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August 12th, 2010
Principled, Even When Difficult
photo credit: Jérémie A.
It’s hard to discuss the immorality, illegality, or illegitimacy of a program or policy with a person who is benefiting, or has in the past benefited, from that program or policy. He who has profited from your pocket reacts with defensive disgust when explained, even in the nicest of terms, that what he has done is theft.
What’s further difficult about this situation is the pervasiveness of the programs that create such a situation. 90% of mortgages are now owned by the federal government; 41 million Americans now use food stamps; over 20 million people receive unemployment benefits; 47 million are enrolled in Medicare, and 58 million in Medicaid; and for the first time since the Great Depression, Americans receive more government aid than they paid in taxes.
Try telling your average recipient of these federal funds (confiscated from other individuals through taxation, burdened upon all by debt, or stolen from all by inflation) that these programs should not exist, and you’re likely to elicit an emotional story about a dire need that this financial assistance satisfied. An unemployed and low-skilled father of four, a sick child of a low-income couple, or some other situation comes fraught with tears and desperation. If you then tell the person that you’d support removing this opportunity for support, you quickly and naturally become the enemy.
Being principled in such times can be difficult, for those who in some cases might be pejoratively referred to as “ideologues” are often incorrectly accused of lacking compassion. After all, if you really want to help such people, why would you not support these programs? Many can point to lives saved or extended as a direct result of access to food and medical services through these programs. “If you had it your way,” one supporter could easily argue, “my father would be dead.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Really: when you pit the forcible confiscation of a hundred dollars per month against the life of this person’s loved one, do you really think that your ideological argument is going to overpower their deeply emotional conviction? Good luck with that.
Those who cling to principle and oppose such immoral, illegal, and illegitimate programs walk a fine line, having to defend the virtue of liberty while not appearing selfish and indifferent; it’s hard to win people over when they think you will cause them more suffering.
One man to whom we should look as a role model is Frédéric Bastiat, who on one occasion addressed this topic thusly:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
It takes similar clarity of thought and political consistency to demonstrate to social welfare beneficiaries the destructiveness of the programs they see as personally beneficial. I myself have experienced on several occasions the sensitive defensiveness of those who have profited through plunder, and I remain unsure of the best way to approach such topics with them.
In the end, though, the defense of liberty is more important than making a person feel good about their participating in a socialist system of theft. Finding ways to do that, while remaining sensitive to others’ problems and effective in persuading them to the cause of liberty, is a monumental effort—one which I have yet to master.
26 Responses to “Principled, Even When Difficult”
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Not that it addresses the difficulty of speaking compassionately to defenders and beneficiaries of tax-funded social programs, but I have often observed that government instituted by men lacks the fundamental capacity to bless us for our sacrifice, unlike our Father who seeth our secret acts of charity and service toward our neighbors, and layeth in store for us rewards in His kingdom.
This is a difficult line to walk. I think in a given community of people (small to large communities, from the household up) have a right to all agree pitch in and help out a class of problems. That’s what government is all about, people getting together and all getting on the same page about things.
The problem is people becoming dependent on these systems as well as the power that is unethically or unintentionally wielded can be just as destructive as constructive, possibly more so in most cases.
There’s no easy answer. The best you can do is educate while being compassionate. You can, for example, hate a system but be happy for someone that they got assistance at a time of desperate need from said system without condoning the system itself. Kind of a hate the sin love the sinner type thing.
Let us know when you get that figured out, I could use some help there as well. =)
One thing that I think would help in conversations like this is not only to talk about why you think the programs are problematic, but what the alternative, compassionate solutions should be.
I think much of the system is broken, but I think we need more discussion in politics and elsewhere about alternatives that can still encourage and facilitate a culture where there is less division based on economic lines, more self-reliance, and a moving toward “no poor among them.”
I have this same conundrum. Many of my closest family members and friends are (or have been) recipients of some sort of government financial aid. I don’t actively preach “repentance” to them for being involved in indirect plunder but when they find out that I am against being involved in such programs they often get defensive. I just explain that it’s a principle that I choose to live by. I briefly explain why but quickly add that I don’t judge individuals who participate in such programs because I understand that everyone’s circumstances and ideologies are different…and that’s ok by me.
Perhaps in a spirit of love and understanding we can better persuade people to adopt our values.
