Thursday, September 22, 2005

As cold as charity

Reflecting this morning that the last few days have been about as cold as charity, I realised there's been lots of talk recently about forced charity, government charity, and voluntary charity. Let's have a quick look at each of them.

Charity is defined in my dictionary as "liberality to the poor; alms-giving; an act of kindness." Fair enough.

What about forced charity then, the situation that exists with respect to the Welfare State. Clearly, if charity is forced then any 'act of kindness' is neither kind, nor moral, and 'charitable' is certainly not what one can call those who apply the force; since morality requires choice, only unforced actions can be moral ones -- an act forced on us by others, one that we ourselves have not chosen, cannot be considered a moral act. "Morality ends," as Ayn Rand used to say, "where a gun begins." Neither can it be a moral act to give away someone else's wealth against their will (and if it wasn't against their will, you wouldn't have to force them, would you?) -- if giving is admirable, then the admiration surely only adheres when it's your own stuff you're giving away.

So 'forced charity' is actually a misnomer; what it means is taking from Peter by force in order to give to Paul: it's theft, and as George Bernard Shaw observed such a theft will always get the support of Paul.

Charity is only charity when it's voluntarily given; when it's demanded from others or taken by force it's a very different thing. Systematised theft then, rather than charity, is what is at the heart of the welfare state.

It wasn't always so. President Bush's $50 billion appropriation on behalf of New Orleans has prompted Walter Williams to consider some of the history of US Federal Government charity.
Isn't government charity sometimes needed? No, says Williams: 'Charity Is No Function of the Federal Government':
In February 1887, President Grover Cleveland, upon vetoing a bill appropriating money to aid drought-stricken farmers in Texas, said, "I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."

President Cleveland added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."

And so it has. Witness the name-calling, buck-passing, back-stabbing and racial smears going back and forth after Katrina (as Tibor Machan reflects, the only sure thing is that real responsibility will never be accepted for any of this). Fortunately, the nastiness and the blame game hasn't obscured the many acts of genuine kindness that have helped relieve people in their misfortune. It is this genuine kindness freely offered that represents real charity.

There's nothing wrong with voluntary charity -- indeed only charity offered voluntarily is worthy of the name -- but as David Kelley once observed, production naturally precedes consumption, and maybe our demands that others give, give, give until it hurts sometimes obscure this truth. As Kelly once answered when questioned, "Is it better to give or to receive? It is better to produce." What's wrong with praising producers, those who make charity possible? Why do we instead praise those who forcibly appropriate and distribute the wealth of others?

It all gives new insight into Ambrose Bierce's acerbic observation that charity is that "amiable quality of the heart which moves us to condone in others the sins and vices to which we ourselves are addicted." If we're addicted to theft or to living off its proceeds, you can be sure we'll find ways to make that vice look better. Calling theft an act of charity is one way of doing that.

26 Comments:

Blogger kiwithehunter said...

Is there any such thing as voluntary charity? Most charitys seem to rely on guilt,even down to the friends and family level.Surely a form of force.
I think true charity must a rare and wonderful thing.

9/22/2005 12:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

So, Kiwithehunter: how would you define the overwhelming response of aid given from Kiwis all over the country - and from overseas - to the lower North Island after the floods last year, if not 'voluntary charity'?

9/22/2005 12:57:00 pm  
Blogger kiwithehunter said...

I'm sure there were some cases of charity. But if you're asked for money that, may or may not be charity depending on whether you want to give, or feel you should.

9/22/2005 02:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

Tax is not theft. By living in the country you imply consent to your earnings being taxed. Tax therefore is a simple _consenting_ transfer of money, and cannot be termed theft.

What gives government the right to enter you into an implied "contract"? The government claims sovereignship over the country, with force. Force's direct purpose is not to bully people out of money. It's just the basis for government claiming sovereignship over the land, hence the right to place and enforce whatever conditions it likes on citizens.

The blame lies in the constitution, or lack of it. If the principle of maximum personal freedom is important, it should be enshrined in the constitution of a country, and not be subject to voting away. That's what a constitution is for, so the "tyranny of the majority" cannot infringe upon rights held to be inalienable. Problem is, most don't believe maximum personal freedom to be an inalienable right, hence vote in taxes.

9/22/2005 02:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

1. For God's sake Kiwi, don't split hairs. You either give to charity or you don't.

2. Alex: 'tax is not theft' bollocks. Try withholding it on a point of conscience and see how far you get.

9/22/2005 02:46:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

The enforcing of a contract/agreement is not theft.

