Moral or Immoral Government

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by Walter E. Williams: Minimum
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Immorality
in government lies at the heart of our nation’s problems. Deficits,
debt and runaway government are merely symptoms. What’s moral and
immoral conduct can be complicated, but needlessly so. I keep things
simple and you tell me where I go wrong.

My initial
assumption is that we each own ourselves. I am my private property
and you are yours. If we accept the notion that people own themselves,
then it’s easy to discover what forms of conduct are moral and immoral.
Immoral acts are those that violate self-ownership. Murder, rape,
assault and slavery are immoral because those acts violate private
property. So is theft, broadly defined as taking the rightful property
of one person and giving it to another.

If it is your
belief that people do not belong to themselves, they are in whole
or in part the property of the U.S. Congress, or people are owned
by God, who has placed the U.S. Congress in charge of managing them,
then all of my observations are simply nonsense.

Let’s look
at some congressional actions in light of self-ownership. Do farmers
and businessmen have a right to congressional handouts? Does a person
have a right to congressional handouts for housing, food and medical
care?

First,
let’s ask: Where does Congress get handout money? One thing for
sure, it’s not from the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus nor is it congressmen
reaching into their own pockets. The only way for Congress to give
one American one dollar is to first, through the tax code, take
that dollar from some other American. It must forcibly use one American
to serve another American. Forcibly using one person to serve another
is one way to describe slavery. As such, it violates self-ownership.

Government
immorality isn’t restricted only to forcing one person to serve
another. Some regulations such as forcing motorists to wear seatbelts
violate self-ownership. If one owns himself, he has the right to
take chances with his own life. Some people argue that if you’re
not wearing a seatbelt, have an accident and become a vegetable,
you’ll become a burden on society. That’s not a problem of liberty
and self-ownership. It’s a problem of socialism where through the
tax code one person is forcibly used to care for another.

These examples
are among thousands of government actions that violate the principles
of self-ownership. Some might argue that Congress forcing us to
help one another and forcing us to take care of ourselves are good
ideas. But my question to you is: When congressmen and presidents
take their oaths of office, is that oath to uphold and defend good
ideas or the U.S. Constitution?

When the
principles of self-ownership are taken into account, two-thirds
to three-quarters of what Congress does violate those principles
to one degree or another as well as the Constitution to which they’ve
sworn to uphold and defend. In 1794, when Congress appropriated
$15,000 to assist some French refugees, James Madison, the father
of our Constitution, stood on the floor of the House to object,
saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of
the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending,
on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Did
James Madison miss something in the Constitution?

You
might answer, “He forgot the general welfare clause.” No, he had
that covered, saying, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion
can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the
Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers,
but an indefinite one.”

If we accept
the value of self-ownership, it is clear that most of what Congress
does is clearly immoral. If this is bothersome, there are two ways
around my argument. The first is to deny the implications of self-ownership.
The second is to ask, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi did when asked about
the constitutionality of Obamacare, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

December
7, 2010

Walter
E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics
at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other
Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators
Syndicate web page
.

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