I do think the answer lies in an understanding of and rejection of all “plunders” (to use the wording of this thread) – including much of the excesses of the corporate structure enriching those with the resources to further enrich themselves, systems of making money which involve exploiting confusing financial loopholes, and other systems which block out access to the underprivileged and needy to the institutions and resources which may give them the advantage to uplift themselves.
The overwhelming trend of society is that people born in desperation and poverty tend to stay in this state when the unconscious measures of their worth in our society remain abject – schools with outdated libraries and few computers, barbed wire and the unconscious assumption that most will fall into unskilled labor work, among other factors. “Hard work” is but one factor that leads some to fortune and others to failure, and an honest appraisal of the situation requires the perspective and appreciation of ambiguity to recognize that while we may not be entitled to take some portion of the fortunes of the wealthy, they are certainly not “entitled” to this gain either. The idea is spiritually and intellectually repugnant.
In real life, at least for the short term, believing that a central governmental (or functionally equivalent private) authority should not be involved in these matters IS the belief that these things, by and large, simply should not be done. The overwhelming failures of the “private sector” to impartially meet the needs of the poor, sick, disabled etc. who cannot help themselves is apparent. While people certainly fall through the cracks now, anybody who has known a family who has been barely able to maintain solvency through their work even with government assistance cannot claim that they do not need this assistance.
Bringing this into international context is startling. Our society is essentially built upon the backs of essentially uncompensated people worldwide while we reap the rewards of cheaper products, more luxury items and leisure time. Presumably we’d be against tougher labor laws in China, minimum wage and overtime laws, anything to prevent the nonstop flow of wealth to those with the wealth to keep the channels closed. This we call “liberty” or “the free market,” an oxymoronic use of a term which might have irritated Adam Smith to no end. So unless we’re starting up a pretty amazing system to compensate for the usury, rank dishonesty and exploitation of our economic system, one which we willingly ignore or justify, bickering about some insignificant portion of those resources flowing back downward seems shortsighted at best. It seems absurd that arguing against the inalienable right of the powerful to become more powerful has become an extreme position.
I just looked up the definition of the word “plunder” in my GospeLink dictionary (basically, I’m consulting the Webster’s 1828 dictionary):
Seems like “open force” has to be present for a plundering to occur.
If you really believe that an unjust and illicit quantity of force has been used against you, shouldn’t you be shouting to high heaven over this injustice perpetrated against you? Isn’t one justified in using force as a defense against the pillaging of your wallet?
Why don’t you?
We are talking about principles here, and the necessity of taking a principled stand, right?
C’mon, here, demonstrate those principles. Take a stand. Refuse to submit to the annual April 15th plundering. Tell the IRS that you have much better ideas on how others can and will be helped out by your maintaining absolute control over the parceling out of your income to those who are truly deserving.
Go for it.
Have you ever heard of “The Beehive House,” Connor? This has been going on for a long, long, time.
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship….” – Alex Fraser Tytler
Agreed, Eric. I’d suggest a modified form of that quote, however, where giant international corporations figure out that by advancing their own interests, masking it in populist rhetoric and references to our Founders, they can essentially maintain monopoly and win favorable legislation, while making their marriage with government seem like a free speech issue.
Granted, this moves in both directions, though it’s pretty clear that few of us are opposed to handout money written out in our names (after all, “red” states get far more federal funding), we just don’t want anybody else to get it. Despite what I wrote above, if this were really a matter of principle over greed it would be easier to pick sides. I feel Connor and many posters here have their head on straight as far as dedication to principle goes, though most people on this side of the argument do not.
Loved the Bastiat quote on socialism, Connor!
I’ve been thinking — isn’t government welfare (be it domestic, corporate or international), at its core, a violation of The First Amendment? If you think of irreligion as a religion (as Elder Maxwell contends), aren’t ALL types of government welfare really the irreligious secularists (many of whom surely believe themselves to be religious) imposing their counterfeit charity on all? HOW have socialist (or social) programs become so widely accepted and embraced?!? Widespread faithlessness, I suspect.
Clumpy — in relation to your concern of international labor exploitation (and domesetic, frankly), I respectfully disagree and commend the following to you from Milton Friedman:
In America we use more slaves today than at any other time in our history, there just not located within our borders(except maybe for illegals). So I must agree with Clumpy on that. Its just a huge transfer of wealth and jobs outside of our once productive society.
