Tuesday, September 09, 2008


From the Obama - O'Reilly interview last week, about raising taxes on the wealthy:


Well, but the problem is, if I am sitting pretty, and you've got a waitress who is making minimum wage plus tips, and I can afford it if she can't, what's the big deal for me to say I'm going to pay a little bit more? That is neighborliness.

Suppose I was your neighbor. And suppose I know of a waitress making minimum wage who's having trouble keeping up on her bills. So, I come and ask you if you'll donate some money to help her stay afloat. OK, now that's "neighborliness".

Now - new thought experiment - again suppose I'm your neighbor. I still know of said waitress, and my intentions are still utterly pure - I just want to help her out. But this time, I show up at your house, with the police standing behind me, and I say "Hey - I want to help this waitress. It's a really noble cause. Oh, and if you don't give me money to help her, these police are going to take you to jail."

That's only "neighborliness" if you're Barack Obama. To me, that's called any of "the nanny state" or "socialism" or "income redistribution." Those are highly charged terms, but - that's exactly what this is. People don't pay their taxes as "charity" - they pay them because they don't have a choice. If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. Removing the person's choice in the matter changes the action of helping the waitress from charity to government coercion.

Dale Franks at QandO had an excellent treatment on this about a year ago, from which I'll liberally quote here:

The basis of socialism—and that's what it is, no matter what prettier, more trendy name you prefer—is that you will intentionally harm Person A to some degree, in order to help Person B.

Now, I'm sure we're all keen to see Person B get help, but what moral reason justifies harming Person A to supply that help?

I mean, it's not enough to say, "Well, Person A is only harmed a little bit. He doesn't need all that money." Because, even if the harm is slight, you are intentionally causing harm to an innocent person, for no other reason than its a convenient way to help Person B. But convenience, whatever else it may be, is not a moral justification.

After all, Person A isn't harming Person B. He isn't culpable for Person B's problem. So, what justifies taking Person A's property, simply because person B could make some use of it? Is it because Person A is morally different in some definable way from person B?

And, while we're on the subject, what is the limiting principle for taking something from one person by force, in order to give it to another?

For instance, we could conceivably save a number of lives by requiring, by law, that every healthy citizen report to the local blood bank at least twice a year, in order to "donate" blood. It would be a slight inconvenience for us to all trudge down to the blood bank every six months or so, but it wouldn't really cost us anything significant, and we aren't really harmed by donating a pint of blood. And, it would probably save a number of lives every year. So, why don't we make that a law?

Another argument that one might make is that, "Well, most people think it would be a good thing to do it. So it's a democratic decision."

Okay, but how does the fact that most people want something done morally justify doing it? At various times in history, a majority of people have wanted to do any number of awful, harmful things. But democratic legitimacy is, again, a legal concept. Not a moral one. Democracy is nothing more than a means for deciding what public policy will be. It is morally neutral. Just because a lot of people want to do something, doesn't make it a moral thing to do.

The bottom line for socialism is that it claims a moral right to take the property—and if necessary, the freedom, or even the lives—of one class of people by force, in order to distribute it to another class of people. I simply want to know what the moral justification for that claimed right might be. This is not about convenience. It's not about the needs of the afflicted. It's about philosophy.

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