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09/23/2009

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Just one grasshopper? No doubt they became more numerous than the ants until they all lived equally miserable lives thanks to the implicit threats of stinging by the busybody bee government.

The eloquence of your delivery is overshadowed by the selfishness, arrogance and ignorance that underlies your premise (and much of what I read on this site). The empathy that you so glibbly criticize is not always directed toward freezing, lazy grasshoppers; it may just as often be for ants who, convinced that if they worked hard they would have a warm and comfortable winter, had their security stolen by selfish, arrogant grasshoppers who believe in the "free" market because it serves their selfishness and arrogance. How remarkably simplistic to reduce any type of suffering we see in this country today to the suffers' own fault. What about the ants who worked hard and saved but lost their winter stores when the market collapsed, or when some other greedy or self-serving individual layed them off from their job to move it offshore for cheaper in the name of America's one TRUE religion - capitalism? If there really is an invisible hand as Adam Smith purported it should reach down and crush venal, spiteful, selfish individuals who blame everyone who is struggles with no regard for how complicated the circumstances may truly be.

"How remarkably simplistic to reduce any type of suffering we see in this country today to the suffers' own fault."

Talk about remarkably simplistic.

"or when some other greedy or self-serving individual layed them off from their job to move it offshore"

Why ARE they moving offshore? Here are some government letters for you: NAFTA; GATT; SOX; IRS; AFL-CIO; FASB... the list of governmentally coercive acronyms is endless.

"America's one TRUE religion - capitalism"

Wrong. America's one true religion is mercantilism, known today as corporatism; where business and government dance together for profit and power - leaving the working man to keep less and less of his labor.

Your condescension has no basis in fact and is therefore done for the sake of condescension. Guilt-fests like yours bounce off of those well-read enough to know that harmony and abundance can only be found in a setting of liberty - with private property at the center of such an ideal.

Your wish to crush us shows how violent your tendencies just may be. More's the pity.

I have significant concern for those who are poor. The idea of hungry children or families living in poor, cramped housing (or no housing), tears at my heart--perhaps that's why I voluntarily donate to organizations (some faith based, some not) which seek to solve those problems while trying to help those folks rise above their circumstances. As a percentage of the intake, those organizations have relatively low administrative costs--something that I ask about before I give money.

The question I always return to where government aid programs and the forced extraction of money from those who have to give to those who have not, is this: has it done any good? Do we have fewer children living in poverty? How many of those children in the last 40 years since the Great Society can actually be said to have risen beyond the level of their parents socioeconomic status? Ultimately, shouldn't the goal of any "aid program" be to change behaviors so that people don't *need* aid anymore? Is there evidence that this has been done in any significant way by the government?

I tend to believe that the government has *encouraged* dependence, rather than independence; having people dependent on you is source of power. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this, as they "bring home the bacon" to constituents--just look at the typical rate of re-election for most incumbents.

No one should starve, or go without emergency medical care in the United States. And faith-based food banks and soup kitchens in our part of the country, anyway, help that. No one goes without emergency medical care. Hospitals are prohibited by law from refusing emergency care to anyone.

But the question is--simplistic though it might seem--is it more moral to steal the fruits of my labor (theft is all that taxes can be considered--they're not voluntary in any sense) in order to encourage the development of a dependent class, or is it more moral to encourage self reliance and voluntary generosity?

The founding fathers envisioned that "a more perfect union" could only be realized if We the People strive for Justice, domestic Tranquility, common defence and general Welfare among all Americans. Those are not my words. Justice, Tranquility and Welfare are all capitalized in the Preamble of the Constitution so the founding fathers must have seen them as extremely important; defence did not warrant such attention and oddly it is the only one of the four that I routinely hear conservative dissenters defend. How can we assure Justice, Tranquility and Welfare if we treat the least fortunate as a burden or as unworthy. I wish that everyone who is unhappy with the current administration would atleast approach this problem with the intent to, as the Preamble states, "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves". We are all Americans, not just the employed, insured and well-to-do. Taxes (I do not like to pay them anymore that the next person) are the
means by which the government (of the people and by the people) can fund the institutions that support those efforts.
Just as the parable of the ant and grasshopper analogizes the point that hard work is rewarded, my analogy of a crushing invisible hand was not meant literally as a desire to crush those with whom I disagree. It was a metaphor for the frustration that I feel in the face of arguments that imply that any attempt by our government to assure benefits or Liberty to one individual or group of individuals to whom the dissenters do not belong threatens Liberty. There is not a finite amount of Rights and Liberty to go around. Jefferson wrote that Rights and Liberties are "self-evident". Liberty cannot be hoarded and kept only for those who earned it. I do not want "to crush" you or your ideas. It is a free country and you can think as you wish. I wrote my response because I believe that it is OK for government to advocate for the poor. I may not agree with every idea how to do that but I do believe that we, the American people and the American government, have a duty to defend the defenseless among us. The unemployed and uninsured are not roaches or rodents who have come to loot the store. We should and will ultimately be judged by what we do to the least among us. Helping your neighbor (whether it is through some governmental organization a church or through individual initiative) is a defense of Liberty as much as any other.

