How to Hurt the Poor

Column by B.R. Merrick.

Exclusive to STR

It didn’t spark this column; it merely stoked the flames: Arthur Silber is sick. Arthur is also poor. Arthur, who is a fantastic and observant writer, is reduced to begging. Chris Floyd, another fantastic writer and Silber admirer, has urged his readers to give something to Arthur to help. One of Floyd’s readers commented, “I would even put him up in my home and treat him to some free Canadian health care if it were possible (still can’t BELIEVE he has to pay for his health care, in the richest country in the universe).” I pulled the discussion off-topic briefly when I responded, but when a simple, divine, beautiful word like “free” is so misused, I find it hard to keep the fingers from pounding away at the keys. Floyd’s followers, for the most part, are “progressive.” In the interest of people like Arthur, and in a forum better suited to going off-topic from his suffering, allow me to show you how I see it.

We are told continuously that if we are good, we care about the poor. You’ve probably had it drilled into you. You’ve probably also heard that free marketeers (or that far filthier word “capitalists”) don’t care enough about the poor. We’re all too self-interested, after all. You’ve probably read somewhere about how the free market, in the absence of a kind, benevolent government, would be disastrous for the poor. The “progressive” arguments on behalf of the poor are sharp, multitudinous, age-old, and deeply embedded in the psyches of millions. Discussion of what to do with the poor, whom Jesus said we always have with us (John 12:8), seldom gets to the root, however. You cannot expect a “progressive” to get there any faster than a Tea Partier. Having made a few half-hearted attempts in my life at being good, and having some care and concern for others, allow me to offer you a meme that may just eventually go a long way towards helping the poor by getting closer to that root:
When a regulation is passed, the first to suffer are the poor, and they will suffer the hardest.
It is my sincere hope that what follows will adequately explain why I believe that statement is factual. To illustrate, I would like to point to an article in The Christian Science Monitor about Dr. Hasan, a nice guy who helps nice people. It really is nice that a nice doctor cares about the nice Pakistani poor. It’s also nice that he’s found a free market solution to a serious problem. After all, “Mr. Shah, who earns just $150 a month, paid nothing for the MRI scans and treatment he received, worth some $1,400. He now has returned to work.”
Well, that should be the end of it, shouldn’t it? The good people at The Christian Science Monitor (who care about the poor) have praised a nice guy who helps nice, poor people. But, you may ask, why were the very nice Mr. Shah’s medical bills so high? Were his legs accidentally severed? Did someone have to tinker in his brain with delicate instruments?
From what the article mentions, he needed MRIs, and, I am assuming, some other routine treatment. MRI scans are currently in the price range of $400 to $3,500, something the article fails to mention. One reason is that “MRI equipment is expensive. 1.5 tesla scanners often cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.” Furthermore, “MRI scanners have been significant sources of revenue for healthcare providers in the US. This is because of favorable reimbursement rates from insurers and federal government programs.” Of course, insurance companies can’t give “favorable reimbursement rates” if they don’t have customers paying high premiums, and the federal government can’t develop any “program” that pays a healthcare entrepreneur unless it takes money by force from someone else . . . deadly force if necessary. But even this acknowledgement doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Perhaps the contributors to Wikipedia will help us to do that. According to them, the co-inventor of the MRI, Paul Lauterbur, tried unsuccessfully to file a patent, but The University of Nottingham in Britain did so on his behalf, and “made Mansfield wealthy.” (Then he sat around in the parlor deciding which words were “woody” and which were “tinny,” I suppose.) And there it is, folks.
You want to know why MRIs are so damned expensive? Because someone has a patent. Before I continue, please understand that I am not an economist. I will never be able to impress anyone with any detailed knowledge of most economic factors. But the basics, like physics, can be understood by anyone. This leads me to the basic economic law of supply and demand. If supply increases while demand decreases, the price tends to go down. If the reverse, the price goes up. Simple. So simple, in fact, that it escapes people who are much smarter than I am. A man can figure out something as complicated as an MRI machine, yet fail to realize that every regulation passed raises the price. How does this happen?
In the case of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Equipment, every entrepreneur out there who wants to fabricate such a device has to get Lauterbur’s permission, or rather, whichever current patent holder gives permission on behalf of the late inventor. This means money. Otherwise, the patent carries the distant threat of a gun. This unavoidable outcome increases the cost of creating a bigger, better MRI. This cost will ultimately be transferred to the consumer. If not, then the entrepreneur will soon be out of business. Poor people are among consumers, and now their dollars don’t go as far. They will suffer.
But that’s not all. There are other entrepreneurs who are turned off to the idea of making their own versions of an MRI, even though they can take apart an old one fairly easily to see exactly how it works. Inside one of those entrepreneur’s brains is the spark of an idea, when he notices that the doohickey doesn’t quite extend as far as it should in order for the front left button on the thingy to work properly. Unfortunately, he either doesn’t wish to bother getting the patent holder’s permission, or he doesn’t have the funds necessary to pay. So he’s out of the game. This further reduces the supply of MRI providers. This will be reflected in the price of available MRIs. Less poor people will be able to afford the new price. They will suffer.
