Monday, September 19, 2011

Whose Money Is It?

Obama is now out there proposing trillions of dollars of new tax hikes to try to bring down our national debt.  This raises the question: whose money is it?  Is the government entitled to take it before I can call it 'mine', and if so, how much of it?  The government thinks it's theirs first, and you get to keep whatever they leave you.  J.E. Dyer at Hot Air has a great take on it:

If any of us doesn't deserve to keep everything he has earned, then that man is a slave.  Alternatively, he is less than human; he has no moral standing, and no unalienable rights inhere in him.  He is like a farm animal.

Of course we all deserve to keep our own money.  If it is ill-gotten – stolen, swindled – then it's the crime that deprives us of it, not any inherent function of the armed authorities to prowl the land in search of "undeserved" bank balances.

The question of what we "deserve" boils down to which came first, the individual human with rights, or the state.  America was founded on the principle that the individual human with rights comes first.  Any idea that violates that principle is counter to our founding idea.  It is not possible to reconcile with our founding principle the idea of collective schemes in which we make some modification to "what we deserve."  We either deserve to keep all our own earnings – money – wealth – goods – or we do not have unalienable rights.

Now, what we decide to do with our own money will inevitably involve government functions of some kind.  People have to have a government in some form.  A certain minimum set of public services is essential to corporate human life.  The American founding idea is that we the people decide what government will do, and we decide how much money government will have to do it with.  Then we contribute out of what is inalienably ours.

In the American idea, the state doesn't operate on the basis of "what we deserve."  It operates on the basis of law: definitions adopted by due process, and objective circumstances.  "What we deserve" is outside the scope of the state's competence to decide.  If we enter relationships in which someone else decides that for us, they are voluntary; e.g., employer paying or promoting employee, fan-base keeping pro sports or the music industry profitable.

The percentage-based income tax and the practice of payroll withholding have combined for a century now to obscure in our minds the simplicity of our founding principles.  But the founding principles were very clear.  Modern interlocutors can seek to change the argument, toss red herrings around, and get us in full 6-year-old mode talking about "deserving" and "not deserving" according to whether we are Leona Helmsley or Mother Teresa, but the bottom line is that a man whose title to his money is considered – as a first principle – subject to the whim of his neighbor, is a slave.

America was founded on the principle that individual rights precede and constrain the state.  As far as government is properly concerned, we all deserve to keep 100% of our money.  The question of what we decide to do with it, and how the functions of government figure into that, is a separate and subordinate topic.

It is impossible to live as free men and women otherwise.


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