Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Column on Varieties of Looting

Why Condemn Looting?

Tibor R. Machan

When looters took advantage of Katrina?or any other disaster for that
matter?everyone seemed to have in mind only the people who were ransacking
stores and robbing them in plain sight. These were the looters who were
widely condemned, against whom the police and military took direct action
and who, if caught, will probably pay for their deeds.

Yet in some ways these looters were at least honest and up front. There
are many, many other looters who go about it in more circumspect fashion.
They do not admit outright that they are looting but hide behind the
fa├žade of government sponsored wealth transfer or redistribution which has
the appearance of legitimacy.

In point of fact, all those who insist on getting the government to bail
them out by getting funds out of the various treasuries that are supported
from taxes are looters, only less honest than those doing it in broad
daylight. For the essence of looting is to take advantage of a confusion
caused by some natural disaster by taking other people?s resources so as
to shore up one?s own. It doesn?t really matter at all that one fills out
some forms and instead of directly robbing others, has politicians and
bureaucrats do the dirty work. And it doesn?t matter if the goals to be
supported are themselves decent.

Of course, there is this myth about how when one goes through the
political process as one takes from others who have not be asked to give,
one is simply following the democratic process. As some people see this,
such an approach to ?wealth transfer? is one that ?we have decided to
use.? Yet, this is a farce. No one has decided apart from the people with
political clout. And that clout is very far from justly obtained. It isn?t
at all one of the just powers of government, quite the contrary.

The only just power of government is the very opposite of embarking upon
all this looting. Just powers must be acquired by means of the consent of
the governed, but, in fact, the governed give their consent but to very
few powers of the government. They do consent to having government secure
their rights, including their right to private property. That is the tacit
consent everyone gives who lives among others, namely, to respect and
protect everyone?s basic rights. Which is to say governments may only be
justly empowered to protect all persons from looters, including looters
who dishonestly go through government to accomplish their looting.

Of course, some will cry out, ?But this is an emergency.? That?s however,
disingenuous. The looting I am talking about goes on all the time, not at
all only in emergencies. Governments have nearly always been part of the
problem for which the American Founders had believed they might be turned
around and made part of the solution. They had believed that governments
could be restrained, limited, to protective powers, to securing our rights
instead as they have done for centuries and centuries, being their most
persistent and consistent violators.

Sadly, they failed to set things up so as to achieve this goal. It is a
reasonable goal, after all, since the one area where force is justified is
in self-defense. And one would hope that one could limit government to
using only such force that defends people instead of attacking them. Alas,
that reasonable hope seems to have been a pipedream.

No one disputes that some of the looting goes for ends that are
unobjectionable. One may be sure that this is so even with the honest
looters?many of them steal and rob so as to feed themselves, to stock up
on resources so they can survive. Yet, that doesn?t justify the looting,
not a bit.

In a civilized society even in emergencies people seek voluntary help,
not force others to provide them with aid. And in a civilized legal system
the same would hold. However urgent the need, however great the goal,
support for it must be gained without resort to murder, assault, robbery,
extortion and other types of rights violation. Just because the need is
great, it doesn?t follow at all, in morality, law or politics, that
someone may coerce another to alleviate it.

Sadly we are far from such a civilized society.

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