But that’s not all. The government regulates the use of these machines. They regulate the trucking companies that deliver them. They regulate the mining industry that harvests the precious metals that are melted to make crucial parts of the machine. They regulate how much the manufacturers of MRIs should pay their employees. They steal money from the employees, making them even more upset about their “low” wages. They regulate the universities that doctors attend, meaning that there are fewer universities for prospective medicos to choose from, and higher tuition due to the artificially low supply of universities. They insist on making it extremely difficult to fire professors who have tenure, increasing the amount universities need to pay their teachers, and driving up tuition artificially once more. They continue to regulate the doctors in their “private” businesses, and steal from them as well. The price goes up and up and up. Poor people’s funds seldom go up at the same rate. They will suffer.
But that’s not all. It only gets worse. The government does this for so long that no one notices anymore, nor questions the workings of this coercive body in what ought to be a free market. Therefore, all anybody sees is that horrific price tag on a single, uncomfortable, claustrophobic MRI scan. “Geez! $500??!! Can’t my elected representative do something about this??!! It’s the insurance companies!”
But that’s not all. Those insurance corporations are heavily regulated too, driving out would-be competitors, artificially reducing the supply of providers, and driving up the cost of buying insurance. Doctors (including one of my former chiropractors) get sick of dealing with bureaucratic insurance companies, virtually indistinguishable from governmental bureaucracy, and drop out, or stop taking insurance altogether. This reduces the supply of doctors, and drives up the overall price. This means less poor people will be getting MRIs, some of which could be life-saving. They will suffer.
But that’s not all. Progressives then get out their little drums and start beating on them. Why oh why can’t we be like Canada? Because, my dear, when a coercive, death-oriented government gets rid of the price that it unintentionally drove too high, the price is replaced with a queue. The poor at the front of the line will not suffer. Neither will the rich people at the end of the line. The latter will simply get on their private jets and fly elsewhere. The poor who remain at the end of the line, however, will suffer. (Unless nice Dr. Hasan comes along.) But at least they don’t have to pay. I can assure you that once I’m dead, I really won’t be able to give a damn about the highly regulated cost of the funeral. Some poor man’s family, though . . .
Libertarians, minarchists, Constitutionalists, anarchists, agorists, voluntaryists, abolitionists, root strikers, capitalists, Tea Partiers, and entrepreneurs are frequently singled out as not caring enough about the poor. I would simply point out that the only thing liberty-minded and semi-liberty-minded individuals need do is hammer home, as loudly and assertively as “progressives” who advocate the opposite, that a free market is the best damn thing for a poor man.  Any number of greedy and non-greedy capitalists, even those with only (presumably) half a brain, can participate, inventing newer, better MRI machines; newer, better ways of delivering them; newer, better ways of using them; newer, better ways of keeping the cost of production down; newer, better ways of fill-in-the-blank. The greedy entrepreneurs are hindered from initiating coercion, as there is no ultimately coercive body to which they can appeal. They will be forced to prove themselves to volitional actors or become pirates. As Gary North recently (and brilliantly) pointed out, we don’t know all the ways that the free market operates so well. It just does. Leave it alone, Hillary.
Regulation hurts the poor, and it hurts them the worst. “Progressivism,” since it is premised upon the initiation of coercion, is a death-oriented ideology that hurts the poor, and it hurts them the worst.
Likewise, coercive, death-oriented, “conservative” religious views – foisted upon an uneducated and abject population, that instruct them never to use birth control or God will send them to Hell – create more poor people (since the proles refuse to stop screwing), and in spite of their immense love for their large families, these poor people suffer first and foremost, since the same small amount of money is now required to feed so many new people.
Furthermore, a business environment that boasts a free market where none can be found may fool some of the people some of the time, but will continue relentlessly to hurt all of the poor people first and worst all of the time. Businessmen with a penchant for grabbing the nearest thug’s gun are no friends of mine. They are legion now, and it is unfortunately much more of a chore to support family businesses and cash transactions than I would like it to be. (As a free man, however, I can attest that the hunt is exciting!)
Telling a man what to do kills his volition. More death will follow. Every regulation is someone telling someone else what to do. Each regulation increases the cost of living for someone, somewhere. That someone has to raise the price of what he’s selling, or he’s out of the game. His poor neighbor is going to feel it the most. That feeling will cause stress. Stress kills. These are easy, simple, logical progressions, people. Why won’t anybody look at them and acknowledge?
If you are poor, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are rich, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are middle class, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are an entrepreneur, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are black, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are Mormon, the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you, like so many words, are “woody” or “tinny,” the best thing for you is to be left alone. If you are alive, the best thing for you is to be left alone. This will reduce the cost and stress of your life, and increase the wealth you produce and maintain.
If you are a “progressive,” understand two things: 1.) There’s a reason I keep putting the word “progressive” in quotes; and 2.) Pass a regulation and hurt someone poor. You aren’t going to find a “progressive,” intellectual, sophisticated, mythological, spiritual, or technological way around that one. It’s natural law, and natural law doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, “progressive” or “conservative,” or alive or dead. This is why the natural law, end result of any and every regulation mows over poor people first: It doesn’t care, and it never will. Try wearing that on your sleeve sometime.

