Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Do We Sometimes Accept Tyranny?

Café Hayek (an economist blog) has an interesting post and discussion regarding Social Security. The original post and the following commentary are worth reading.

The post centers around the assertion by a retired journalist that the government should increase Social Security taxes to improve payouts from the system. His main reasoning behind this is that he was too irresponsible to save for retirement on his own, and that most Americans must be as irresponsible as he is. To him the obvious answer is that the government should have more, not less control of our retirement savings and options.

This journalist is quite free with the property of others; property that must be confiscated to cover his retirement. John Adams said (here), “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

“Oh, come on,” friends have said to me, “Social Security is completely ingrained in our society. It addresses serious social problems. It’s not perfect, but our society needs it. We couldn’t live without it.” William Pitt answered similar arguments by saying (here), “Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of the tyrant and the creed of the slave.”

Speaking of slavery, did you know that this is where the term pork barrel arose? Slaveholders in the South used to occasionally take a barrel of pork out to the fields or shanties of their slaves as a gift from the master. The idea was to placate the slaves into thinking that, although they were in slavery, it really wasn’t so bad because the master was taking care of them. Most slaves never ran away. Most did not rebel. Most accepted their fate, having been robbed of the flame of liberty that should burn in the breast of every human.

Do we realize what we give up for our socialized society where we have made government the main responsible party for the needs of the aged? We pay a cost for this. Do we ever stop to think about what we are paying?

When President Bush promoted Social Security reforms that would have transferred a minute amount of responsibility for management of retirement savings back to the individuals, politicians went absolutely nuts. The plan was demagogued into a bizarre caricature of the actual proposal. ‘Liberty-loving’ Democrats stonewalled it, and ‘freedom-loving’ Republicans were unable to muster sufficient political will to stand behind it.

Both parties opted to keep the slaves on the plantation. Neither was able to stand the thought that they might allow just a tiny amount of the sunlight of freedom to flow into the dank, sealed box that is Social Security. I wish I could say that we have the chance to change this on November 7, but we don’t. Regardless of which party controls the chambers of Congress, there will be little sentiment toward increasing personal liberty, even in a minor way. (Unless you’re a terrorist, that is. Then you’ve got all kinds of civil libertarians ready to increase your freedom.)

This could all change if enough of us slaves revolted, but apparently most of us are willing to sit back and accept our fate, eagerly feeding from the pork barrel whenever the master drops it off in our vicinity. We are seemingly oblivious to what we are giving up in exchange for our acquiescence.


Anonymous said...

I have been having an email discussion with a friend of mine on this very topic. In that discussion we have borrowed heavily from a pamphlet by Ezra Taft Benson published in 1968 entitled "The Proper Role of Government."

From the pamphlet:
"The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form?

"Suppose pioneer 'A' wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn't have the money to buy one, but since pioneer 'B' has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor's good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neitake his neighbor's horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer 'B' wishes to keep his property, pioneer 'A' has no just claim to it.

"If 'A' has no proper power to take 'B's' property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that 'B' give his extra horse to 'A', they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have."

Somehow we think that if 51% of the population likes an idea they can take property form 100% of the population to implement the idea.

Charles D said...

I find this a very interesting contradiction for a blog that claims to be following Jesus. If you believe in Jesus' teaching about being a good neighbor and helping the poor, the sick, the widow, etc., then you not only want to follow that as an individual by helping members of your own family or church group or community. If you truly take Jesus at His word and heed His command to help others, then you will favor banding together as a nation to insure that all receive help, regardless of their ability.

Most people in this wealthy nation never have enough income to save a reasonable amount for retirement, and by all pitching in equally, we can make sure that none of our elders go hungry, homeless or go without lifesaving medicines. The "problem" with Social Security is very easily solved, and the vast majority of Americans would not pay anymore than they do now. All we have to do is remove the cap on social security wages which is now over $90,000. The additional funds that would bring in would solve the "crisis" in Social Security.

Pork barrel politics has nothing to do with Social Security. The Congressional pork is doled out to pet projects in each district designed to keep the dumb voter voting for the Congressman who brings it in. Passing programs that benefit all Americans is what Congress is supposed to do - that ain't pork, son.

