"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable." ~ H.L. Mencken
A Freedom Lover's Faustian Bargain
Exclusive to STR
I have read many pro-freedom articles on Strike The Root, but one of the strangest was Jim Davies' piece "Handouts." Somehow, I had a hard time reconciling what I was reading there, with Thoreau's quote at the top of the page. Who'd-a thunk it? That we could hack at the root of evil by profiting from it? I mean, how cool is that?
Still, I thought I would try to apply a critique of Jim's six points, to make sure I'm not letting him lead me down the garden path ending up in a place I don't want to be. Some of this may appear repetitious, if only because his points also appear that way.
The first thing to notice is that Jim admits, ". . . to accept the handout is to be complicit in that aggression." What he does subsequently, however, is simply to ignore that point, as if it is a detail to be brushed aside.
He then claims that, ". . . our prime ethical objective is to terminate government outright . . . ."--and to go no further until that is resolved! Well, I guess I must be a bad person because I did go further even though I did not agree. In fact I'm amazed he can make such a statement. It's somewhat like saying the prime objective is to protect the Union , therefore we must war on secessionists. Virtually anything can be justified by agreeing with his premise. Hegelian events? No problemo! Profiting from evil? Just fine, as long as it (allegedly) makes government go away more quickly!
I would respond to Jim that our prime ethical objective is to live decent, honest, non-aggressive (some would say "Godly") lives--and that getting rid of government is one of the best ways to have more people do the same. But let's not put the cart before the horse! If we had to get rid of this government by wallowing in its evil, it wouldn't be long before another government had its boot on our neck again. As Sam Adams put it, "For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when Knowledge is diffus'd and Virtue is preserv'd. On the contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauch'd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders." Dumping morality in order to get free? Sorry, it doesn't work that way!
Let's examine his six points in detail. His comments are italicized.
'First, it's impossible consistently to reject all government benefits . . . .
One answer might be Okay, some it's impossible to reject, but on ethical grounds we ought to reject all that we can.
Very well, but notice: The ethical purist has now had to step down from his high ground.
Jim has cleverly restructured reality so that the only people whose ethics remain unsullied by compromise are those who are dead.
Notice that the government he so abhors cannot fail to be pleased if this is the popular reading of reality. "Walk on that sidewalk? Great! Join the rest of us pigs wallowing in the muck!"
He even had the gall to use "unemployment insurance" to buttress this argument, an institution people had long done without for so many years, an institution literally chock full of moral hazard. Was life really that bad when a person had to be more prudent in his financial affairs, when he had to depend on friends, family and church for a little help over the rough spots, when getting a new job was easy because hiring posed no risk to an employer? Is it now impossible to be prudent? I agree it is harder. That's government for you!
Sorry, Jim. 'One does not lose the moral high ground because government usurpation has eliminated all free market alternatives.
'My second reason: Refusal is enormously costly . . .
It's hard to know what to do with this argument. Yes, not accepting stolen money can be "costly." His example is Socialist Security. His argument works well for a 60-year old. It doesn't work so hot for a 30-year old, who won't receive a penny from Socialist Security. "Let 'em eat cake," eh?
My third is that refusal of government handouts is in any case irrelevant and ineffective to the key aim of terminating the existence of government . . .
This may be so. It may even be counterproductive to that end, to refrain from going on the dole. But should that really be our primary aim? As I said, anything is justifiable if you start from the most advantageous premise.
But, it may also be false. Rejecting government may in fact be a way to make it go away more quickly. Ever wonder why educrats have been trying everything they can to get homeschooled kids back into government schools? They don't want people getting the idea that not only is homeschooling better for kids, but it is even easier for the parents than the government alternative. After all is said and done, are homeschoolers making the state last longer by not consuming "education" funds, or are they making it go away more quickly? I think the answer is pretty clear.
Fourth: to accept every goodie in sight takes money out of its hands, and therefore makes government harder to operate, and therefore tends to increase the probability of its raising taxes (or printing more money, which is the same thing but less visible) and therefore tends to make the voting population less satisfied with the system.
So . . . all that time I was voting against tax increases, I was wrong? Now that I've given up on voting, that's wrong too? I guess anything can be rationalized if you work hard enough at it. Anything is justified if you pick the advantageous premise, that of "ending government."
Fifth: to accept handouts is a form of theft-recovery.
So . . . say someone steals my motorcycle. I go out and steal the first one I see under the rubric "theft recovery"? No problem with that?
The money stolen from us is not sitting in a vault in the District of Criminals. It has been pissed away years ago. One does not (ethically) recover from theft by victimizing an innocent third party.
Lastly, while it's true that everything government hands out it first steals from someone else, it's also true (like it or not) that most of those theft victims voted for the system as we know it.
'That'll show 'em. Revenge is fun and profitable!
This argument sounds a tad collectivist, though. Lots of people voted against the current system, or (more importantly) refrained from voting. In fact, I would say most people fall into one of those two categories; look at the voter stats.
'So much for the arm waving. It's still theft. You can paper that fact over, or you can stare it in the face. If you had to do the stealing yourself, rather than using government as your middleman, would you do it? Even if you "needed" it? Stick a gun in your neighbor's face, and tell him to hand it over, "all for a good cause"? Or would you try something else?
'One way to judge some policy, is to imagine how the world would look if everyone did it. If everyone did as Jim suggests, we'd be living in a socialist Hell, with no motivation to work any more; and after a while all these rationalizations for theft would be forgotten, because everyone would be a whore (my apologies to real whores). If, on the other hand, everyone rejected government bennies, then government's main prop for its continued existence would cease to exist, and we would be free.
One of the easiest things for human beings to do is to rationalize bad behavior. I suspect Jim's article has more to do with rationalization, than with any newfound way for us to get free. It's a Faustian bargain.
A more sensible program is to take as little from government as you can stand, and give it as little as you can get away with. In other words, don't victimize others, and try not to be a victim yourself. And don't give up, even if you can't be perfect.
Jim finishes by saying that with a few exceptions, we should take every government bennie we can lay our hands on, while denouncing it for offering them. Well, if that denunciation is mental, I would respond that, "Actions matter, not thoughts." And if the denunciation is verbal? Yeah, that will go over really well--paying at the cashier with food stamps while complaining that government gave them to you! What a great way to enhance one's credibility.