Correction added on 7-Apr-2011: One of the readers in the comments below was good enough to help me make a distinction between "natural law," which is derived from "natural rights," and "natural laws," which are what I am actually referring to in the body of the article.

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B.R. Merrick's picture
Columns on STR: 35

B.R. Merrick writes for "Strike The Root" and "A Voice for Men," is  proud to be a classical music reviewer at and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.


Michael Kleen's picture

I really enjoyed this column, B.R., especially your last couple of paragraphs - keep it up!

B.R. Merrick's picture

Thanks, Michael!

Suverans2's picture

G'day B.R. Merrick,

I not sure I understand:

(1) "It’s natural law, and natural law doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, “progressive” or “conservative,” or alive or dead."

If you are saying that natural law is not respectful of the persons (masks) of men, I agree[1].

You then proceed to say, "This why the natural law"... Why it what, "...mows over poor people first", (which is the next part of that sentence)? That would make it respectful of the persons of men, if I am not mistaken. But I admit, I may be reading it wrong.

Any help would be appreciated.

[1] I think, however, that you may find that the natural law of man is the law of the living, and not the dead.

B.R. Merrick's picture

G'day to you too, sir!

I defer to you on all matters of natural law, because I didn't even accept it fully until after I debated with you on another article. I am still engaged in an internal debate (somewhat) on natural rights, where I also look forward to your comments.

When I think of natural law, I am referring to what I got from Wikipedia:

"Natural law or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis) has been described as a law whose content is set by nature and that therefore is universal. As classically used, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The phrase natural law is opposed to the positive law (meaning 'man-made law', not 'good law'; cf. posit) of a given political community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to criticize that law."

