Monday, August 01, 2005

Coercive Good Samaritans

Much to my dismay, someone has my called my political philosophy into question. Imagine that! Who knew that the concept of individual liberty would prove to be so very controversial? But seriously, I cannot understand why anyone, having reached the age of majority, would willingly divest themselves of the autonomy that was secured by violent Revolution. This divestment is effected by empowering the state to forcibly regulate the minutia of the lives of ostensibly free agents. Of course I’m speaking about Americans in particular, although an aversion to freedom and individuality is hardly unique to my fellow citizens.

Where was I?...ah yes…someone has taken issue with my advocacy of Individualism. It happens to be my favorite New Zealander, Probligo, who wrote: Use me as an example if you want. Try and use my life to justify the "right of the individual against all". OK, I’ll give it a go, though I’ll restrict my comments to his stated political philosophy, as I understand it. (one minor correction: individual rights need not be “against all”, as far as I’m concerned)

To set the stage, I should mention that (on the odd chance that the reader is unfamiliar with the positions and propositions of my previous posts) Probligo and I routinely disagree—civilly—about the legitimate role of government, as well as what constitutes individual responsibility within the context of society. In that respect, I tend to favor self-reliance and freedom, whereas Probligo typically advocates for state assistance, as the default solution to various personal problems. In light of that, here’s a portion of a recent comment that Probligo made in response to this post:

Tell me, in your ideal little "every man for themselves" little world, who should be responsible for the care of a kid whose parents were killed in a car accident? The grandparents who died three years ago? The brothers and sisters of the parents all of whom have kids of their own to support?

Who should be responsible for the support of a community of 3000 people all of whom worked for one major employer who has decided that "in the interests of profit" the mill should be closed and the community abandoned. Doesn't happen?

Who should provide some form of quality of life to the physically handicapped child whose parents have to beg for a living because the "individual responsibility" society won out and state support such as unemployment benefits were discontinued.
I’ll deal with each one in a moment, but before I do, I’ll make a few observations. Firstly, Probligo seems to justify coercion on the grounds of compassion (more on that later). Secondly, the examples he gave represent the exception, rather than the rule.

orphaned children: As a single parent, I can certainly empathize with such a situation, theoretical or not. Now, supposing that there are no other family members or friends that will assume custody, the options are: (a) the kids fend for them selves, (b) state run orphanage or government funded Foster care, (c) private, charitable orphanage (religious or secular) and (d) private adoption. Notice the order in which I arranged the possible solutions—they go from worst to best. The first, option (a), is tragic and hopefully a rare occurrence, if at all. The second, option (b), is almost as bad as the first. To illustrate my point, I’ll give one anecdotal example, as well as an empirical one.

As a teenager, I had a friend who was placed in a Foster home because both of his parents were abusive, drug-addicted alcoholics. Model parents indeed. The Foster “parent” to whom my friend was assigned was a barely ambulatory, decrepit old lady that already had a half-dozen teen-aged wards in her ‘care’. There was little discipline—if any—in that environment, but shockingly, Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS, which incidentally was recently rebuffed because the high school drop-out rate of Foster kids is on the rise) failed to see any reason why that particular woman would be unsuitable to use orphaned children as a publicly funded meal-ticket. Needless to say, my friend was in jail before he reached adulthood. And yes, he made a series of poor choices…but…he was a child with a troubled past, who would have been better served by those that care for orphaned children out of genuine compassion, unlike an impersonal and essentially unaccountable bureaucracy with a virtually endless supply of seized revenue.

A classic empirical example is the deplorable Romanian orphanages. From the BBC: The vast majority of children in Ceausescu's so-called orphanages were not actually orphans.

Banned from any form of contraception, many couples had more children than they wanted or could afford to keep, and left them in state care.

Those may only two cases, but I’d say that they are fairly representative. If so, by way of comparison, state-run childcare is markedly inferior to a voluntary private solution.

unemployment: I’ll ignore the hyperbole (e.g. evil profit chasers) and concentrate on the main issue, which is: for those of us that are not independently wealthy, gainful employment is a necessity. But first, let’s look at the two main causes of unemployment. Generally speaking, either one is asked to leave (for whatever reason), or one voluntarily resigns. Since most people do not have an enforceable employment contract (like that of unionized workers, but that's a rant for another post), both cases of job termination are quite common. Interestingly, few tears are shed for the small business owner that loses a much needed employee on short notice. Conversely, that same business is roundly criticized for eliminating a particular job in order to reduce labor costs. In the case of larger corporations, the share holders are often ‘regular’ folks with a 401k plan. In any event, as I’ve said before, everyone is responsible for maintaining a skill-set that is marketable, in addition to planning for unforeseen circumstances. Options include, but are not limited to: insurance, savings, family, friends or private charity. No government solution is necessary here and coercion is altogether unjustifiable.

disabled children w/poor parents: Again, this is a most unfortunate situation and I’m not unsympathetic. But what ought to be clear by now is the fact that private solutions are appropriate in this area, not unlike those that I’ve already mentioned.

What I’ve done so far is point out the obvious: not only are there alternatives to government 'alms', but state funded solutions are typically the least effective, in addition to often being more expensive, counter-productive and an illegitimate use of political power.

Rather than give a history lesson, I’ll simply borrow a partial quote from Thomas Jefferson: [T]hat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…, which succinctly defines the nature and the proper, limited role of government. Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, can one find any justification for the public funding of private, individual assistance (the “welfare laws” that currently exist are statutory).

The reason for the constitutional public/private distinction is not very complicated. Simply put, the state creates no wealth. The state may only seize wealth by force from private citizens (and through tariffs). Now, this is a rather delicate issue for me, as I’m neither a Statist or an Anarchist (although I’m much closer to the latter). So, since ones money (aka property) is forcible taken to fund the government, as voluntary taxation is unrealistic (save for a consumption tax, aka Fair Tax HR25), decency dictates that only an absolute minimum ought to be taken. Specifically, the definition of minimum in this case is: courts, coinage and defense…period. I omit ‘representation’ because ideally, that job ought to be a duty similar to serving on a jury, because as it stands, the Legislative branch is little more than a means for layers, crooks and other corrupt individuals to pass ridiculous, paternalistic laws, from which they are exempt.

Finally, collectivists (like Probligo?) seem hell bent on eliminating all suffering and inequality of assets and income. A laudable goal to be sure, but such is clearly unattainable. Furthermore, a main defect in that ideal is that it is devoid of any semblance of compunction, concerning the use of coercion, by the state of course, to create the quasi-utopia for which they tirelessly labor. It boils down to this: in their minds, the ends justify the means...but only in their case. For when the situation is reversed, as in the goals of right-wing authoritarians or theocrats, lefty collectivists scream the loudest.

Therefore, the only consistent position is that of unwavering respect for individual liberty. This is true primarily because, like it or not, everyone is an individual with the right to be at liberty. Whether one avails himself of that freedom or voluntarily subjects himself to another person or group; whether one chooses a life of service to the poor, the sick and the hungry, or if one chooses to enjoy a life of solitary 'selfishness', these choices are the purview of each and every individual, not society. Moreover, it is grossly immoral, prima facie, for one to use force, or the threat of force (whether personally or through the state) to compel one to benefit another.