Column on “Gifts” from Government

"Gifts" from Government

Tibor R. Machan

It was as if President Bush became Santa Clause. An MSNBC-TV anchor
announced that the president signed into law a bill that extend
unemployment compensation payments to jobless Americans and said, without
flinching, that this is "good news." Only mainstream nonpartisan media can
carry this off.

For starters, extending the period of time the unemployed will receive
money from Uncle Sam is not such good news, even for the unemployed. It
doesn’t encourage them to find a new line of work from which they could
then make an honest living, perhaps even a better one than they made from
their old job. Also, the source of the unemployment funds are not
personal wealth of donors who do not need to be paid back but come from
members of current and future generations, thus making the unemployment
payments a kind of loan from unwilling strangers. Overall, the funds turn
out to be a loan which will be a burden on the unemployed once they get a
job again. Then–and this one is a real lulu–the unemployment funds will
be a burden on millions of yet unborn Americans while they had no
opportunity to have any say about how the funds should be spent. There
goes "No taxation without representation" down the drain even though it
was one of the victories that had been won at the founding of the country.

But there is more. What is a professional newscaster doing praising a
dubious public policy, especially one that so clearly amounts to robbing
Peter in order to pay Paul? Is it really a good thing for a society to
practice this way of dealing with problems? Does it teach a good lesson
to young people concerning responsible household management and personal
finance? One would hope that funding people’s expenses by this means
isn’t something anyone would want to advocate. It is totally
unproductive. Any gain by the unemployment compensation recipients must
be a loss to those who will have to cover the public expense involved. Yet
a major news anchor calls this "good news"!

One way some political theorists and commentators justify policies
involving this kind of transfer of financial burdens from one group of
Americans to another is by claiming that we are all in the same boat, that
America is, after all, a big family or team and everyone must be ready to
help out everyone else, especially in an emergency. But this is a
myth–we are not a huge family, not, especially, in a country with some
300 million citizens with a immense variety of backgrounds and beliefs.

It is often forgotten that the kind of resource transfer involved in
providing the employed with compensation does not even amount to helping.
Help is something that’s given voluntarily, as when one makes a
contribution to the Red Cross or a philanthropic group that supports poor
children, stray animals or medical research. Funding the program isn’t
voluntary and amounts to an unwillingly assumed burden on both living and
yet to be born citizens.

Those who claim that all this must be accepted as the price of membership
in a human community don’t appreciate that such public policies actually
undermine the humanity of the community. They make out of people
involuntary servants of one another, robbing them of the freedom of choice
to contribute to each other when in special need. Civilized people do not
simply dip into their neighbors’ resources when they are in special need
but make a request and await the granting of such a request. Only
parasites take from others without those others’ consent.

Then of course there is the corrosive impact of public policies such as
unemployment compensation when they make it a matter of public policy to
treat people as if they could be used by others without their consent.
And what about the ill effects of using unearned resources to support
oneself and one’s family? It is in fact quite humiliating to go on
unemployment and, then, it doesn’t quite serve to make up for the income
one earned while working for pay.

But, of course, the system is now thoroughly entrenched and undoing it
would take a revolution, a widespread realization that people must lend a
hand to each other of their own free will and not by being commanded to do
so by government officials who really have no moral authority to do this.
Still, it is useful to call to mind the fact that in a free and just
society no one is another’s slave or involuntary servant, even in times of
emergency.

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