My reading of this is: Natural law tells me that Mt. St. Helens is a physical phenomenon that does not think; therefore, it has no regard for human life. So when it blew, it took 57 people out of this life, rich and poor alike. (When I write about natural law, believe it or not, this is the macabre scenario I keep coming up with in my mind.)

The sentence you pointed out where it seems to be "respectful of persons" is, in a way, a personification of natural law, or just my writing style. What that means is that when the laws of economics bend to the coercive nature of regulation, economic inequities will be most harshly felt by sentient beings with little means to pay for desired goods and services. Economics will work according to what individual actors do to the economy, whether volitionally or coercively. Like Mt. St. Helens, a higher price doesn't care whether you're rich or poor. But when you look at your hospital bill, it certainly seems like the price has malicious intent, doesn't it?

You also said, "If you are saying that natural law is not respectful of the persons (masks) of men, I agree." Then I think we are definitely in agreement.

Suverans2's picture

G'day B.R. Merrick,

Thank you for your friendly greeting and kind words.

I'm going to blurt this out, before even reading the rest of your reply, because I have to go to work early, this morning.

I humbly apologize if this sounds condescending, but it is a very common error, even with the "experts", to confuse the laws of nature, which is physical law, (as in your examples of Mt St. Hellens and the laws of economics), with the law of nature, which is, in this case, the natural law of man. The natural law of man, according to Noah Webster (c.1825), is "a rule of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings...and existing prior to any positive precept," which is virtually identical to the one you found in Wikipedia; "natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior".

Once this separation between the laws of nature and the law of nature is clear in our mind it takes not much more than common sense to discover what the natural laws of man are, and how to properly apply them, on a case-by-case basis. The natural law is basically a negative law, in that what you don't want done to you, AGAINST YOUR WILL, you may not do to others, AGAINST THEIR WILL. And, the breaking of any of these laws is a manifest act of consent to have that which you do to others, AGAINST THEIR WILL, done to you. Examples: If you steal a hundred doll-hairs from someone you are manifestly consenting to have one hundred doll-hairs taken from you; if you take, or attempt to take, someone's life, AGAINST THEIR WILL, you are manifestly consenting to forfeit your own life, et cetera, et cetera.

FOR'FEIT, v.t. To lose or render confiscable [liable to forfeiture], by some fault, offense or crime; to lose the right to some species of property or that which belongs to one [including one's life]... ~ Webster's 1828 American Dictionary [Bracketed information added]

This is why those who wish to rule over you and I, HATE, beyond most men's comprehension, the natural law of man, it "can function as a standard by which to criticize [man-made] law." Knowing this, they resort to their usual modus operandi, discredit and destroy. Same holds true for natural rights, so we play right into their hand when we try to discredit them. This is why Thomas Paine reportedly said this, "That men should take up arms and spend their lives and fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery..." -- he understood their [natural rights] true value!

p.s. The boss called and set our start-time back one hour, so I did, after all, get to read the rest of your reply. :)

B.R. Merrick's picture

Aha. Then perhaps in the future I should refer to "natural lawS" instead of "natural law" in order to make the distinction. In fact, I'll edit the article to reflect this.

Suverans2's picture

G'day B.R. Merrick,

[Emphasis added]

Read the highlighted material out of context, "Laws of nature...should not be confused with the concept of natural law".

With all due respect, in your last reply I still sense a lack of understanding. Either of those, "natural lawS" or "natural law", is fine, as long as we don't confuse the reader by talking about physical law, as you did with "Mt. St. Helens", and the "laws of economics" [in your reply to me], and the natural law of man, which, simply put is, "a rule of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings, as though they were the same thing. Where the confusion arises, I think, is because all three of these things are subcategories of the "lawS of nature".

Take a look at definitions number 3 and number 6 HERE. Notice here, that Noah Webster, in his effort to keep these separate refers to the "law of nature", when defining the natural law of man, but refers to the "lawS of nature", when referencing the "physical laws".

Here is what you wrote in your article.

First you wrote: "It’s natural law, and natural law doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor..." This is correct, the natural law of man doesn't respect (recognize) the status of men.