This will all go on and on because when American money is made out of nothing for the use of power brokers and politicians there is nothing that can stop it. Until we the people take back our monetary system from the money interests we cannot truly ever recover financially. Federal Taxation is fraud, a federal fiat currency cannot have debt attached to it. The only tax we would pay would be on the inflation. The fiat money is imputed with keystroke on a computer not by blood, sweat and tears like most of us must do to obtain it. Its time to wake people up and destroy this secret combination. Without this corrupt power most of everything said in this article couldn’t happen.
The current situation is amazing for us, not a loss of jobs and wealth – we get cheaper equipment, cheaper consumer goods and clothes, and dirt-cheap electronics. This is pretty much the standard. I’d much rather import nice things from overseas at rock-bottom prices rather than make them myself, wouldn’t you? I would think you’d agree that we’re definitely coming out ahead in this arrangement.
If you don’t have a job it doesn’t matter how low the prices are. It will work for a while until it all comes crashing down. Its also a way for the fed to hide real inflation. America has the only world currency that every country will work for. All we must do is print it. But your right it isn’t real wealth being transfered. Its just paper money the ghost of money.
“Huh?” is right. As I re-read your original post to which I was responding, now I’m not so sure that I got your initial points.
Forgive me for perhaps being too simplistic, but you seemed to essentially be:
– bemoaning corporatism (rightly so).
– broadly asserting that the “wealthy” receive underserving gain by exploiting the “hard working” (maybe you didn’t mean it as broadly as I read into it).
– deriding international trade (a point on which I disagree — which was the reason for my Friedman clip).
Admittedly, my head was spinning a bit trying to hone in on what exactly you were getting at. Apparently, I missed the mark. It wouldn’t surprise me and I’m sorry, if so.
My point with the Friedman clip includes that, “never in history has there been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than capitalism and the free enterprise system and the free market.” Poverty domestic or abroad, I might add.
I am against tougher labor laws abroad. And at home. Everywhere. Their absence, I do call liberty and the free market.
I obviously misunderstood your post. My bad.
The welfare burden should be shifted from the government to the private sector. Create laws that encourage individuals, companies, groups, religions to be better to others.
IE: a company who pays insurance for all its employees and 100 non-employees in their community gets a tax benefit or the ability to bid on government contracts or what ever the reward may be.
Protect the do gooders from liability. Allow doctors to donate more without the legal pitfalls of being liable for any small mistake when giving free care.
In my world people in need should turn to family first, then to friends, then to community/church.
I am an oxymoron, a libertarian on a low income. However, I have not taken advantage of any of the following programs, for which I would have qualified: state health care, food stamps; I have taken unemployment when unemployed; I had the idea that my employer paid into it.
While I do have my own contracting business, I still pay taxes on the work I do independently. I would like very much to be completely independent, but I have not been able to find enough work to do so.
I realize that unemployment has gone from being an employer-funded program to a federally regulated program, and that troubles me.
The present economic situation is so complicated that it is hard to know who is not complicit.
Also, when I went through college I did not take grants, which I could have taken.
It has been my aim to remain independent, but I see the reality of true independence becoming less and less likely.
You are correct; I don’t know what I would have done without what we used to call ‘unemployment insurance’–
when I was unemployed for a long time. I lost savings; I lost a lot.
Getting built back up again has been difficult, since I was never able to find work again at the same level as before. Yes, I am older; I will soon qualify for SS retirement, and I would rather work than take it.
There is security in having complied with the counsel of prophets about food storage and debt freedom, but it still takes money to stay alive. And I am aware that many people haven’t had access to that counsel. Even many in the church who have heard that counsel have not heeded it. I am familiar with at least one very wealthy person in the church (in my area) who has no debt and no food storage or any other way of sustaining life, including alternatives for fuel.
I do have a mortgage, my only debt.
I may choose to die myself rather than seek medical assistance, but it would be more difficult to make that choice for a child or grandchild.
Sorry, I just thought it was kind of weird to make welfare a First Amendment issue. It doesn’t seem strictly related 😛
These two sort of go together. I understand the concept of the corporate system and chain of command, as well as the way that high wages for executives in large public companies help to guard against a natural tendency to play it safe while catering to the stockholder’s desires for risk-taking in the interest of potential gain.
