Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Gifts" from Government

Tibor R. Machan

It was as if President Bush became Santa Clause. An MSNBC-TV anchor announced that the president signed into law a bill that extend unemployment compensation payments to jobless Americans and said, without flinching, that this is "good news." Only mainstream nonpartisan media can carry this off.

For starters, extending the period of time the unemployed will receive money from Uncle Sam is not such good news, even for the unemployed. It doesn't encourage them to find a new line of work from which they could then make an honest living, perhaps even a better one than they made from their old job. Also, the source of the unemployment funds are not personal wealth of donors who do not need to be paid back but come from members of current and future generations, thus making the unemployment payments a kind of loan from unwilling strangers. Overall, the funds turn out to be a loan which will be a burden on the unemployed once they get a job again. Then--and this one is a real lulu--the unemployment funds will be a burden on millions of yet unborn Americans while they had no opportunity to have any say about how the funds should be spent. There goes "No taxation without representation" down the drain even though it was one of the victories that had been won at the founding of the country.

But there is more. What is a professional newscaster doing praising a dubious public policy, especially one that so clearly amounts to robbing Peter in order to pay Paul? Is it really a good thing for a society to practice this way of dealing with problems? Does it teach a good lesson to young people concerning responsible household management and personal finance? One would hope that funding people's expenses by this means isn't something anyone would want to advocate. It is totally unproductive. Any gain by the unemployment compensation recipients must be a loss to those who will have to cover the public expense involved. Yet a major news anchor calls this "good news"!

One way some political theorists and commentators justify policies involving this kind of transfer of financial burdens from one group of Americans to another is by claiming that we are all in the same boat, that America is, after all, a big family or team and everyone must be ready to help out everyone else, especially in an emergency. But this is a myth--we are not a huge family, not, especially, in a country with some 300 million citizens with a immense variety of backgrounds and beliefs.

It is often forgotten that the kind of resource transfer involved in providing the employed with compensation does not even amount to helping. Help is something that's given voluntarily, as when one makes a contribution to the Red Cross or a philanthropic group that supports poor children, stray animals or medical research. Funding the program isn't voluntary and amounts to an unwillingly assumed burden on both living and yet to be born citizens.

Those who claim that all this must be accepted as the price of membership in a human community don't appreciate that such public policies actually undermine the humanity of the community. They make out of people involuntary servants of one another, robbing them of the freedom of choice to contribute to each other when in special need. Civilized people do not simply dip into their neighbors' resources when they are in special need but make a request and await the granting of such a request. Only parasites take from others without those others' consent.

Then of course there is the corrosive impact of public policies such as unemployment compensation when they make it a matter of public policy to treat people as if they could be used by others without their consent. And what about the ill effects of using unearned resources to support oneself and one's family? It is in fact quite humiliating to go on unemployment and, then, it doesn't quite serve to make up for the income one earned while working for pay.

But, of course, the system is now thoroughly entrenched and undoing it would take a revolution, a widespread realization that people must lend a hand to each other of their own free will and not by being commanded to do so by government officials who really have no moral authority to do this. Still, it is useful to call to mind the fact that in a free and just society no one is another's slave or involuntary servant, even in times of emergency.

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