But, then you turn around and evidently contradict that by saying: "This is why the natural law, end result of any and every regulation mows over poor people first..." Taken out of context, strictly for clarity, that says, "...the natural law...mows over poor people first..." If the natural law of man doesn't recognize "whether you're rich or poor", how can it possibly "mow over poor people first"?

The "physical laws", on the other hand, as in your example of Mt. St. Helens, can certainly "mow over" individuals; but does it selectively "mow over poor people first". Only if the poor people are first in its path of destruction.

If you don't obey the "laws of economics", your accumulated wealth, or ability to accumulate wealth, can certainly get "mowed over". And, the "laws of economics" may even effect "poor people" more drastically than rich ones, but only because they live so close to the edge, economically. Although it was reportedly the "rich people" who jumped out of windows in the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, not the "poor people".

But the "law of nature", i.e. natural law of man, technically, doesn't "mow over" anyone, and most certainly not the "poor people first".

I think that Noah Webster gave a good feel for what the natural law of man is, with this: Law of nature, is a rule of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings...Thus it is a law of nature, that one man should not injure another, and murder and fraud would be crimes, independent of any prohibition from a supreme power."

We can see from that, that if the natural law of man did "mow over" anyone, (which it doesn't), it would be those who initiate force to injure another, murder, commit fraud, etc. who would be "mowed over".

D. Saul Weiner's picture

I find it really hard to get through to Progressives on certain things. They assume that those who object to high taxes are greedy, only looking to buy some more luxury items. I protest and say that I would be happy to give the money that I currently pay in taxes to worthwhile organizations. I don't want my money being used for wars of aggression, the TSA, the FDA, etc. They see the damage done by the reckless bankers and think that these problems are inherent in business enterprises. Their flawed assumptions are powerful enough for most of them to not even want to have a dialogue with libertarians.

Paul's picture

Yes. I think Progressives (and really, almost everyone) are more concerned with maintaining their own positive self-image, than they are about people who fall victims to their muddle-headed policies. The latter can always be blamed on their philosophical enemies. Keep in mind, though, that there are lots of poor people being killed in the Middle East, and that is at least as much a conservative project as it is a progressive one.

Glen Allport's picture

This is hitting them where it hurts, for sure -- if the State isn't the nice helpful mommy/daddy people keep pretending it is, then -- what IS it? Nice work!

Found this today while researching something for a column: -- "Reinventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics" by David G. Green
London, 1993

Excerpt:"This book began as an attempt to consider the lessons the former communist countries of Eastern Europe might be able to learn from Western experience of voluntary welfare provision. But, as the study proceeded, it quickly became obvious that we in the West have done almost as much harm to our own voluntary associations as the communist countries, not as part of a deliberate effort to create a mass society of individuals ruled by an elite, but as a result of the inadvertent displacement effect of the welfare state. By narrowing opportunities for personal idealism in the service of others, the welfare state has eroded the sense of personal responsibility and mutual obligation on which a resilient civil society rests."

The chapter on Medical Care begins on P. 65: "Medical care was being provided in a variety of ways at the turn of the century.1 The very poor relied on the Poor Law, and provision for the majority of the population fell into three main categories. First, many sought medical care as private patients and paid a fee to the doctor of their choice. The fees charged varied according to income, with rent taken as the chief test of ability to pay. Second, a large section of the population obtained care free of charge through charities, such as the outpatient departments of the voluntary hospitals or free dispensaries. And third there were many pre-payment schemes, commonly called contract practice, based on the payment of a fixed annual capitation fee."

B.R. Merrick's picture

Great excerpt, Glen. My own experience in insisting on cash with doctors has been an eye-opener. Without any complaint on my part (I've always been able to afford the care I needed, and have always tried to save up for it), I find the doctors' fees are always reasonable, usually diminished, and they seem to have no trouble with the lack of paperwork that goes with it. Perhaps if more Tea Partiers in their individual lives insisted on cash, a lot more doctors would get turned on to freedom.