But I think that many of the tendencies of the modern stockholder (and to a lesser extent, business) system – an emphasis on quick moving, efficiency and consistency for the bottom line (resulting in big bonuses or scattershot firings and hirings depending on the situation), lack of individual accountability and an emphasis on consistent per-share/quarterly profits rather than the building up of longterm goodwill and brand loyalty – are a mistake.
I believe that the “invisible hand” only works when real competition is a factor – similar to the way combustion requires oxygen – and monopolies and globalization just don’t do the job. People are essentially commoditized.
On my mission I saw people work themselves to exhaustion in hot factories sewing shirts together just so that they could break even and stay in their tiny houses made of stacked corrugated metal. The raw profit being produced in that factory was staggering, but they sure weren’t seeing any of it. The countries of export had the upper hand and came out absolutely ahead. Everybody gets their slice except the people without a choice.
It’s also a wonderful contradiction in our modern age of “work hard and make it” – China will never become a middle-class society until they demand higher wages, but this will never happen until they can outsource their manufacturing apparatus to a nation with even less say. That was Japan’s real secret to success, but the human pyramid can only go down so far – we’re seeing India start to rise as they take advantage of professional work, which actually has some bargaining room, and Bangladesh and Pakistan are starting to prop up the “second world” nations that managed to move the chain down further, but where to now? Africa?
My point is that bemoaning the loss of “jobs” in the U.S. while essentially capitalizing on our wealth, clout and advantage to retain wealth, clout and advantage over the people who actually make the stuff we use is supremely strange. The problems I have with the often dehumanizing, destructive forces of the corporate system in the United States only compound when we move overseas. My problem with “free trade” is that it isn’t free. The only freedom we talk about is the “freedom” of the handful of decision makers to continue to get their way, never for the wretched masses who actually make it happen.
Like Clumpy, I can think back to my missionary days and remember the crushing poverty under which so many labored. I have known people who have literally worked themselves to death to scratch out a meager existence.
This idea that the poor are a bunch of lazy parasites that feed off the hard work of others is a comforting myth that many people use to avoid dealing with the unpleasant realities of poverty and it’s real causes.
When you say the poor are guilty of “theft” and “plunder” it really strikes me as funny. When I look for instances of plundering in society, I see a FAR greater problem the other way around.
Perhaps you would like to give your interpretation on scriptures that speak of “grinding the faces of the poor”, “oppressing the hireling in his wages”, and “suffering the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?”
I read a post like this and think that you are an unwitting apologist for those in our society that the Lord is referring to in those scriptures.
I am not oblivious to the point you were making with the Bastiat quote you gave. I know that you believe that you are arguing for the principles of freedom and liberty.
The problem that I have is that those who oppose government involvement in much of anything almost never present any sort of realistic alternative. Small government zealots like you remind me of the scripture in the second chapter of James.
15…”If a brother or asister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
A person can be a “small government zealot” and still heed the scriptures you listed. The important element of all charity is voluntarism. As the following quotes and scriptures explain:
Choice + Giving = Charity = Good
Force + Giving = Theft = Bad
@Jim, I should note that my comments shouldn’t be interpreted as a clarion call for massive governmental welfare programs, but are intended to point out the fallacy of using the perils of government control as justification for the pillages and hypocrisies of the worst of private tyranny, and the dehumanizing effects of the cold, corporate machine. If libertarians would really stand up and offer a true alternative system to these problems, one offering true equality of opportunity (rather than a Laissez-faire government approach and the insincere promise that things will work out), we might be able to find a potential argument besides outright redistribution and unchecked corporate graft.
I didn’t interpret your comments as a call for massive governmental welfare programs. I do think that most people who call for such things have their heart in the right place though. Taking care of the poor and needy is a noble goal. Where I separate from this philosophy is the method. I don’t believe that immoral means (positive force) justifies a good end (taking care of the needy). I believe both the goal and methods should be moral.
Also, I think you’re right about private tyranny. There is a lot of greed which exists amongst businesses and individuals. Libertarianism isn’t going to solve the issues of greed (despite what Ayn Rand thought) but I do believe it is the friendliest system which can facilitate true charity. Greed has never and will never be solved by any government system alone. As for an alternative- greed has and can be solved by the gospel of Christ.
