Our Moral Dilemma
Walter E. Williams
by Walter E. Williams: Do
We Deserve Our Fate?
Most of our
nation's problems are a direct result of our being immune, hostile
or indifferent to several moral questions. Let's start out with
the simple and move to the more complex. Or, stated another way,
let's begin with questions that generate the least hostility, moving
to those that generate the greatest.
If a person
benefits from a hamburger, a suit of clothing, an apartment or an
education, who should be forced to pay for it? I believe the question
has only one moral answer, namely the person who benefits from a
good or service should be forced to pay for it, that's if we wish
to distinguish ourselves from thieves who only care about enjoying
something and who pays is irrelevant.
the moral question is the economic efficiency question. If the user
of something isn't paying, it's a good chance that he'll overuse
and waste it. Our country's problem is that too many Americans want
to benefit from things for which they expect other Americans to
moral question is: Does one American have a moral right to live
at the expense of another American? To be more explicit, should
Congress, through its taxing authority, give the Bank of America,
Citibank, Archer Daniels Midland, farmers, dairymen, college students
and poor people the right to live off of the earnings of another
American? I'm guessing that only a few Americans would agree with
my answer: No one should be forcibly used to serve the purposes
of another American.
You might say,
"Williams, if Congress makes it a law, then you should submit to
being used to serve the purposes of others."
Such a vision
introduces the next moral question, namely under what conditions
is it moral to initiate force and threats of force against a person
who himself has not initiated force or threats against another?
Before that question can be answered, you might ask for a bit more
specificity that has an important bearing on the answer, namely
are we talking about a free or a non-free society?
In a free
society, there's no moral case that can be made for the initiation
of force against one who hasn't himself initiated force against
another. But that's a societal ideal that might be beyond our reach
here on Earth. After all, we have delegated certain rights to government
to provide certain services, as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution,
particularly as specified in Article I, Section 8 of the document.
Each American is duty-bound to pay his share.
So a case can
be made for the initiation of force against one who refuses to pay
his share of those expenses. If an American says that he'll pay
his share of those constitutionally mandated functions of the federal
government but refuses to give up his earnings to be used for handouts
to the Bank of America, Citibank, Archer Daniels Midland, farmers,
dairymen, college students and poor people, should some kind of
force be initiated against him?
am all too afraid that most of my fellow Americans would answer,
"Yes, some kind of force, fines or imprisonment should be initiated
against a person who refuses to give up his earnings for the use
of another." Their only source of disagreement would be just who
had the rights to another's earnings.
argue that farmers and dairymen don't have a right to another's
earnings, but students and poor people do. Others would argue the
Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) said, "Government is the great fiction
through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody
else." That endeavor has plagued mankind throughout his history
and has now reached a crisis stage in Western Europe and the United
States, and the prospects for reversing it don't appear to be promising.
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
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