Not On My Dime

The talk of every town is Israel's war with Hezbollah. Is Israel justly defending herself, or are her attacks on Lebanon unnecessary and out of proportion?

Proportionality is an interesting question. Three men are at your door. They ask for $10 from each member of your household. What for? They say it's for the security of a country the size of Massachusetts half the world away. You ask, "Why?"

The first man responds, "What are you, a bigot?"

The second says, "What are you, an ISOLATIONIST? Don't you believe in DEMOCRACY? Do you support the TERRORISTS?"

And the third chimes in, "Don't you want Jesus to come back?"

You politely decline. They say they'll come back, this time with guns.

What's "proportionality" in that case? Is it okay to shoot them right then over the $10, or only when the robbery actually takes place? Tough questions.

And what if they are actually from the government? They aren't criminals, they're public servants?

Oh, well, that's different. And really, it is. There aren't any good options when the government steals from you. To "pay your taxes" means to support the actions of this tiny faraway country – even when it's in the wrong. But refusing to pay creates a heap of trouble; shooting the tax collectors is out of the question. Speaking out in protest has zero effect on the policy and invites public scorn. But not speaking out implies that one doesn't care.

Of course, this "tiny country the size of Massachusetts" is the very same Israel attacking Lebanon as I write. Has its response to Hezbollah's incursions been judicious and proportional? Probably not, but I don't know for sure and, to be honest, I don't really care. Actually, I resent that I'm supposed to care. Yes, all human suffering is tragic, and more so when it's caused by war. But with other wars going on, why do we always dwell on Israel's conflicts?

We know the answer. It's because of America's diplomatic support and $3 billion in aid to Israel. If Israel uses too much force, her enemies justly place part of the blame on the USA. When Americans passionately debate the prudence and morality of Israel's behavior as if it's the most pressing thing in the world, they do so because their government has chosen to merge its interests with those of Israel. The issue would decline in importance if America cut off aid to Israel and declared neutrality And America's security and prestige would be enhanced, too.

Now imagine that the three men return, asking for a couple of bucks for embryonic stem cell research. You tell them you're not interested.

The first responds, "Are you a religious wacko who opposes science?"

The second says, "Why do you want so many people to suffer and die?"

The third says, "Are you an enemy of progress and civilization?"

You tell them you already donate to other causes of greater value to you. They say they'll be back, with the guns.

I'm not against Israel, I just don't want my taxes to subsidize it or any other foreign government. The last thing I'd do, however, is prevent private individuals from raising money in support of it. Likewise, I'm not against embryonic stem cell research, I just don't want my tax dollars to fund it. Let it be funded privately. Just not on my dime.

I oppose government support of these, and all "causes" because the more we rely on government, the more we encroach on the conscience of the dissenting individual. Why should people be forced to pay for things and promote ideas that can easily be provided for privately? Why should they be compelled to fund activities they believe are immoral, unethical, or just plain stupid? The dissenting minority may be deluded or prejudiced, but the same may be true of the majority.

That's why the free market is the best form of "democracy" there is. The majority can accomplish their goals by voting with their money, time, and labor in support of their causes. But the minority remains free to vote with their money, time and labor in support of their causes. Through the price mechanism, the market creates corrections for errant judgments, from which others learn. The will of the majority (or, more often, the plurality) prevails, but the minority still often prospers.

But when government makes mistakes, there are no correctives, and no lessons learned. The government's "solution" to its screw-ups is always more government. People are forced to comply, to pay up, even when their conscience says no. And this is when government becomes not just a nuisance, but a great evil.

July 28, 2006

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