Alberdi On Public Expenditure: It Is Not Only The Government That Makes It, The Community Itself

Foto de Martin Krause
Martin Krause

Member of the Academic Council of Libertad y Progreso.
PhD in Administration from the Catholic University of La Plata and Professor of Economics at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences of the UBA. His research has been collected internationally and he has published books and scientific and outreach articles. He has served as Rector of ESEADE and as a consultant for the University of Manchester, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, OAS, IDB and G7Group, Inc. He has received awards and scholarships, including the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship and the Freedom Project of the John Templeton Foundation. – Juan Bautista Alberdi in the Economic and Rentistic System analyzes the object of public spending according to the National Constitution, but at the end of the chapter he raises a very interesting topic in these times: there is no to think only of the State’s spending to solve the problems that are in society:

“In the meantime, I will observe, to finish talking about public spending, that not all of it consists of the expense with which society satisfies its public order needs through the government, but also in that which it makes directly and immediately, by the hand of its inhabitants, in the improvement, comfort and improvement of their cities, in the relief and relief of the unfortunate classes, and finally in all that order of services that society does to itself, without the intermediary of authority, in the fastest and most complete sense of prosperity. – To that expense belong the streets, cobblestones, roadways, roads, bridges, drains, local improvements, monuments, public and eventual relief, which are made by voluntary subscriptions raised among the neighborhood.

That expense is the exclusive work of the public spirit, that is, of the disposition and aptitude of the inhabitants to unite their efforts and lend them, without more coercion than the desire for common welfare, with no other aim than to realize it. Peoples educated in servitude have no idea of ​​this lawless contribution, that patriotism imposes on itself, like the slave who does everything for his master and by his command has no idea of ​​generous zeal.

England, the United States owe half of their local improvements to that contribution that the country pays without being required by law, nothing more than for the pleasure of existing well and in a way worthy of the people who know how to esteem and Respect yourself even in your external decorum, even in the distinguished and bright air of those collective rooms for your mansion, which are called cities.

Of the omission of this spontaneous expense that weighs on the public spirit, who can be held responsible? – Certainly not to the government, which has nothing to do with it, but to the country, which is not encouraged by that impulse inherent in every country educated in freedom. The lack of public spirit in our nominal Republics has half the responsibility for its own backwardness. The government may be the other in a large part, I do not doubt, but she does not excuse that of the country. Meanwhile, it is the pretext that relieves from all scruples the abject wastelessness of our manumitted cities. Does the government prevent you from painting, renovating, beautifying your buildings every three months? Does it prevent you from lighting them brightly at night? Does it prevent you from making doors, sidewalks, cobblestones, bridges, roads for your own comfort? – You will say yes. – I will tell you then that who hinders it is the same power that makes you eat badly, dress worse, live in gloomy and sad houses, live petty and poor life.

Half of the country’s organization is in the organization of the person himself. What did Montesquieu mean when he said that the government of freedom was the most expensive of governments? – That he is the one who demands more sacrifices, not more tributes. The strongest part of the price that liberty costs the Nation resides in the service rendered in consecration, in zeal, in free and voluntary participation by its inhabitants in favor of the work of their own and common well-being.

Being free does not consist of spending the morning in the cafe loudly denying all the acts of the government; it is to live in continuous eagerness and in perpetual request, it is to take part in everything that interests the Nation; above all, it is to live with your hand in your pocket, -fiscal and home office-, in which each citizen has a more effective power of public action than the rifle of the national guard, useless tool to make roads and bridges, to beautify the cities.

Selfish leisure is an excuse to escape its duties of freedom, that is, of activity and work in the common interest, because this is freedom. He carries his deviation until he turns indifferent abstention into a good tone and proof of civility. The selfish man becomes a type of the honest citizen, and the best recommendation of the good judgment of a neighbor is to say that “he is a person who mixes nothing.”

We have lived centuries accepting what the royal guardian gave us and formed in comfortable and pleasant pupils. The precedent of centuries governs our real life under the empire of the written Republic. At the slightest felt need we look up at Dad.

Before the government was the master, today it is the servant; this is all the difference from the colony to the Republic: as for the neighbor, his role is always the same: – accept everything that is given to him, without doing anything for himself. ”