9/22/2005 03:12:00 pm  
Blogger kiwithehunter said...

Alex, Is tax a contract if you can't break or renegotiate it?

Sus, Do you mean it dosn't matter where the money comes from, and if only saves one child, it's worth it?
I think charity is'nt black and white, there are variations from, having the govt give away your tax money, to helping someone who dosn't ask or expect help.

9/22/2005 03:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

I use contract for lack of a better word, though you can break laws, and renegotiability isn't a necessary attribute of a contract.

9/22/2005 03:48:00 pm  
Blogger Lancashire Lad said...

Alex,

The following is an extract from the writings of Frederick Bastiat. You can read the whole of his topic on the law at:

http://www.jim.com/bastiat.htm

He shows how the law has been perverted in order to make theft legal. He refers to this theft as plunder (or legal plunder). Definition of plunder: rob forcibly, steal, embezzle, pillage.

So let’s refer to taxation as plunder from now on, you may be more comfortable with that.

The Law and Charity
You say: "There are persons who have no money," and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in. If every person draws from the treasury the amount that he has put in it, it is true that the law then plunders nobody. But this procedure does nothing for the persons who have no money. It does not promote equality of income. The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.
With this in mind, examine the protective tariffs, subsidies, guaranteed profits, guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes, public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public works. You will find that they are always based on legal plunder, organized injustice.

9/22/2005 04:21:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

PC's argument against government charity/aid rests on the assumption that people have absolute rights over their property and thus that taxation is theft. But only libertarian extremists believe such a thing, so his argument won't convince anybody who doesn't already agree with him. The rest of us will simply reject this assumption (and for good reason -- see my post: Why Taxation Is Not Theft), and PC's anti-aid argument then falls apart.

The other point PC makes is that private charity is more virtuous. This may be true, but if government aid would be more successful in alleviating suffering, then isn't this more important than our "virtue"? It seems rather perverse to fetishize virtue in such a way, caring more about that than about the actual suffering of those in need. The purpose of charity/aid is to alleviate suffering, not to give rich folks a chance to be virtuous. If government aid would deprive us of this opportunity, so what? We're not the ones in need. Get your priorities straight.

(If anyone is interested in further arguments, I refer you to my post on Charity.)

9/22/2005 07:46:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"He refers to this theft as plunder (or legal plunder)."

No he doesn't; he's French. The translator translated the French word "spoliation" as "plunder". I won't presume to think I understand the precise meaning of an 1850 French word.

Regardless, his argument is that it should not be a just government's business to compromise the liberty of its citizens no matter for what supposed good. Though I sympathise with much of what he says, I don't agree with him fully, because, quoting:

"You say: "There are persons who lack education," and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching - and - learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in this second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property."

He says the "plunder" of citizens in order to pay for universal education isn't a good idea because it violates liberty and property. I disagree with that. It violates liberty yes, but its benefits are in allowing poor citizens the opportunity to achieve their productive potential. The benefits outweigh the downsides. This is why I say the Libz are too philosophically based; you say complete personal freedom must be upheld before absolutely anything else. It's an extreme point of view, and it's not something that's going to gain much traction.

9/22/2005 07:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"PC's argument against government charity/aid rests on the assumption that people have absolute rights over their property and thus that taxation is theft."

Yes. I've disputed this based on the fact that people do not have absolute rights over their property; the land has a sovereign, and in our case its method of operation is voted on by the public.

Your arguments that everything is produced in a "social" context thus everyone has some claim of ownership to everything on the other hand.. is a far bigger hunk of bullshit than anything Bastiat wrote.

9/22/2005 08:08:00 pm  
Blogger Lancashire Lad said...

“He says the "plunder" of citizens in order to pay for universal education isn't a good idea because it violates liberty and property. I disagree with that. It violates liberty yes, but ….”

How does it not also violate property Alex?

What you seem to be saying Alex is that any action that would be considered a crime if committed by an individual is acceptable if committed by government if there is a benefit to someone. What about some gang member who mugs a little old lady at the ATM and distributes her fortnightly pension to worthy causes? That’s all right then is it? After all, the benefits outweigh the downsides – one little old lady versus many other deserving souls. The “worthy cause” recipients would probably think it was (and would most likely vote for him at the next election).

Please explain to me Alex why the above scenario is immoral (if indeed you think it is) but the same action by government is okay. And please don’t tell me it’s because the queen owns the land in which we live. This is what Bastiat was talking about – the law has been stood on it’s head; a law that was introduced to protect us from theft is now used to protect the theft itself. And who makes the law? The thieves!