Tony Pivetta's picture

Kudos to B.R. on a persuasive and finely crafted column. It's high time libertarians stop ceding the moral high ground to progressives. Not just because transfer payments and business regulations do more harm than good, even focusing solely on the interests of the poor. Efficacy is nagging triviality in this context. No, first and foremost, welfare-statism violates every standard of basic human decency.

You can't fund the welfare state--any state--without resorting to taxation. Taxation is just extortion by another name.

I have a nit to pick nonetheless. B.R.'s tendentious characterizations notwithstanding, religious views will always have a place in the marketplace of ideas. Belief in God, Christ, virtue, sin, judgment, redemption, heaven and hell survived the coercive atheism of the Soviet Union, the bloodiest dictatorship in history, and they will survive (nay, thrive!) in any devoutly (!) to be realized anarchist society. They are neither "foisted on the uneducated" nor "coerced," in any reasonable sense of that word.

This is not to disabuse B.R. of his own atheism. I just see no correlation between religiosity and statism. Some Christians (e.g., the late great Joseph Sobran) are anarchists; many atheists are ardent statists. Why alienate the religionists? Like the raw milk-trafficking Amish, they're as apt to strike the root as anyone.

Glen Allport's picture

Nice commentary on religion. As an athiest myself, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the religious in my younger years -- too many mean-spirited, racist Christians in the areas where I grew up, for one thing -- but I long ago noticed that there are healthy and unhealthy folk in every religion, culture, nation, race, and so on. And those years of being dragged to church and Sunday school left me with an appreciation for those few of Jesus' teachings in particular that are strongly pro-compassion, pro-freedom, pro-real-world. In addition to a couple of STR columns on the topic, discusses three teachings in particular by Jesus, using four brief quotes from Jesus (see notes at bottom of that column before responding about whether Jesus actually lived, or whether we can really know what he might or might not have said, etc).

Love and freedom are wherever you find them. Encouraging those who believe in religion to focus on the positive material in their religion (and there is always positive material) is probably more useful than trying to convince believers that they should believe something else entirely -- besides, it matters not a whit to me if someone believes in the supernatural. It shouldn't matter to anyone else either, I think -- and I'm well aware of the arguments contrary to that, but don't find them persuasive.

Tony Pivetta's picture

Thanks for the kind words, Glen.

Libertarians have to be careful to use words like coercion very narrowly. In an anarchist, state-of-nature society, commercial and religious relationships would be entirely voluntarily--unless the corporate executives and priests in that society were to compel us, at the points of their guns, to work for them, purchase their products and abide by their religious decrees. But in that anarchist, state-of-nature society, we would be just as free to take up arms and defend ourselves from them.

The statists believe chaos would quickly run rampant in such a society. But we anarchists believe liberty is the mother of order, not its daughter. An armed society is a polite society. The state, with its territorial monopoly on violence, is actually the mother of chaos *and* tyranny--to say nothing of all the impoliteness it spawns. (Have you visited the DMV lately?) Centralized violence does not a civilized order make.

Statists want *to force us to be free*. The contradiction doesn't trouble them in the least: they sincerely believe only state power can protect the people from greedy corporations' shoddy and dangerous products, their slave wages and unfair employment practices. Likewise, atheist statists will claim their infringements on religious liberty actually serve to *enhance* religious liberty, else the churches brainwash everybody into palsied submission to their Medieval dogmas and conservative morality tunnels.

But this kind of thinking gets us nowhere. The religionists can just as easily seize political power, turn around and apply it against the atheists. How else are they to protect the atheists from the aggressive inculcations of a godless zeitgeist?

If you're interested, I explore the relationship between faith and state in a 2006 column published on another website. Just Google "Pivetta + B-losses" and it'll come right up.

B.R. Merrick's picture

Thank you for your thoughts. However, I should clarify something:

I am not comfortable with "atheist" or "agnostic." I have questions that are unanswered, and experiences that helped spawn those very questions. I'll leave it at that.