If you think the Bush is interested in anything but destroying the Social Security system, then you haven't read widely enough. If it is more return on investment, then simply freeing the trustees of the plan to invest more widely is a much better plan. They have the knowledge and clout to make much wiser investments without paying a premium to Wall Street in fees. Oops - that's what the Republican SS plan is all about!

Scott Hinrichs said...

You go much too far in asserting that Jesus' teachings apply to confiscating properties to help others. I do not read that anywhere in His teachings. In fact, I do not read anywhere in Jesus' teachings that government programs are the answer to anything He promoted.

On the contratry, my understanding of Christ's teachings are that individuals should give of their excess substance, perhaps to the point of pain, to help those less fortunate. But this giving must be done willingly. When government requires the 'giving,' it is no longer a virtue. There is no free will involved.

Now, if everyone truly followed the teachings of Christ, a government run Social Security system would be unnecessary. Each would love his neighbor as himself. People with more substance would willingly give to help the poor without the involvement of 'Ceasar.' I believe in rednering unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's. But it is not the proper role of government to take over charity, thus, changing something that could be virtuous into a deplorable vice and robbing people of initiative and responsibility.

You seem so certain that President Bush is out to kill Social Security. Is this similar to the claim that evil conservatives want to starve our schoolchildren and pollute our water? Come on. Use nutcake rhetoric of this nature for your fellow liberal believers.

I frankly don't care what Bush's motivation is for proposing changes to Social Security. The system needs repair. The modest changes Bush proposed would have helped, but only in a minor way. Much more change would be better. Even if it were to become something closer to what they have in Chile, it would be better. Then it would become an investment system rather than a welfare system.

I do believe that we all have the responsibility to care for each other. I just do not agree that it is government's proper role to enforce that care. I do not agree that anyone has claim to anyone else's property. I also do not agree that people should not be allowed to choose whether to give or not.

Charles D said...

The idea that taxes are a confiscation of property is a right-wing ideological ploy. As FDR said, "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." Our prosperity and our ability to pursue our economic dreams do not spring from individual effort alone. We couldn't achieve the same results in Albania as in Alabama, and repaying some of that debt is hardly theft.

As for the proper role of government, that is not a subject on which Jesus expressed himself. That is a political ideology. I would assume you place fidelity to Jesus' teaching above any political ideology. In that case, every American is your neighbor and when you have the ability to help all your neighbors in need, should a political ideology prevent you from choosing that course of action? I don't see that as consistent with the Gospels.

The New Testament does not assume democracy when it refers to government. A system of government in which people could choose to have their government right wrongs, deliver justice, and aid the poor, sick and needy is simply a tool that can now be used by those who take Jesus seriously to fulfill his call. Why should those who claim to follow Him be so adamant against using the tools they have been provided?

Before you start wishing for the wonderful system of Chile, perhaps you should find out how "successful" it has been.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I have no problem paying my fair share of taxes. Heck, I was a tax accountant in a previous career.

However, I also believe in following the Constitution. The Constitution enumerates specifically what the federal government may do. Regardless of how wonderful people believe the social programs sponsored by the federal government to be, there is simply no quarter in the Constitution that allows the government to implement them.

If we truly believe that government social programs are the best way to help society, we should amend the Constitution per the methodology outlined in the document itself to allow the government to implement these programs.

I have no problem with helping my neighbor. I feel that I do as much as I feasibly can beyond paying my taxes. When you question why those that propose to follow Jesus oppose big government programs that you say are the tools he has provided for caring for the poor, I’m afraid that we will simply have to agree to disagree.

As I mentioned above, enforced charity is not a virtue. It’s not simply a matter of the outcome of people’s physical needs being met that is at issue; it also includes what happens to the eternal souls of those involved, both givers and receivers. You can have a society that is well cared for, but suffers from a lack of initiative and self reliance. That is not a virtuous society.

Of course, a society that refuses to care for each other is also not a virtuous society. But people ought to be able to choose for themselves whether to serve their neighbors or not. There are ways to create a caring society without forcing people to ‘care,’ and without violating the Constitution.

My problems with Social Security are the enforcement of charity, the creation of the concept that individuals are entitled to property of others (the scriptures call that stealing), and the fact that social programs lie outside of the functions permitted to the federal government by the Constitution.