You say: “ you say complete personal freedom must be upheld before absolutely anything else.” I do not recall saying that, however I would not disagree with the statement. If we all wish to live in a civilised society then robbing Peter to pay Paul must stop – and especially when we consider that a hefty chunk of the stolen loot is taken by the middle-men, some for themselves and the rest to buy themselves the opportunity to remain in a position to repeat the process all over again.

If you want something from me then persuade me to part with it. Do not come round with a gun to my head or send the thugs you have voted in to loot on your behalf. Now that would be civilised! And moral!

9/22/2005 09:30:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Richard has argued against my post by suggesting once again that I don't own my property, so therefore if he or someone acting on his behalf wishes to take it that it isn't theft.

Righto.

In his linked blogs, he notes that "Right-wingers (sic) are rather fond of claiming that taxation is a form of theft," and then in order to justify government putting its hand in my pocket and redistributing what it finds there he proceeds to misunderstand and misrepresent the libertarian justification for me owning my own property. I don't 'own' anything, you see -- or at least, I don't according to Richard. I just sort of look after what I've produced until someone else wants it more than I do. How will I know when someone else wants it more? The government will tell me. How will they know when they can't tell their arse from their elbow? Fuck knows.

I responded some weeks ago to this view of Richard's in the two main posts below, but he chose not to respond fully.
Freedom, through thick and thin
The ‘problem’ of initial acquisition

Richard also charges me with a "rather perverse [desire] to fetishise virtue." I find it frankly odd that a student of ethics would consider an insistence on virtue to be perverse, but at least comforted that he's now prepared to confess that he would rather countenance theft than virtue.

9/23/2005 11:45:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Alex: "I've disputed this based on the fact that people do not have absolute rights over their property; the land has a sovereign, and in our case its method of operation is voted on by the public."

Alex, you've asserted that people do not own what is theirs, but you have offered no justification for that, and nor can you. What I have brought into the world -- what values I have produced and which would not exist without me -- I own. If there are things that now exist but would not without me, they are mine. Not yours. Not Helen's. Not the IRD's.

"The land has a sovereign..." I am my own sovereign. The 'sovereign' you praise played no part in producing what I own; indeed, the 'sovereign' and her agents has done her best to make the production of what I own more difficult. I signed no contract with her agreeing to her hand being permanently in my pocket; my birth was not an action indicating consent to be stolen from by her; and the only just use of the sovereign's force (whose just powers derive from the consent of the governed) is to act to protect that which is justly ours, not to take it from us.

9/23/2005 11:56:00 am  
Anonymous Alex said...

"What you seem to be saying Alex is that any action that would be considered a crime if committed by an individual is acceptable if committed by government if there is a benefit to someone."

A landlord (individual) taking fees to pay for services common to all residents isn't a crime. You're reasoning from the fundamental point of view that your property and earnings are owned 100% by you. If this were the case, then yes, tax would be theft. But it's NOT the case. The very notion of a democracy without a strong libertarian constitution implies that every citizen has some sort of say regarding every other resident's property/earnings.

So yes, there certainly is some sort of collective ownership idea present in most countries that does not exist on an individual level. If you start from that basis, then tax is not theft. If you reject that basis, then tax is theft.

Basically, you're begging the question. Tax is theft because property is 100% yours. Of course tax is theft if you have 100% ownership of your property/earnings. But that ownership is the very point in dispute, one that anyone who isn't Libz doesn't agree with. I've tried to point that out many times with the sovereign argument. The sovereign claims a kind of ownership over your property/earnings, thus in a democracy indirectly do all citizens. Is that "right" or not? Well; that's a separate argument! Certainly what you can't do though is directly beg the question by claiming tax is theft; you have to first argue/prove that you have 100% right of ownership over your property!

So then, in a democracy the question comes down to whether it's "right" for citizens to indirectly, through government, claim some degree of communal ownership (not existing on an individual level) over your property/earnings. If you're a Libertarianz, you'll say no, absolutely not. Thus tax is theft. If you're anyone else, you'll differ and say varying degrees of communal ownership are okay. On the extreme you have communism. In the middle socialism. Back at the first end, Libertarianism.

Personally, I say it's preferable to have no communal ownership. In that sense I'm probably more Libertarian than 95%+ of the population. However, if the generosity of people is not great enough to provide sufficient education/food to those who can't afford it, then a degree of communal ownership needs to be exerted such that children have an opportunity to fulfil their productive potential, and no one starves.

