Robbing Peter to Pay Paul vs. Peter giving to Paul
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” —Winston Churchill
Let’s look at two hypothetical systems.
Peter is rich. Very rich. The government takes what it considers a reasonable amount of money (which has nothing to do with what a reasonable person would consider a reasonable amount). Let’s say 31 cents on the dollar. The government then takes that money and spends about 18 cents, of every dollar Peter makes, on Paul. So what is the point of this system? Supposedly it’s to help Paul improve his station in life. We take money from Peter because Peter can afford it. So now let’s looks at this. Through the questions we established earlier.
- Is the action leading to a positive, neutral, or negative end?
- Is the action unethical or ethical?
- Is the benefit this action is providing removing a material or spiritual obstacle, or both?
- Is this a long-term benefit or short-term benefit?
- Is the action benefiting a large number of people or a small number?
I’m going to take these in reverse order, so bear with me. This is hurting at least on face value a smaller portion of the population (not really, Peter as representative of “the rich” is actually a fairly large portion of the population) to help a larger portion of the population (again not really, Paul as representative of those on the dole is a relatively small portion of the population…but we’re going to play in the opposition ballpark for the moment). So at least the argument (no matter how flimsy it is) is that few people are hurt and lots of people are helped.
But how are they helped? Is this a long-term benefit or a short-term benefit? When we talk about this we have to think about what Paul will do with that welfare check. Now I couldn’t find figures on how many welfare checks are spent on capital investment or college tuitions, but given the fact that until the 1990’s welfare reform the number of people leaving the dole could not be described as a mass exodus, I think it’s a safe assumption that not much of that money was being used to better Paul. Quite frankly it’s human nature. People value things by what they sacrifice to get it, by the amount of work that goes into it, by what had to be done to earn it—thus money just thrown at you without strings has little value. As such it will be spent on things of no lasting value. Yes there are numerous examples of people who climbed their way out of welfare, and I applaud these people for the strength of character to fight human nature’s more lazy and apathetic tendencies, but no one can be foolish enough to say that these few examples are indicative of the whole—nor ignore the fact that many of these people who have gotten themselves out of the cycle of poverty are some of welfare’s harshest and most vocal critics. Thus welfare in general is at best a short-term fix; it by no means attacks the root of the problem.
So it helps lots of people, but is only a short-term solution. Now obviously this has material benefit (at least for Paul, to hell if it actually depresses the economy as a whole) but does it actually have any spiritual benefits? Sadly, and rather obviously, the answer is no. Peter gets none of the spiritual benefits described in the previous chapter that come from giving, because he did not give by choice, the money was taken from him against his will. Nor is Peter also likely to give to charity now, or at least not as much, because human nature is that once that money has been taken, then that person feels that they’ve already given, when they haven’t. In fact if anything this leaves Peter more negative and bitter toward humanity as he now sees money stolen from him and given to people who are less than deserving and not using said money to better themselves. This is likely to make Peter more bitter toward humanity around him, more cynical, and overall a worse human being. So it’s actually a spiritual negative. How about for Paul? The answer is again in the negative. Paul feels no need to earn this act of charity; it was given to him by an unfeeling, cold, heartless institution, not another human being. The insult to self-esteem alone comes as a spiritual negative. More often than not the psychological effects of such a handout will make Paul feel even in less control of his life than before because now that he must depend on the government for his existence—this increases his feelings of powerlessness, increases fear that he is not in control of his existence and rather a mere victim of fate and circumstance. In short another spiritual negative.
Finally is it ethical? No! The phrase is “to rob Peter to pay Paul” for a reason. It’s stealing money from a human being by force. I know I don’t pay my taxes out of the goodness of my heart; I do it because I don’t wish to go to jail or have a standoff with the FBI and ATF. I’m pretty sure that’s the same reason you pay your taxes. They have jails and guns, a lot of them—certainly more than I would like to make a standoff against. So in the end it’s theft. A clear violation of “Thou shalt not steal” or its numerous variations in every religion on earth, and New Agers are no different on this point. Stealing is stealing; it’s a complete and total violation of any conception of ethics I can think of. Now we do honor the myth of Robin Hood, but not because he was a thief, as someone once tried to disprove my point that we never believe theft to be a good thing. Notice that if you actually look at all the legends, it wasn’t that he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor (a more modern socialist reinterpretation) but rather robbed from the robbing tax collector and gave back to the people who had actually earned the money. His heroism isn’t in the theft, it’s in putting his life on the line to get back for people what was stolen from them, what was originally theirs (which is what we would like to think the police do when they put their life on the line for us).
But don’t the ends justify the means you ask—to which I respond: did you read the previous paragraphs? Even if there were cases where the ends justify the means, I can’t see how stealing hard-earned money from people is justified by short-term material benefits and long-term spiritual and economic harm. The welfare system in all its myriad forms is actually harming the spiritual growth of everyone it touches. Unless you were an atheist you couldn’t possibly support it, and even then to believe that this system pragmatically worked you’d need to be an atheist and a moron to… (Or am I being redundant there?)