Charles D said...

Did you find something in the Constitution that PREVENTS government from addressing human needs? I missed that clause.

I agree that a society that refuses to care for its weakest members is not a virtuous society. I do not however, agree that there is nothing than can or should be done make it virtuous. I do not believe that individualism is a virtue that outweighs the mandate to help the least among us. The government is theoretically "of the people, by the people and for the people" so why should it refuse to do what the people want and need it to do?

Again, paying one's fair share of taxes is not the government "stealing" from the individual, it is the individual paying their dues for the great benefits they receive from being Americans. I still see your excuses for being against use of government to be ideological roadblocks to fulfilling Jesus' commands. I hope you give some thought to which takes precedence in your political decisionmaking.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Perhaps you misunderstand the Constitution. The document restricts the federal government from doing anything that is not specifically specified in the document. There is nothing in the document that would allow the government to administer the social programs that it does. It would have to be amended to allow for that. Instead, we as a nation have permitted a de facto amendment, thereby, diminishing the value of the document.

Our government is designed to exist as an expression of the consent of the governed. We are all constrained by decisions made prior to our birth or consent. Our system allows us to change those things with which we disagree. The fact that we do not change transfer payments to others shows that most citizens are willing to continue these payments, regardless of their constitutionality. That would place my position clearly in the minority, and your position clearly in the majority.

This does not make the practice virtuous or right. I believe there are ways to achieve both care of others and virtue simultaneously, but I do not believe that our current system does that.

Again, on how to follow Jesus, you and I are simply going to have to agree to disagree. It's obvious that neither of us will convince the other. However, I do appreciate your willingness to put your thoughts forward.

Bradley Ross said...

The clause that Democracy Lover is looking for is the 10th amendment. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

The point of this amendment was to limit the power of the Federal government and allow the states to make most of the decisions.

Charles D said...

The federal government has assumed a great many responsibilities not envisioned by the founders or specifically mentioned in the Constitution, so invoking that clause now selectively for Social Security is a cute ploy, but nothing more.

I doubt seriously if you would support Social Security more if it were a state program, rather than a federal one. What you don't like apparently, is the concept that citizens in a democracy can call on their government to do things for the nation as a whole that individuals or even state governments cannot efficiently achieve.

The moral position here is that we should use whatever means is the most effective to help those in need. The moral position cannot abide a government that spends its tax money killing people in foreign countries instead of healing people at home.

I would challenge you to find a justification for the position that government should not be used to help the poor, the elderly, the sick and the destitute -- and find it in the Gospels.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Being LDS, I believe in far more of the Lord's words than the gospels. I do not feel constrained by the minimal teachings available to us in the four gospels. I believe in modern day apostles that convey the word of Christ for our day and time. The first comment on this blog cited one such apostle in disucssing the proper role of government. Hundreds of other such citations exist.

I can go through the Bible and painstakingly show teachings that validate my point, however, it will do nothing to convince you. You could easily do the same to validate your point. Thus, the exercise you suggest would be completely pointless. Neither of us would be pursuaded by the other.

And actually, I do strictly believe that the Federal government should get out of every area which is not specifically stated for its role in the Constitution. I do not single out Social Security for special treatment. Anything we think the federal government should do that is not specifically enumerated should be considered by way of the amendment process. Thomas Jefferson shared this belief.

You can deride my position as foolish and unrealistic, but it is right and lawful. Our society needs some that want to hold the line to keep the others from veering too far from the anchor that holds our nation together.

Charles D said...

And what exactly is the "anchor that holds our nation together"? If you are referring to the Constitution, then we need to enforce all of it, including the separation of powers, the requirement that Congress declare war, the Bill of Rights that Bush is steadily chipping away, etc.

Incidentally, anchors usually don't hold things together, they keep them from moving. Slip of the tongue there.

Scott Hinrichs said...

DL, I agree with you that we need to enforce ALL of the Constitution. And you are correct, an anchor holds us in place rather than holding us together. But the Constitution is also a uniting document.

Frank Staheli said...

I would personally renounce all Social Security entitlements that I may be allowed in the future if they would simply (for starters) allow individuals to opt out of such a silly system.

For more insight into this train of thought, click here.