So seriously, Richard is right in that your "tax is theft" argument is only correct when you assume an individual should have absolute rights over their property - something only Libertarianz extremists agree with in the first place! And I remain, as in my very first post on this matter, committed to not voting LibZ for as long as they perversely put an individual's absolute ownership of their property above giving a child opportunity and food.

9/23/2005 11:58:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Alex: "I remain, as in my very first post on this matter, committed to not voting Libz for as long as they perversely put an individual's absolute ownership of their property above giving a child opportunity and food."

Alex, I think you're missing a distinction or two here. Qua politics, we're saying that my need does not trump your ownership. Qua ethicist, we're saying 1) Need is not a claim on others; and 2) forced giving is not an act of virtue; and 3) benevolence is a minor virtue, one trumped by the need to first produce that with which one is able to practice benevolence.

Qua human being, we're saying that if you want help and I'm able to, then ask nicely. Don't get the gun out and demand it, or employ sophistic arguments to assert that you have a right to it.

9/23/2005 12:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

PC. To be honest I struggle with this nebulous moral crap. First there was a monarchy, with the king really owning all the land through threat of force. Then peasants get pissed off, overthrow the king, and form a democracy. Through the power the peasants have given the government, they take otherwise private wealth and redistribute it. But if you remove the social mobility of the poor due to lack of education/food, you will have revolution.

Practically, you have absolute property ownership weighed up versus revolution, lack of social mobility, and starving. Ignoring morals, from a practical viewpoint, there needs to be some small portion of communal ownership. Yes it can be a slippery road to socialism and communism. But it's better than the alternative. That's why I say the Libz are too philosophically based. They simply ignore the practicalities of the matter in favour of perverse triumphing of absolute property rights.

9/23/2005 12:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

P.S. That need of course is only there if private generosity does not generate enough money for these things itself. Which it may or may not do in LibertariaNZ, I don't know.

9/23/2005 12:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Jesus, Alex. There is one huge point that you persist in missing.

Who the bloody hell made you God? How the hell can you presume to know what's best for me - or any other adult - by forcing every earner to part with a portion; presumably you know exactly how much; of his money?

Presumption is indeed the mother of all fuck-ups .. which is why authoritarian countries are socially and economically stuffed.

We have a very simple philosophy: you mind your business and I'll mind mine. This country is drowning in busybodies already, without adding to the number.

9/23/2005 05:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"Who the bloody hell made you God? How the hell can you presume to know what's best for me - or any other adult - by forcing every earner to part with a portion; presumably you know exactly how much; of his money?"

I'm saying a society with social mobility and slightly less than absolute ownership of property is preferable to a society with limited social mobility that would in all likelihood lead to revolution. I don't need to be God to state my societal preferences.

If someone did make me absolute ruler perchance though, I would put into place the government I advocate. There is naturally an aspect of wishing to exert control over others' lives whenever someone doesn't vote Libertarianz. Can't say I apologize for it. Understand I don't want to have to force other people into things, in fact I only would if they'd demonstrated in reality that their private donations weren't enough. That is, only if they'd demonstrated they weren't fit to create a reasonable society by themselves would I try to control them. What gives me the right to make that judgement? Well, I'm far smarter than average, and I'm confident in my abilities to judge whether or not man as a whole is too hopeless to be let run 100% of their own affairs. Does that mean I put myself above the average person in decreeing that they are children and should not be allowed to run things 100% for themselves? Yeah. But if mankind certainly are, then someone has to do it.

"We have a very simple philosophy: you mind your business and I'll mind mine."

While brilliant children are left starving on the streets, trapped in poverty. Yeah; personal freedom and bedamned the consequences. Who the hell do you think you are, God? If we want to let children starve, that's our goddamn prerogative!

9/23/2005 08:11:00 pm  
Blogger Lancashire Lad said...

Alex,

You say: “A landlord (individual) taking fees to pay for services common to all residents isn't a crime.”

Not if it is included in the tenancy agreement. If the landlord did this without prior agreement and he used force to obtain payment he would lose any case that was taken to court. Probably get locked up in fact. The landlord’s best bet would be to employ government to collect the fees; they could then make a law that made theft legal if it was done by government. Wallah! Problem solved! And they could call this theft … TAX. Brilliant!!! Cannot understand why no one has ever thought of that before.

Who owns YOU Alex? The government, your next-door neighbour, a stranger you have never met and are unlikely ever to meet? Who owns you Alex? I’d be interested to know your view.

