On the Other Hand...
by Jim Davies
Two Wolves and a Lamb
100 people are in a meeting. 99 of them have modest means, but the hundredth person, Bill, is wealthy.
He earned it all honestly, mind; he worked hard and smart and gave full measure in exchange for what others had freely agreed to pay him for his services.
That happens, in a free society. If people are free to work as they please, some will choose to work harder than others - all, of course, within the limits of their natural talents. Those others value their leisure more than the money that extra labor would earn. I think that's just fine, because everyone gets what he chooses and feels fulfilled and so except perhaps for the very few who are too disabled to work and so must depend on charity, by definition nobody is poor.
Anyway, back to our meeting: a vote is taken on the subject of the unequal distribution of wealth in this little society. Some have spoken passionately about it being "UNFAIR!" that one should have so much, while most have only just enough. The motion before the house is to take 75% of everybody's money, and then divide the total equally among all 100.
The vote is 99 to 1 in favor; and Bill loses almost three quarters of his wealth while all the others each increase theirs by a small but useful sum.
Now, is there anything immoral in that, and if so, what?
Note, the vote was taken in a perfectly democratic way. It was not even by "representative" voting, where a few people make decisions on behalf of thousands of constituents. This was direct-participation democracy - even better than Ross Perot's "Electronic Town Meeting", because all 100 voters were present and could speak. So what they did has to be okay, right?
To the question above, I hope you joined me in answering "Certainly it's not okay; it's immoral; it's theft." Of course it is theft. It's theft when one mugger menaces a victim, so extracting his wallet; it's theft when three menace one, and it's theft when one is menaced by 99 or 99,000 or 99 million or by someone (like the IRS) acting on behalf of some fraction of 150 million voters.
Perfectly democratic, perhaps, but perfectly immoral, for certain; just as antebellum slavery (in which the labor of Blacks was taxed at 100%) was almost perfectly democratic but unquestionably immoral.
Its immorality would be gross, even if it were done reluctantly, when thought to be the least of all possible evils, as when the perpetrators wished there was some other way, but could find none, and apologized to the victim.
But when it's done with relish and pride, I suggest it's that much worse. When Bill Clinton speaks enthusiastically of making the rich "pay their fair share" as he takes an even larger percentage of their wealth than from us others, or when Arnie Arneson openly delighted in that proposal as she did on the radio here last year, just as if the rich were a menace to society deserving heavy punishment, the theft is just that much more monstrous.
When it's done as if the money is morally owed by the possessor to the voting majority, with the agents of that majority strutting around claiming that anyone who with-holds his property from them is "cheating on his taxes", as if he were the criminal instead of they, then the act of confiscation in my view is that much more repulsive.
And when that majority writes the laws that define their act of theft as an act of non-theft, just as if they had the Orwellian power to change the English language, then I say they are hypocrites of the deepest dye.
And yet, all of that has been done, in America; all of if is continuing to be done, all around us, by politicians of both the older Parties and their clients at every level of government. This is the appalling situation that you and I are in, right now; and when you or I vote for any of them, we are assenting to their obscene, hypocritical immorality.
Little wonder that conventional crime (by individuals) is so widespread, when each fresh generation is taught by example that theft - the grandest larceny in history, of nearly half of everything we all produce - makes up the very fabric of society that the politicians have woven around us; and are taught in schools run by the thieves that theft is normal and acceptable and right and proper.
Regular readers of this column will know that I oppose all authoritarian rule, so will perhaps anticipate my answer to the Churchillian claim that democracy is "the worst system in the world, except all the others": it is that a Nazi dictatorship is not its only alternative.
There is in fact a third alternative, which regular politicians hope you and I will never see, for it would oblige them for the first time to find some honest work; and it is that we each rule ourselves - that both dictatorship AND democracy can be displaced by self-government.
In a self-governing society, each individual would be totally free to make all decisions relating to his or her own life, and so, none at all relating to the life of anyone else. Not one-on-one, not by majority rule, not ever.
That is that kind of society that I write here to commend.
Today's failing and brutal alternative - majority rule - is no better than two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch.
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