How Can Force Entail Compassion?

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One of the things I have long found fascinating about America’s welfare-state way of life is how so many people say that it reflects that Americans are a compassionate people. I just don’t get that. The welfare state is based on forcibly taking money from people and giving it to other people who are purportedly in need of the money. How can force be reconciled with compassion? 

Suppose I accost you one dark night while you are walking down the street. I point a loaded gun at you and order you to go the nearest ATM. You decide to comply with my order simply because you don’t want to be shot. At the ATM, I order you to withdraw $10,000 from your bank account. You do it. I order you to hand me the money and you comply. I then depart with your money. 

When I get back to my neighborhood, I don’t keep any of the money for myself. I give some of it to my mother, who needs it to pay some outstanding medical bills. I also give some of it some homeless people who are suffering from hunger. I donate the rest to my church, which I know will use it to help the poor.

I’m a compassionate person, right? 

I think most everyone — even the most die-hard welfare-statist — would say, “No, Jacob, you are not compassionate. You are nothing more than a robber. You have forcibly taken that money from someone and then used his money to do good. Genuine compassion would have entailed using your own money to help out others.” 

My hunch is that most everyone would support my being criminally prosecuted for armed robbery, notwithstanding the fact that I used all of the money to do good.

Yet, welfare-state programs are based on the same principle as the robber who uses the money he has robbed to help out others. 

We begin with taxation, which is the way that the government gets its money. Taxation is based on force. The government forces people to pay taxes. If someone refuses to pay his taxes, the government wields the power to seize his assets, put liens on his property, garnish his bank account, and even punish him with incarceration and fines. There is nothing voluntary about taxation.

The only real difference between armed robbery and taxation is that armed robbery is illegal while taxation is legal. But they are both based on using force to take money from people.

The government then gives the tax money to people in need (after deducting a certain amount to compensate government officials who perform these services). When that occurs, we are all supposed to consider ourselves to be compassionate people because we paid our taxes and because the tax money is now being given to those in need.

But if there is no compassion involved in my use of the money I have stolen from someone, how can there be compassion involved in the government’s forcible taking of money and giving it to others? If compassion depends on voluntary action when done by private individuals, why doesn’t the same principle apply to welfare-state programs? 

Consider, for example, the crown jewel of America’s welfare state — Social Security. Ever since this program was established, we’ve been told that it reflects how compassionate Americans are because they have established a government program that gives money to seniors. 

But the money that is given to seniors is forcibly collected from younger workers by the IRS. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no Social Security “fund” into which people placed their money during their work years and that has been earning interest all those years. The tax money that people were forced to pay the IRS during their work lives was spent by the government upon receipt. The money that is being sent to seniors today is being collected from young people through the force of taxation.

Since the process is based on force, how can it be said that the Social Security program demonstrates that all those young people who are paying their taxes are demonstrating how compassionate they are when they pay their taxes? Genuine compassion can only come from the willing heart of an individual, not at the point of an IRS gun.

Why not abolish all welfare-state programs and leave people free to keep all of their money and decide for themselves what to do with it? That certainly was our founding economic system.  Americans didn’t have income taxation, FICA taxation, Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, food stamps, corporate bailouts, or any other welfare-state program for more than a century. The result was the most prosperous and the most compassionate society in history. 

Why not restore our founding economic system? Why shouldn’t people be free to decide for themselves whether and to what extent to help out others? Wouldn’t a society in which people are free to be genuinely compassionate be better than a society in which people are being forced by the government to be “compassionate”?

The post How Can Force Entail Compassion? appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

* This article was originally published here


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