I was hoping when I started reading this post to get some answers about how to handle this. But, no answers?
This really hits home for me. I’ve had a lot of frustration in my life about unfair redistribution. I worked very hard in high school to earn scholarships only to find out that there is this thing called fafsa and I could have “earned” more than my scholarships simply because I grew up poor. What a slap in the face to all my hard work. Not to mention I had to take an outrageous course load and maintain a high gpa and take honors courses in order to keep my scholarships. Fafsa recipients? Nope. Just stay poor enough. That still stings. I had a choice between keeping my scholarships and accepting my fafsa money because I couldn’t have both. I kept the scholarships with the strings attached and less money because, well, I earned it. Back then I wasn’t thinking about socialism or anything. I just had pride.
I think we need to let people know what we believe, but the best way to help them understand is to be an example in our own lives. Principle and practice. I had a job as a waitress and every night I reported all my cash tips. No one did that. In fact, the managers would help us figure out the minimum amount we could report and still not raise any flags when we went in to report our earnings. I always said no thanks and reported all my cash. I was surprised that others were surprised. I just told them that I like to feel square in my life. And I told them that I pay an honest tithe, so I’m not going to keep two sets of books to pay an honest tithe and a dishonest tax. That was revolutionary to some of the kids I worked with. To actually care enough about a principle that you will give up money. Wow, right? We’re not talking big bucks here. My question was, why lie? They didn’t even see it as lying! That is the kind of society we create with all this redistribution. Instead of seeing money as something you simply earn, it’s also something you get through being sneaky. I can’t believe the sneakiness I’ve seen in people I know personally to “work the system.” But to them it’s not sneaky – it’s being smart. How can they squeeze every last drop out? How can they word things or rearrange their lives to qualify? I was once told it’s a full time job to make sure you get all your benefits. And I thought, why not just get a full time job?
Another great area to do this in is homeschooling. When people get past the “weirdness” of it and realize you are paying your huge property taxes to a “free” public school, and you are also dedicating your would-be free time and lots of extra money to keep your kids OUT of “free” school, they are often intrigued. It really puts a notion in their heads that may grow.
It’s hard to deal with this. Especially when it is in your face a lot with people who are close to you complaining that their welfare benefits aren’t enough. They’ve moved past whether the benefits are RIGHT, and now just worry about HOW MUCH. It’s tough.
I often do not provide answers. I like to point out problems, ask questions, encourage debate, and get people thinking about the issues. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do claim to be an effective observer of what ails our society. I pass on my observations to others in hopes that we can have a productive discussion about what should be done. And that’s where people like you come in, offering comments that provide perspective I can’t offer on my own. Thanks for commenting!
I forgot to mention I love your choice of photo for this post.
I know this is an older post but I’m slow to the computer somedays.
This topic is a tricky one when speaking to those that participate in government welfare programs. As many in my own family do. But just like with anything else, personal testimony can be a powerful tool in conveying a message stronger than the words spoken. And, quite frankly, many of us are lacking in these experiences to make an authentic testimony. So I think that the problem we have with good people participating in a corrupt progams has more to do with their lack of faith than anything else. We ( and I’m speaking mainly of members of the church) are short changing ourselves of faith promoting experiences in general. We rely on the arm of flesh more than the arm of God. We don’t allow the Lord to work in our lives because of fear or thinking we have a solution on our own. In so doing we never get the witness that the Lord is aware of our needs and that we can rely on Him. When we remain principled, even when difficult as you have said, we open ourselves up to see the miracles that the Lord can work in our lives. This has been true in my life and I know it has been true for others who trust in the Lord. So perhaps the tile of the post would be more aptly entitled ” Faithful, Even When Difficult.”
Please forgive the simplicity of this comment.
I know I am intellectually out of my league here, but thanks for the forum.
#17, #18, #22–and yes, even #25, appreciate your comments–
yes, lack of faith is a big factor in today’s ‘church’–
missions have had a ‘second’ purpose for decades, that of understanding what is really happening in the world–
one of the things I have come to see in a startling way is the ‘righteous’ person who goes to church on Sunday and does ‘everything’ *right* who is very good at extracting ‘his’ “pound of flesh” from poor people around the world–
it’s a very hard thing to try to build Zion in the midst of Babylon–next to impossible.