Worth noting

“Mr. Kiplinger warned me in the mail this morning that I could expect more controls, and he was right. Twenty minutes later I went out to the barn and there they were — two of them. They were from the State. One of them had put a hook in my cow’s nose and was pulling hard, the other was poised with a needle, about to draw a sample of blood from her neck. She was still my cow, as I recalled it, and it was still my barn, but you wouldn’t have known it from their manner, which was one of complete authority. When I expressed a mild interest in the proceedings they explained that it was the Bang’s test and the State was putting on a campaign or something.

It happens that I thoroughly approve of the Bang’s test. I like it so well that I had made certain before buying the cow that she had recently been tested by a veterinary. (The men in my barn didn’t ask about that.) I also thoroughly approve of the old idea that a man’s home is his castle and that anyone who arrives with a needle is expected to knock before entering. Seeing the hook in Sukey’s nose and the look of pain in her eyes gave me the same sort of start a person might get from suddenly entering his own home and finding his wife trussed up with sash-cord. I think it was probably a very lucky thing that I thoroughly approved of the Bang’s test, otherwise the State might have found itself with one less control.

The incident sticks in my mind. The dismal thing about controls — which Mr. Kiplinger failed to put in his letter — is that they seem unable to make our lives more agreeable in some particulars without making them insupportable in others. I its zeal to wipe out undulant fever in my neighborhood, the State had run quite a temperature in my barn. I was patient and helped the State regain its health, but it will never be the same again, and I can imagine the effect the incident might have had on a cow ownerwho might have been unsympathetic toward the whole idea of cow testing.

… The most challenging control which occupies the attention of our social architects and designers is of course the control of wealth. Observe the manly attempt which is being made, here and abroad, to keep the profit system alive by artificial respiration. In England Sir William Beveridge has completed a magnificent edifice of general insurance in which everyone will contribute toward a common fund designee to minimize the hard luck of everyone else. Here is the actuary’s dream. England becomes a nation of bookkeepers, and a man walks from the cradle to the grave hand in hand with the claims adjuster and the noary public. even the author of this notable plan by which the ultimate risk is calculated admits that the whole business will collapse unless the policy-holders, in their myriad enterprises, prosper.

I sometimes think that the profit system, which today is undergoing such extensive alterations that it will emerge unrecognizable, might easily have been made to serve everyone rather well if it had been given a fair trial. The trouble with the profit system has always been that it was highly unprofitable to most people. The profits went to the few, the work went to the many. I think our phrase, “Common man” came to mean the man who never managed to get his hands on anything but a pay envelope, and sometimes not on that. You became uncommon when you had capital to invest or an idea to develop. Usually you had neither, and were common as dirt. Profits flowed into closely guarded channels which led into a mysterious sea.”

— E.B. White, “Control,”1942

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