Furthermore, I consider myself a Post-Christian instead of an ex-Christian, because I believe there is a fount of wonderful information having to do with individuality that can be gleaned from an unbiased look at the Four Gospels. This is why I continue to freely quote Jesus when I no longer believe in His divinity. (I also, as I just evidenced, continue to capitalize "His" when referring to Jesus out of respect for the traditions from whence I sprang.)

My criticisms about religion have to do with the coercive lie that birth control must not be used. This is regulation of human sexuality outside the self, based on meaningless reference to obscure scripture. It creates enormous problems and solves nothing. Coercion is death.

I would agree, however, that short-term solutions to personal problems can be found in organized (and unorganized) religion. From a logical or factual standpoint, though, I cannot defend the idea of superiority vs. inferiority any longer.

Religions, like government, can be systems of coercion when they fail to search for and tell the truth. I've seen enough of that to last me a lifetime. (Well, half a lifetime, anyway.)

Tony Pivetta's picture

You're using the words "coercive" and "lie" far too loosely. The ban on birth control is neither coercive nor a lie. It's not a lie, because there is no intention to deceive. In fact, until the Lambeth Conference of 1930, Christian denominations across the board condemned contraception. This is not a precept conjured out of thin air by Paul VI. But I'm not interested in defending the moral theology underlying the ban on contraception. For the sake of argument, let's stipulate we can read the Pope's mind and that he is in fact lying about birth control.

What other religious beliefs constitute lies? How about the Amish ban on automobiles and power tools? Surely it makes the faithful's lives more difficult forgoing modern conveniences, doesn't it? How about the Orthodox Jewish ban on eating pork? You mean to tell me the Jews wouldn't enjoy sinking their teeth into a slab of babyback ribs? How about the Jehovah's Witnesses ban on blood transfusions? Talk about a dangerous decree! This one has life-and-death consequences!

I happen to believe these are all bad beliefs. But for the sake of argument, let's stipulate the Amish, Orthodox Jewish and JW religious authorities intend to deceive--just like the Pope. It's all lies.

The fact remains none of the liars resort to coercion for enforcement. The Pope won't sic his Switzers on you for practicing contraception. Neither will the Amish, Orthodox Jews or JWs sic their armed agents on you for violating their precepts against power tools, pork or blood transfusion. They don't even have armed agents! You can say they exploit a fear of the hereafter. But they certainly have that right, don't they? As long as you have a right not to listen?

There's an imam down the road in Dearborn, Michigan, who claims Christians practice polytheism. He says Christians put their souls in peril by accepting the divinity of Christ. After all, there is only one God and His Name is Allah. It's no skin off my nose if that's what he believes. It's no skin off my nose if he's lying about it. Just spare me Sharia and dhimmitude.

Again, libertarians have to be very careful using terms like coercion. Only the State and armed criminals (but I repeat myself) practice coercion. The Catholics, Amish, Orthodox Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses don't practice coercion--at least not in the contexts outlined above.

B.R. Merrick's picture

"You're using the words 'coercive' and 'lie' far too loosely." Perhaps, but at the heart of the religious teachings you outline are falsehoods. I believe that truth is required for volition to come to fruition. It is not truthful, factual, or helpful to tell people they MUSN'T use birth control, power tools, or eat pork. Furthermore, depending on the religious community, what each community encourages, and how one "volitionally" shapes one's life around it, I can assure you that absent a gun, changing one's beliefs and practices in contradiction to that religious community can result in being "coerced" out of one's job or home, via shaming, shunning, etc. Believing some of the nonsense that my former religion teaches can result in young people committing suicide because of the falsehoods that are believed.

And I can assure you that at the heart of the falsehoods that are honestly believed in my former religion is a coercive lie (deliberately and willfully made up by one man), not simply a falsehood. Not only that, but I know for certain that current leaders of that same religion are actively trying to cover up that history, so that individuals like me will continue to believe something that has no basis in fact. That is also a lie.

I believe it is possible to "coerce the truth" by willfully lying, which leads directly to the death of the volition of he who believes it. Many of the people you mention in your reply aren't willfully trying to lie, but for at least some of those religions, at the heart of those honestly-believed falsehoods is someone making it up as he goes along. At least one of them, anyway.