Finally, as to whether the USA is a capitalist or mercantilist country, my understanding of the difference is this:
Mercantilism was the main economic system used during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. It favors minimized imports and maximized exports. The monarchs at the time thought that such a method would help their country prevail financially due to the supposedly increase of foreign inflows of cash - and with less purchases of imports due to strict tariffs and high taxes.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are all or mostly privately owned and operated for profit, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market economy.

Thank you for your comments. They have inspired me to a post entitled "America Before the Rise of the Welfare State."

http://redstateeclectic.typepad.com/redstate_commentary/2009/09/the-rule-of-law---expression-and-protector-of-liberty-and-her-free-market-economy---is-by-far-the-most-powerful-generator-of.html

The post may help understand my contention that the notion of "welfare" as it is used today, was not known or even imaginable to the founding fathers. They certainly would have condemned it, as most presidents of the USA would have until the early 20th century.

To the founding fathers welfare was not something concrete ordained or given (as one gives a handout) by the government, but the result of observing rules of just conduct.

For, they understood what Iammuel Kant meant when he wrote "welfare has no principle," i.e. in its concrete manifestations, it means different things to different people.

If you wish to organise society along the lines of subjective (in that sense unprincipled) concepts of welfare, you must give preeminence to one of the many views on the matter, and you must accept that the dominant view is to be imposed on an entire society - a totalitarian act, which is incompatible with "Justice" and "domestic Tranquility" (which latter implies freedom from bully-type forces, freedom from illegitimate coercion, and the restriction of coercion to the enforcement of rules of just conduct (again: these rules being the very embodiment of the notion of "welfare") equally applicable to all cititzens including the government.

I can't explain in this comment how sticking to rules of just conduct (rather than centrally organising welfare in a concrete way) results in far more wealth and far less poverty than under any other arrangement, including the modern welfare state which is little more than an excuse for ever expanding government, and therefore unsurprsingly a time bomb with not too much ticking left to do.

While I have no problem with advocating for the poor--or giving to help them--I question whether the government is the appropriate means to doing that. Are we "securing liberty" for those who become ever more dependent on government largesse? Are we "securing liberty" for those who are being forced to relinquish the fruits of their labor in order to fund the former? It seems to me that in many ways we're securing slavery to the government, not liberty.

I see a very large difference between "helping my neighbor" through individual initiative and through my taxes. In many ways, I think that the illusion that we are "helping people" through our taxes has given many people the sense that they really don't need to help in other ways--it's given them a "pass" on beneficent behavior, because they're "paying" for the government to do it. Anecdotally (in the circles I run in, anyway), civic organizations and churches that were traditionally "social justice" type churches have seen decreases in membership and giving as the government becomes more involved in "charity." And I'm still not convinced that the government does as good a job of getting people into a situations which can help them improve their lot in life. Government agencies don't have people who will take someone under their wing, mentor them while they're feeding them, and tap into their community ties to help people find jobs.

I'm a big believer in voluntarism, though, and believe that volunteers who truly care about their mission are more effective at helping people than are bureaucrats who care about collecting their paycheck, and don't want to be bothered with ridding the world of the problems that keep them employed.

Here's another interesting piece--deals with your Adam Smith objections and all--written in 1952, and still relevant in my judgment: http://mises.org/story/3673

Great comments, Laura. Great link, thanks for posting it. Enjoyed it tremendously.

"The unemployed and uninsured are not roaches or rodents who have come to loot the store."

No, they're not roaches or rodents but the government does loot the store on their behalf. Does robbing people on behalf of the poor make it just?

Mercantilism, while in the earlier centuries was as you described, it is in a broader sense a system of privilege on behalf of those with power and money. Adam Smith described it as "politically privileged trade and profit to the detriment of consumers".

Your definition of capitalism is a pretty good one - especially when you consider how many ways it gets twisted. For clarity, my definition follows that of Rothbard:

"... a network of free and voluntary exchanges in which producers work, produce, and exchange their products for the products of others through prices voluntarily arrived at."

Knowing the above definitions, do you really think we have capitalism in this country? Or, rather, is the system one in which goods and services are controlled, restrained, permitted, or prevented by a government which is involved in everything? We are, economically, very far away from capitalism.

"It was a metaphor for the frustration that I feel"

Point taken. Thanks for the clarification.

What the government does in redistributing funds from one person or group to another is not charity. It is theft. Theft does not change whenever it is codified into law. So theft on behalf of any group, poor or otherwise, is wrong. How can you have general welfare for both the robber and the robbed?

Frederic Bastiat said it well: "There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. Personally, I cannot imagine a more alarming situation."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go help my third grader with his math lesson of the day: tessellations.


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