Royce tells a story, which we presume is not an invention, of a number of squatters who petitioned the Government to stop gold digging because their shepherds and laborers had all gone off to make their pile. This is, indeed, an extreme instance; but it shows that the colonists had come to think a Government was of little practical use unless it was ready to do for them what they wanted. This, it must be confessed, is very much the opinion, whether frankly expressed or tot, of the people of New Zealand at the present time. But the tendency to depend upon Government aid is quite a different kind of thing from State Socialism. Even the resemblance to such a condition of society, which the practices observed with so much wonder by Mr Royce are calculated to produce, is only superficial The whole thing is simply a bad habit, begun in the manner we have seen, and strengthened and confirmed by a variety of other causes. The fact is that the habit is scarcely consistent with the political and social necessities of a thickly populated country; and it will, no doubt, be corrected in these young communities as they develop their bone and muscle. Selfreliance comes, as a rule, only with maturity. TKere are already many unequivocal signs in our own colony that the era of Government dry-nura-ing is drawing to a close. One cause of the peculiarity which distinguishes the Australian colonies from America is to be found in our party government. There is not stability enough in the Executive to resist the demands of the colonists. If the party in power will not grant this railway or that road, this post office or that sludge channel, the log rollers commence operations, and another Government, with no such delicate scruples, is soon in office. Party government has, beyond question, been a great corrupter of colonial politics. One party bids against another for place and power ; and so the public funds are squandered on useless works, while the habit of looking to Government for grants of money and other substantial favors becomes more and more inveterate. The American system, in which the Executive is appointed for a certain term, and knows no control except that of the laws of the land, has its evils too; but there can be no doubt that responsible government is attended with very serious inconveniencies, especially in a young country, where, strange to say, “ Give, give,” is the universal cry. Referring to the speech of the Australian budget-framer above - mentioned, Mr Royce says:—“ When one sees that “ such are the proposals, not of de- “ magogues by any means, but of the “sincerest and ablest statesmen in “Australia, one sees how far this “ system of responsible government “ can lead people.” It led New Zealand, one of the finest countries in the world, into the desperate slough of despond out of which it is now only slowly emerging; and it is only too surely preparing the same fate for some of the other colonies.
The evils of responsible government would, however, have been comparatively trivial but for one thing—viz., the facility with which the colonies could raise loans. Mr Royce makes no reference to the borrowing propensities of the colonists. This is somewhat remarkable, not only because the Australasian colonies in general, and New Zealandpn particular,
have been for years held up to the world’s scorn for their enormous indebtedness, but also because there as nothing more abhorrent to the American mind than public debt. Here in New Zealand every town or township would borrow to the last possible shilling to get its streets well lighted and well paved, and for a score of other conveniences which Americans would rather forego than pay interest on loans. This public thrift is doubtless an inheritance from the ante-borrowing times. It is at any rate characteristic of the Americans as a nation, as witness their eager determination to pay off their Avar debt with the utmost possible expedition. It so happened, however, that these colonies received the perilous gift of responsible government just at the time when money was rapidly accumulating at Home, and when their own gold discoveries made them believe that they were, in prospect at least, rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Believing their resources to be inexhaustible—as in one sense, of course, they are—the colonists also seemed to believe that it would scarcely be possible to borrow too much in order to develop them. Accordingly, when the gold fever •abated, the excitement was kept up by the Public Works policy. Then began the universal scramble; party government, so to speak, carrying tin its operations on a basis of borrowing ! Another cause of the phenomena in question may be described as provincialism. Instead of looking tiroii themselves as several sections of one country, the Australian colonies en-1 gaged in a keen rivalry with one, another. Governments were thus importuned for expenditure in this direction and in that, in ■order that their respective colonies might not be beaten by their neighbors. A friendly attitude would have been better in every respect for all concerned. But young countries are not over-wise, any more than young men ; and it is only now beginning to dawn upon the Australians that as their interests are common, their jealousies and rivalries are as impolitic as they are selfish. Australian federation and intercolonial Ereetrade are becoming, however slowly, the watchwords of tho day. New Zealand, lying outside of Australia, may possibly never become politically united with the other colonies. But while it, too, has suffered in in a degree from what we have called provincial rivalry, it has had a provincialism of its own which has wrought no little mischief in the way of causing useless or wasteful expenditure. Localism is rampant throughout all the colonies, but here its rampancy has been intensified—first, by tin, existence of our provincial institutions; and then .by the traditions which they left behind after they were swept away. But this is a subject with which New Zealanders are sufficiently familiar. Everybody knows that district jealousy and district greed are the bane of New Zealand politics. This combination of selfish qualities vitiated the Public Works policy, reducing our representatives to the position o£ soliciting agents and the Government to a dispenser of public alms. Such is the rather commonplace explanation of those phenomena which Mr Roycb was tempted to regard as a species of State Socialism. They are simply a passing phase in the history of these young communities. In our own Colony, where the appearances were perhaps most marked, a decided reaction has already set in. A new era has, in fact, been formally introduced by the present Ministry, in accordance with the wishes of the public. Unlimited borrowing and spending is now seen to be a mistake. The Government must in future confine itself to its proper functions, and not merely to that of raising loans for the purpose of subsidising all manner of local bodies, and providing conveniences, not to say luxuries, for the public generally. The heavy taxation which big loans inevitably entail is restoring the robust British mind, which had suffered a temporary derangement, to its normal condition; and if Mr Royce should pay New Zealand another visit in ten years or so he would find that the marks of State Socialism, which struck him as so strange in an English-speaking community, had almost entirely disappeared.
STATE SOCIALISM., Issue 8032, 8 October 1889
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