Oh, and by the way, where are all these starving children coming from Alex? You certainly have one hell of a vivid imagination.

9/23/2005 09:09:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

Now imagine tenents of the landlord give birth to babies, who grow up and demand to live in the landlord's house free of charge. (It's an analogy for christ's sake.)

Who owns me? Slavery isn't part of this discussion.

"Oh, and by the way, where are all these starving children coming from Alex? You certainly have one hell of a vivid imagination."

Charity likely would take care of any children who might be starving. Not that it would matter either way to you Libertarianz! Not starving, great, starving, how dare you infringe upon my liberty!

What charity may well not take care of however is education. There's a real possibility social mobility would go down the toilet.

9/23/2005 09:44:00 pm  
Blogger Lancashire Lad said...

Alex,

"Who owns me? Slavery isn't part of this discussion."

I was wondering how you would try to avoid answering that question, but:

Of course slavery is part of this discussion. You are either free or you are not free. There is no in-between. If you are owned by others then you are a slave to those others. If you are owned by others then they can take the fruits of your labour. If they do not own you then the taking of your possessions without your permission is theft.

So, answer the bloody question Alex. Who do you think owns you?

The rest of your post is like all your others - full of supposition. What if this, what if that? It's bollocks! Why would having a Libertarian government suddenly create all the poverty you envisage - after all, people would be able to keep their own money so would be far more prosperous. Less poverty. More spare cash to finance charities of their choosing. Families far better able to look after their own.

Wow! Government wouldn't like that would they. No-one needing to rely on them; no-one to buy votes from. Wouldn't need a large government then would we? No wonder current government is against leaving money where it belongs.

9/23/2005 11:36:00 pm  
Blogger Lancashire Lad said...

And as for education Alex. Kids are not getting educated today - especially the ones who go to state school.

Under a Libz government education would be privatised. Schools would have to compete for their enrolment thus leading to much better standards than the one-cap-fits-all system we currently have. There would be as many different choices of education as there are pizza toppings. Parents (the best people to choose what is best for their own children) would be able to select from an educational smorgasboard, the type of education they thought best for their child or/and that was within their budget.

Please do not tell me that everyone deserves equal education. If education is a priority then parents will make sacrifices to provide the best. It is what we do every day, we each make choices within our budgets - and is the reason I drive a Mitsubishi and not a Rolls Royce.

I may even choose to sponsor a neighbours child through their education - with a Libz government I would likely be able to afford it - so would you, and you, and you!

9/23/2005 11:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"If you are owned by others then they can take the fruits of your labour."

But the converse is not true. Some degree of communal ownership of property/earnings doesn't mean anyone "owns" anyone else. Apparently you believe everyone in the free world is a slave; a nice definition you have, but no one else shares it. Property and earnings are quite distinct from the self.

"If they do not own you then the taking of your possessions without your permission is theft."

See, there you go again begging the question with the "your" possessions. Your earnings are not 100% your property; that's the very point in dispute here.

"Why would having a Libertarian government suddenly create all the poverty you envisage - after all, people would be able to keep their own money so would be far more prosperous. Less poverty."

Hah. The poor pay next to no tax as it is. It wouldn't make them more prosperous, it would leave virtually no change in their income while burdening them with the need to pay for a ton of formerly publicly funded services. What's going to happen to them? To all the people currently on the various sorts of benefit? They're gonna be a shit-load poorer, and they may well not be able to afford education.

"And as for education Alex. Kids are not getting educated today - especially the ones who go to state school."

The stupid ones aren't. It's always difficult to educate stupid kids. The smart ones however, whatever poverty they're born into, are highly likely to finish school, get a good job, and make a better life. This may well not be the case under a Libertarianz government.


"I may even choose to sponsor a neighbours child through their education - with a Libz government I would likely be able to afford it - so would you, and you, and you!"

Yes, this is the ideal fairyland you Libz apparently live in. And you're living in even more of a fairyland if you think every parent can just "budget in" what they can afford to educate their children. Many parents will effectively have zero income. They won't have any money to budget for education.

That said, if private charity can take care of providing education to every child and other such things, then I am all for LibertariaNZ. As I have repeatedly stated, it's only if private generosity is NOT enough that I would force taxation. You Libz on the other hand would heinously allow brilliant kids to be trapped in poverty. Somehow I think your opinion would be different if you didn't have the plain random chance of being born into a family who could afford it. Or perhaps it might change when said kid shoots you in the head during a revolution.

9/24/2005 01:39:00 am  

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