Why Theft Is Never OK, Even When the Government Does It

Yesterday was the morning of my 35th anniversary on the planet.

The well-wishing phone calls started early. I missed the first — from my younger sister, who is always the first to call on my birthday — and made a note to call her back later. I was awake enough to take the second call from my dad.

“I realized this morning that if it’s been 35 years since you were born,” he said, “then I must be a little older than 35. I’m really just calling to remind you that you’re getting old too. I need the company.”

Thirty-five is one of those milestone birthdays…the neat halfway point between the big three-oh and the bigger four-oh. In my case I got to look around and panic: I hadn’t gotten started on all those grown-up things you were supposed to start by 30 and have nearly completed by 40.

Grown-ups are usually on their second or third spawn by this age. They have cars and mortgages. I’d only recently got as far as making my own meals.

But at least I’d gotten exposed to enough good reading to understand that no one owed me anything, that I had to earn everything that I wanted. I feel more grown-up than most when it comes to lacking a sense of entitlement.

Not only am I not entitled to goods and services; I also have to earn the goodwill of those whose help I’d count on in case disaster struck and I hadn’t prepared sufficiently. I had to be a good son and a good brother…a good friend and a good neighbor.

Even if I had no loving relatives or concerned friends to rely on, however, I still wouldn’t demand the tax-born kindness of strangers. Any charity I would receive would have to be voluntarily given. And there should be enough shame involved to keep me from growing to rely on it forever.

This is not a popular sentiment these days. Every effort is made by the intelligentsia and the media to convince people of the opposite…

We are all children, they tell us. We need to be taken care of. And we are all owed something by someone else. That’s what governments are really for. They guide. They prohibit. They shuffle earned income to grasping hands. And they’re proud of it…

Paul Krugman, cheerleader of the state writes:

“One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

“The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

“There’s no middle ground between these views.”

We are dealing with absolutes. Immovable objects. And Mr. Krugman is unquestionably on the side of evil.

Theft is wrong. No matter how you try to sanctify it, theft is a sin. Done as pervasively and systematically as it is under the state, it is slavery on a sliding scale. When some of the fruits of your labor are forcibly taken away, what else do you call it?

People like Mr. Krugman like to pretend that as long as it’s not all of the fruits of your labor being stolen…as long as it’s some “reasonable” part decided upon by the those elected to office by those who covet…then it’s just fine.

Democracy is, indeed, the worst kind of government. Unlike totalitarian communism — in which the state doesn’t pretend not to own everyone and their labor — democracy allows its duped cattle to think that they’re free.

A man who thinks he’s free will work harder than a man who knows he is a slave. That’s why the democratic “capitalism” (it’s been socialist since the Social Security Act and the income tax) of North America managed to outlast the outright slavery of the Soviet Union. The duped slaves here outproduced the very aware slaves over there.

But long-term quasi-slavery doesn’t work either. Transferring stolen lucre creates distortions that ultimately bring a civilization down. It creates disincentives among the producers while breeding helplessness among the net receivers. Democracy eventually taxes the spirit that creates wealth to the point of death.

More than my advancing age, what makes me so very tired is that great minds have spent lifetimes writing, persuading, and proving that transfer schemes are a horrible idea…yet it’s the lies and ignorance that thrive.

Von Mises…Rothbard…Hayek. Almost nobody knows who they are. The majority thinks ideas about honest money, honest toil, and refrain from theft and force are all quaint, antiquated notions.

This majority may not have heard of Keynes…they may not have actually read Hobbes…but they believe what those men had to say: We are murderous brutes who would be poor, short-lived and utterly lost…unless we elect some of our most ambitious brutes and give them power over our lives.

It’s not just the immorality and destruction of violence-backed wealth transfers, however…

It’s the notions about human nature and the necessity of governments. It’s how people refuse to grow up, how they want to entrust responsibilities to strong and wise leaders, who ultimately come from the most pandering and avaricious among us.

The majority thinks that without government, we’d tear each out each other’s throats. No food would be grown and nothing would get done by the Invisible Hand. You need a very visible hand holding a weapon and directing the flow of things.

“Only government can decide what money is…”

“Only government can give us roads and schools…”

“Only government can make us deal fairly with each other…”

Like an abusive parent or husband, government and its enablers sap our self-esteem and foster our dependence.

But it needn’t be so. Almost as if by magic, liberty works better. Government transfers aren’t just wrong; they’re far less efficient at accomplishing the good they are supposed to do. Immoral…and far less efficient to boot! In fact, given enough time, they turn to harm.

Mr. Krugman promises:

“In future columns, I will no doubt spend a lot of time pointing out the hypocrisy and logical fallacies of the ‘I earned it and I have the right to keep it’ crowd.”

We’ll be here too, Paul.

And we’ll keep telling anyone who’ll listen about how dangerous your earnest misconceptions and your proposed meddling are.

Gary Gibson
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

January 19, 2011

The Daily Reckoning