So let’s say that starting today we started reducing all welfare entitlements. Making them harder to get, requiring more oversight of the people who get them, and requiring even further time constraints in regards to how long you can be on the program. In terms of social security this would be cutting benefits, raising retirement ages and begin to either privatize or simply eliminate through a phased out process. Now you might be wondering why I’m not suggesting this second system as being one of completely wiping welfare, social security, Medicaid, and Medicare simply off the face of the earth. The answer would be that for better or much much worse, these programs have unfortunately become part of the country’s society and while they do eventually need to die, just cutting them with a machete, while greatly satisfying, will cause short-term chaos, and long term societal scars. Welfare, like heroin, is not an addiction that one just quits cold turkey. There does need to be a large initial cut to show we mean business of somewhere in the ballpark of 10% cuts right off the top—but this needs to be followed by a 10 to 20 year plan of phasing these programs out of existence.
So assuming we do the right thing, and cutting these programs back with the intention of eventually leaving them only as significantly smaller local programs or just out and out killing them. What are the benefits and losses?
First, how many people are helped? While I’m sure we all agree that supply-side economics doesn’t work quite as well or as quickly as everyone thought it did back in the ‘80’s, but it does work, albeit its effects take time to work through. When the economy improves everyone benefits, and when you cut government intrusion the economy improves…eventually. But the fact of the matter is that more money in the hands of the people is still more money circulating through the economy and not being lost in some bureaucratic nightmare land that creates nothing but red tape and paperwork and thus doesn’t really add anything to the flow of the economy. More money, more things being bought. More things being bought, more profit. More profit, more investment. More investment, more jobs…you know how this goes. So certainly this will take time, but then again that’s what we conservatives like—long-term fixes, not short term band-aids. Further if we do this properly as a long term rollback of funds people receiving these handouts should have time to plan and adjust to the changing environment (like doing things of such a radical nature as getting an education, getting a job, or actually saving for retirement…I know it’s radical thinking, but I believe it just might work for most people). So there is no harm to this group either. So everyone makes out with the status quo if not better.
As I already said these are long-term benefits. Long term the economy does better, more people have jobs, more people have control of their lives, and if we don’t fall in the trap of socialism again, this is a self-perpetuating system. Yes, long term we will have recessions, can’t do anything about that, but they will work themselves out, and if people begin to learn how to save properly and educate themselves properly to be able to move from career to career if needed they will not need to worry.
But more than these advantages, this puts the control of a person’s life back in their own hands. A major spiritual benefit. For both Peter and Paul, the government is no longer butting into their lives more than it needs to. This will reduce the likelihood of fear in their lives. It will also increase the feelings of security since for Paul survival depends on himself now, and for Peter there is less worry about how much the Brownshirts at the IRS will be taking this year. Further, as I pointed out previously, more money in Peter’s hands will increase the odds and amounts that Peter will give to charity, and this charity will come from living human beings who care about people not the cold, mechanical system of welfare. With this charity to Paul comes the emotional and ethical ties that will force Paul to in some way to be worthy of the gift he has been given and improve himself.
So materially, psychologically, spiritually this provides long-term benefits to the majority of people. But is it ethical? Well we’re not stealing from anyone, so there it’s ethical. And as I stipulated this program has to be carried out slowly, so were not just uprooting people from the system they have become accustomed to…But I hear one last objection about it being ethical coming from the far left: That people have a right to health care or a livable wage, or a right to care from the government in old age and that to deny them that right is unethical.
The crux of this argument is that everyone has a right to these things. If you believe this you A) have not the foggiest conception of what a right is and B) are just as confused about ethics. No one has a right to health care or a livable wage or even happiness. What you have a right to is that the government will not overtly deny you the chance to achieve, to earn, or to buy these things. But neither the government, society, your neighbor, nor your brother owes you these things. You have rights to what you come into this world with: Life, Liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness (emphasis on the pursue). Nor is anyone ethically required to provide these things to you just because you exist (except for your parents as long as you can’t provide these things for yourself). First and foremost a person is ethically bound to seek their own happiness, not yours. Now we are ethically bound to help those in immediate need; the Parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind, but notice that in that case the story revolves around people who are not victims of their own laziness but literally victims to the violence of others or circumstance completely out of their control. Yes we are ethically bound to help those people. We are even ethically called for to be generous and charitable, but keep in mind the entire concept of generosity and charity are dependant on the idea we are not bound to help people out of duty, law, or right…if we were it wouldn’t be generosity now would it? Further generosity does not call for us to help everyone who would come and demand our help—that would bankrupt anyone and certainly lead to personal unhappiness, a very unethical end. Charity, to have true meaning and worth, must be to those who will use it for their own long term benefit and betterment, not merely short term waste, and anyone who demands the work and property of others as their own isn’t someone who cares about personal betterment because this is indicative of a character that believes in not doing anything for themselves. Anyone with this sort of entitlement and need for instant gratification can never better themselves, because they cannot even conceive of what is required to better themselves. Hence they are not worthy of the generosity or charity you would give.
Charity is ethical. But its generosity must be coupled with a desire to improve one’s self, otherwise whatever work or money that is given is merely wasted. The claim that one has a right to other people’s works is an affront to that belief and merely helps to instill a feeling of helplessness and that is irresponsible.