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Freedom versus Mandatory Charity

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Imagine if Congress enacted a law requiring everyone to attend church on Sunday. The idea would be that mandatory church attendance would be good for American society. With everyone being inculcated with moral and religious principles once a week, our society would be less drug-ridden, violent, and dysfunctional. The law would also be justified as being in everyone’s long-term interests in that it would likely cause more people to get into Heaven. Anyone who violated the law would be subject to a felony conviction and a possible 5-year jail sentence and a $10,000 fine for each offense.

Most everyone would find such a law repulsive, even if it did have positive benefits. Their response would be that such a law would be contrary to basic principles of liberty. People should be free to decide for themselves whether to attend church or not or to worship God or not. It is no business of the state to be forcing people to attend church.

From a religious standpoint, Christians would argue that the law violated God’s great gift of free will. While God prefers that people follow Him and His laws, he has given each person the freedom to make that choice for himself. Thus, pursuant to the God-given gift of free will, people are even free to reject God. He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him.

Yet, when it comes to charity, all too many people (libertarians excepted) have come to accept and even support what amounts to government denigration and violation of the principles of freedom and of God’s gift of free will.

I’m referring, of course, to what is commonly called the welfare state. It’s a way of life in which people are forced to share a portion of their income and wealth with others.

The idea is that people should care for others, especially the less fortunate in life. From a religious standpoint, Christians would say that one should love his neighbor as himself and that that’s just like loving God.

Yet, it’s one thing to show compassion toward others. It’s quite another thing being forced to do so.

In principle, how is forcing people to act charitably toward others any different from forcing people to attend church? Or to put it another way, why shouldn’t people be as free to decide for themselves whether or not to help others as they are in deciding whether to worship God?

What are popular examples of mandatory charity programs?

Social Security is the best example. As everyone knows by now, it’s not a retirement program and wasn’t set up to be a retirement program. It’s a mandatory charity program, one in which the government forces young people and middle-aged people to care for seniors by having their money forcibly taken from them and given to seniors.

Medicare and Medicaid fall into the same category, with the charity encompassing the elderly and the poor.

Other examples of mandatory charity include subsidies to farmers, grants to students, and foreign aid to pro-U.S. foreign dictators.

Why shouldn’t people be free to decide for themselves whether or not to care for their parents, grandparents, the poor, farmers, students, and foreign dictators? Why should they be forced to donate money to them or, for that matter, all the other welfare-state recipients?

A common response of welfare statists is that people can’t be trusted to make those choices because most of them, given the choice, would turn their backs on welfare recipients. They would behave selfishly, the statists say, and keep all their money for themselves. Therefore, the argument goes, people need to be forced to be good and caring toward others.

But doesn’t that coercion then violate the basic principles of freedom and free will, which, by their very nature, entitle a person to say “no.” That is, if a person is not free to say “no,” then how can he truly be considered free? Again, how is forcing a person to be compassionate toward others any different from forcing him to attend church?

Even though Christian statists don’t like to admit it, the truth is that their welfare state is an implicit rebuke of God. Christian welfare-statists are saying to God the following:

Lord, You made a big mistake by giving people free will because most people don’t make the right choices. You should never have trusted people with such freedom. We have decided to correct Your mistake by forcing people to be good and caring toward others. That’s what our welfare state is all about. If people refuse to participate, Caesar puts them in jail or fines them.

The only way of life that is consistent with basic principles of freedom and God’s great gift of free will is one in which people are free to keep everything they earn and decide for themselves what to do with it—that is, one in which there is no mandatory charity at all. That, of course, might well mean that people might exercise their freedom and free will in ways that others disapprove of—e.g., by refusing to help their aging and ailing parents and grandparents, the poor, and needy farmers, students, and foreign dictators. But that’s what freedom and free will are ultimately all about—the right to say either “yes” or “no” when it comes to loving God or others.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.