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Morality, the Welfare State, and Freedom

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THE WELFARE STATE and the regulated society are based on a twofold notion about morality: first, that this type of society reflects that people are moral, caring, compassionate, and responsible and, second, that this type of society makes people moral, caring, compassionate, and responsible.

Consider, for example, President Bush’s plan to deliver government funding to faith-based organizations. His belief is that his plan would reflect that the American people care about God and religion. Moreover, by having the plan enacted by Congress, the elected representatives of the people, everyone in the United States will immediately become a better person because part of his income will be applied in the service of God.

But of course, it’s not just Bush and Republicans who believe this way. This is, in fact, the mindset that has guided the Democratic Party since at least the presidential regime of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Consider Social Security, the crown jewel of the socialistic welfare state, which was enacted during Roosevelt’s administration. The state takes money from the young and the productive and delivers it to the elderly. The idea is that such a program reflects the Judeo-Christian heritage of America (“Thou shalt honor thy mother and thy father”) and shows that the American people care about helping others.

Equally important, by living in a society that has enacted Social Security into law, every single American is made into a better person because part of his money is going to help others.

This double-barreled concept of state morality underlies every aspect of the socialistic welfare state: public housing, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, public schooling, education grants, farm subsidies, foreign aid, and even foreign interventions and foreign wars.

The idea behind the regulated society is not much different. Consider the much-vaunted war on drugs, the beloved, albeit failed, government program ardently embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. The idea behind drug laws is, again, twofold: first, they reflect that Americans believe in responsibility and stand squarely against drug abuse. Second, drug laws make people in society responsible individuals by punishing them for doing something harmful to society.

These rationales undergird the other aspects of the regulated society: antitrust laws, price controls, minimum-wage laws, pornography and consensual-sex laws between adults, foreign-travel restrictions, and the rest.

Welfare-state brutality

The irony is that the same government that maintains the welfare state and the regulated society, ostensibly for the betterment of mankind, often behaves in ways that are extremely brutal.

While Americans sometimes complain about the brutality, they usually never ask the important questions: If a welfare-state and regulated-society government actually is based on love of one’s fellow man and the importance of such things as care and compassion for others, how can it be operating in an opposite fashion? Or, put another way, is it possible that the welfare state and regulated society might be rooted in causes other than those based on morality?

For example, look at how the U.S. government has treated foreigners who wish to enter the United States to improve their lives through labor. No one can claim that our welfare-state government has embraced these people in a Judeo-Christian-like manner. For decades, the government has jailed people for committing the heinous “crime” of trying to enter the United States for the purpose of entering into private exchanges with others — a job, a place to live, purchase of food and transportation, and so forth.

For the last several years, the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars building and fortifying a Berlin Wall along our southern border in California. The purpose of the wall is to keep Mexicans and other foreigners out of the United States. But as we have learned throughout history, walls don’t usually stop many people from seeking freedom or a better way of life.

The consequence of the California wall, as everyone predicted, has been that immigrants enter the United States farther east, along the less-guarded, but very inhospitable, Arizona desert.

The result has been that several hundred people have died of thirst and heat exposure trying to enter at that point along the border. Just recently, the bodies of 14 Mexicans, who presumably were willing to risk their lives for a better life, were found on the desert.

Each time this happens, U.S. government officials, of course, express regret. But so what? The truth is that they don’t give a hoot about those lives because if they did, they’d change the policies and tear down America’s counterpart to the Berlin Wall.

But don’t forget: the welfare state and the regulated society reflect America’s love for mankind.

Consider Cuba, a country to which the U.S. government will not permit American citizens to freely travel. President Bush recently announced a plan to deliver U.S. government money to Cuban dissidents. This is to show that Bush and the American people stand against communism.

But isn’t the forcible taking of money from some people in order to give it to others the very essence of communism? (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”) But Bush wants to show that he cares about others and so, in his mind, it’s perfectly okay to adopt socialist and communist methods in order to express his compassionate sentiments.

But wait a minute! What’s the U.S. government’s policy on Cuban people who escape Cuba? Well, it’s not exactly consistent with the Judeo-Christian, love-of-mankind mindset that purportedly guides Bush and other welfare-state officials. U.S. officials do their best to capture Cuban refugees on the high seas in order to forcibly repatriate them to communist Cuba! How’s that for love of mankind?

Keep in mind also that when President Roosevelt was changing America to a socialistic welfare state and regulated society (without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment), he was, at the very same time, using immigration controls to ensure that German Jews could not escape their plight under the Nazis by coming to the United States.

