Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stealing Democratically

It has become a widely accepted position that the voting public can vote in politicians who promise to change laws so as to seize part of the wealth of certain people - deemed to be 'the rich' - and then turn around and redistribute that money to other people - deemed to be 'the needy' - and that this action is morally right.

Why is stealing right?

Augustine tells of an encounter between Alexander the Great and a pirate, who cheekily said to the Emperor: "Why is it that when I do with my one ship what you do with your great fleet, it is called robbery?" Well, that is a good question. Alexander, like many other emperors before and since was roaming around the world invading, conquering and looting territories too weak to defend themselves from his army and navy.

Private property is private property and stealing is stealing. I don't see any escape from this logic. The Bible is full of calls to the rich to share generously with the poor but I don't see any calls in Scripture for governments to play Robin Hood and steal from the rich in order to give to the poor. Insofar as the king is rich, he too is obligated to be charitable and insofar as a government is rich it too is obligated to be charitable.

But to be charitable to the poor, who have a claim on our generosity because everyone has to live and to ignore the needs of the poor is scandalous in God's eyes, is not the same as adopting a government policy that wealth should be relatively equal and that this should be accomplished by the coercive power of the state.

Karl Marx offered a possible theoretical justification for government redistribution of wealth in the theory of surplus value, which says that workers are entitled to the full value of the products of industry after the costs of production are subtracted. In other words, profits are immoral. But this is a myth based on the fallacy that entrepreneurship, risk-taking and creativity are of no value in the production of goods and services. This is simply implausible.

So why do so many of us so readily assume that government redistribution of wealth by coercion is morally justifiable? Why do so many even go further and claim that it is morally obligatory and urgently required by justice? Why is stealing deemed morally right when it is done by a large, powerful entity against which there is no recourse and varnished with the trappings of procedural democracy in which the majority vote themselves a share of the private property of the few?

I got thinking about this today because of the events taking place in Madison, WI, where a special interest group, the public sector unionized workers, are attempting to subvert democracy and frustrate the will of the people. Gov. Scott Walker ran on a platform of balancing the budget by rolling back the power and excessive benefits of public employees and he won decisively. Yet, when he proceeds to implement his election platform as promised, the public employees march, scream and call him Hitler.

It is funny, isn't it, how social democrats scream "injustice" when democracy works against them, yet are happy to utilize it whenever they can to loot the public treasury. Unions spend hundreds of millions electing Democratic politicians, who then become their employers. These politicians clearly have a conflict of interest but they never declare it. Instead, they pay off their supporters with cushy contracts and collect the next round of donations in preparation for the next election. It is a corrupt system run for the benefit of the politicians and the unions at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. And it is all justified in the name of "democracy" until the majority of taxpayers catch on to the game

Now the majority is going to take back from the few what the few originally took from the majority. But it is all so democratic.

Maybe the problem here is that democracy is being misused and abused. Maybe the problem is that stealing is still stealing even when it is done democratically. Maybe the problem is that democracy is not the right way to set prices and wages. Maybe the market should do that and government should restrict itself to the limited functions of maintaining law and order, national defense and such matters.

Maybe stealing democratically is still stealing. After all, the Eighth Commandment does not say: "Thou shalt not steal, unless by majority vote."

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