Thursday, April 14, 2011

Republicans are Disarmed

Tibor R. Machan

In the current Democrat-Republican fracas Democrats want to ignore fiscal prudence and claim they are doing it for the poor and needy. Republicans, in turn, claim they don’t want higher and more taxes because of their speculative contention that taxing takes resources away from the market where jobs are created, especially by the rich who would spend what they have if its not confiscated from them.

When it comes to the strength of the two sides’ arguments, the Democrats win because they have the moral high ground, given that the Republicans lack a moral case in favor of their position. But there is one. But Republicans are as wedded to confiscating other people’s resources as are Democrats, only perhaps not as much of it as Democrats. The bulk of the members of each party believe in taxation for the goals that are dear to them. And with that premise, the Democrats have the upper hand since their goals are more compassionate, caring. Yes, the Republicans do embrace the virtue of prudence but in hard times generosity or charity trumps prudence. We all go out of our way to stand up when times are tough to help out, even if this is risky. People will jump into troubled waters to rescue someone even if they might perish. Not perhaps if they know they will perish but if they only might, the risk is worth it.

If, however, the Republicans took a principled stand against extortion and defended the idea that it must be those who own the resources who decide what should be done with them—whether to give it to the needy or invest it in productive endeavors, for example—then there would be a chance for them to win this argument. For, while people often sympathize with compassionate intentions and policies, they generally do not sympathize with coercing others to make them compassionate. Indeed, they sense that one cannot make other people do what is right—they must choose to do the right thing, whatever that happens to be.

What the Republicans ought to do is insist that whatever help people need in this country—or indeed anywhere—it must be given freely, not at the point of a gun. That theme may sit well with most American citizens since it is, after all, the centerpiece of the country’s political philosophy. Freedom! Republicans miss out on standing up for it against Democrats and come off as merely having a different scheme up their sleeves, one that seems like cronyism to Democrats and their supporters. Don’t tax the rich because it is an inefficient way to help the poor! This comes off as a bogus idea and it is to cave in, too, instead of to stand up for something really different.

The entire history of political oppression rests on the theme that important goals, like helping the needy, require oppressing people, forcing them to labor for the greater good, for society, for the public interest. It has almost always been a ruse, of course, but it is difficult to rebut unless one has a sound alternative, namely, insisting on everyone’s right to decide how one’s labor and resources should be made use of. It isn’t about wealth but about choice!

What the Democrats and their supporters want is control over everyone’s resources. They have argued this position for centuries. They still argue that it isn’t really your wealth at all, it belongs to society, the public, and in a democratic republic its allocation must be left to politicians. Not true but sounds plausible enough.

Several of the major intellectual advocates of the Democrats’ way make this point quite explicitly. Consider the books The Myth of Ownership, by Thomas Nagel and Liam Murphy, and The Cost of Rights, by Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes. And the Democrats’ base, the Left, has for all its existence denied that people have a right to the products of their labor, let alone what they come by through luck. Property rights are the first to be abolished in Marx and Engels The Communist Manifesto. It is basic for the Left, including for the somewhat softer, watered down American version of it we find among the thinkers who forge the Democrats’ public philosophy.

Republicans, if they want to win, must attack this directly, not with supply side economics but with Lockean individual rights. Until that happens, they will remain losers.

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