The welfare state at Ruby Ridge and Waco

Consider what the U.S. government did to people at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Much has been made of executed mass murderer Timothy McVeigh’s comment in which he referred to the children he killed in Oklahoma City as “collateral damage.”

But isn’t that exactly how U.S. government officials felt about the children they killed at Ruby Ridge and Waco? They shot Randy Weaver’s teenage son and didn’t care. They shot Weaver’s wife dead while she was holding her baby — yes, it’s true that they didn’t hit the baby, but if they had cared about the baby, would they have even been firing in that direction?

When welfare-state officials attacked the Branch Davidian home in Waco with tanks and flammable gas, they knew that there were children inside the building and that their lives would be endangered by the attack.

Consider this: If the Branch Davidians had taken the children of FBI agents hostage, does anyone honestly believe that the government would have engaged in the same course of conduct rather than continue to negotiate a way out of the crisis?

Of course not. But since the Branch Davidian kids were children of religious “nuts” and “wackos,” in the government’s eyes they were just “collateral damage.”

The fact is that welfare-state officials cared as much about the deaths of the Branch Davidian children as McVeigh cared about the deaths of the Oklahoma City children.

The problem, of course, is that because people hold the beloved welfare state in such high esteem, almost on a par with God, they cannot conceive that persons with McVeigh’s mindset actually work in U.S. government agencies. In the mind of many citizens, only angels and saints operate the welfare state and the regulated society. People with evil and immoral mindsets are found only in the private sector.

Other instances of welfare-state

Look at the drug war. After 30 years of repeated failure, how many Republicans and Democrats are calling for its end? Very few. Yet look at the death and destruction that the war has wrought and continues to wreak not only on the American people but on people all over the world, especially in Latin America.

Just recently, CIA operatives in Peru, trying to bring down more drug dealers, participated in the killing of a missionary and her baby. Regrets were, of course, expressed, as they always are when innocent people are killed in this war, but the undying devotion to the drug war continues apace.

One might also consider evil and immoral actions by welfare-state officials such as conducting syphilis experiments on unsuspecting black men, incarcerating innocent Japanese-Americans without a trial, and conducting radiation experiments on U.S. servicemen.

A more recent example is enforcing the embargo on the people in Iraq pursuant to an 11-year-old war that was never declared by Congress, as required by the Constitution. Or consider the intentional bombing of a civilian television station in Yugoslavia, again with no congressional declaration of war.

So how does one reconcile the rationale of morality, care, and compassion of the welfare state with the brutal acts of welfare-state officials?

Well, one way is to simply say that the brutal acts are aberrations and, therefore, don’t really count. But another way is to recognize the brutality and lack of morality that actually undergird the welfare state and regulated society.

IRS compassion

How does the government get the money to be good, caring, compassionate, and moral with love-your-fellow-man government programs such as Social Security, public housing, food stamps, education grants, and the like?

It takes the money by force through one of the most brutal, terroristic agencies in history — the Internal Revenue Service, an agency which, by the way, welfare-state officials often use to destroy political opponents.

The reasoning for the interaction between the IRS and the welfare state goes like this: By having your money confiscated by the IRS, you’re a good person because officials in the welfare departments use your money for good and benevolent purposes.

(Of course, an intriguing question is: What meaning does it have for citizens when their government uses their money for evil and immoral purposes?)

The truth is that the welfare state and the regulated society are the very antithesis of morality, goodness, compassion, and responsibility. These qualities mean nothing unless they come from the voluntary heart of the individual. To the extent that they are forced upon a person, they mean nothing.

Moreover, where is the morality in taking money from one person by force or terror in order to give it to another person? If it’s morally wrong to do that on a private basis, why isn’t it just as wrong to do it on a collective or societal basis?

So if it’s not morality that guides the welfare state and regulated society, what is it? Money and power, of course. We’re dealing with control over almost $2 trillion and 280 million people. That’s a lot of money that can grease a lot of palms, and that’s a lot of control that can ensure continued obedience and devotion, especially when government officials are using the money and power for evil and immoral ends.

Since the citizenry in a representative democracy can theoretically alter their form of government whenever they wish, it is necessary to maintain their support over such a massive scheme. That’s where the great con of the welfare state and regulated society have proven to be so effective. “Permit us to continue our control because this will show that you’re a good, moral, compassionate, Christian person. Resist our will, and God will be upset.”

Will the American people ever abandon the welfare state and regulated society in favor of individual freedom and limited government? They will if they finally recognize that such a government is incompatible with the moral principles by which they wish to guide their lives. When that day comes, the welfare state and regulated society are history.

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    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.