Why should you be “forced” to help someone else?

Post image for Why should you be “forced” to help someone else?

I’m sick. I don’t get sick much. Somehow I still don’t quite believe I will ever get really sick but the statistics say there is a 100% chance I will die of something. So that means it’s either a violent end, or one day I get really sick.

Statistics also say over 70% of my readers are American, and some other statistics say that one-seventh of them do not have health insurance.

I’m making this statistic up, but for those without health coverage, probably a good 50% of their fellow Americans believe that their lack of health insurance is deserved. If they get sick they deserve no medical attention, because they didn’t tend their own garden well enough.

In America, you’re free to seek and acquire everything you need. Somehow, many people think this means the same as: if you don’t have everything you need, then you don’t deserve everything you need. No health insurance? Didn’t work hard enough. Simple.

My sinuses are blocking some of my brain right now so maybe I’m oversimpifying it, but isn’t that the basic philosophy, for many, many people?

The population contains two hundred million self-professed followers of Christ and most of them believe that it is absurd to pay a dime for someone else to see a doctor.

Makes me think of a joke:

How many Ayn Rand objectivists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None. The market will sort it out.

I generally don’t talk about single political issues here. And I’m not right now. This post isn’t about health care. Or Capitalism. It’s about something way bigger, as always. 

There is a terrible notion out there that is relatively common: that haves deserve to be haves, and have-nots deserve to be have-nots. It sounds sensible if you don’t really think about it.

If you do think about it you’ll quickly realize that it means, to begin with, that the disadvantaged (for whatever reason) deserve less, are worth less, and that there is no justice until they have less. If someone gets to see a doctor without paying for it, for example, then they are getting away with something.

It implies that the mythical quality of “strength of character” is all that separates the haves from the have-nots, and that this quality is all the disadvantaged are truly missing, and that rightly they are to be blamed for that.

It presumes that being poor in a nation with a free market economy can only be a moral failing — rather than an inevitable product of the system, rather than a social condition whose existence is necessary in order for other people to be rich. Being poor can only arise from some kind of choice to be not good enough, as the popular “get off your ass” sentiment goes. Many people really do believe this.

If you get into an argument about this, all the rebuttals you’ll face can be boiled down to this:

Why should *I* be forced to help someone else?

Here’s why:

Because you’re better off if other people aren’t suffering so much.

Even if you truly cannot see a reason why the suffering of another person is relevant to you, there’s still an ice-cold pragmatic reason to redistribute wealth, if you need one.

No matter which way you dice it, you’re better off if you live in a society that does not create large numbers of destitute people as a part of its nature. Even if they don’t live next to you.

Crime, distrust, self-destruction, poverty and other conditions we all hate grow directly out of lives that are missing something vital. Education. Health. Self-respect and the respect of society.

Even the richest are better off if they are made to be slightly less rich in order to reduce the number of poor and destitute. Not even to be kind, necessarily, but just to live in a society that is unwilling to bear the enormous social problems created by a huge, incurably destitute lower class.

And such a society cannot exist without an obligation (not a suggestion) for the haves to contribute to the quality of the lives of the have-nots, even if it is more than they might “deserve.”

Nobody is able to create by themselves all that they feel they deserve. Even those who live at the top of the pile.

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{ 186 Comments }

Vince Mulhollon November 21, 2011 at 7:24 am

Need a more chronologically aware analysis. Almost everyone will require a certain fixed amount of medical care over the course of their life. Some will require a bit more, some a bit less, all fairly randomly and unpredictably. Nickel and Diming every bandaid is too expensive to administrate, too many million dollar per year insurance industry executives. Much like its pointless to nickel and dime police, military, and fire services, its pointless to try and nickel and dime health care over a long chronological time period, like an entire lifetime.

Also this “fails safe”. I have “OK” health insurance. But what if there’s a computer foul up, happens all the time, and I’m left to die in the streets? Safer for me, even though I have “OK” insurance, to just care for everyone.

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David November 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Not sure what you’re getting at here Vince. Would you prefer public health care?

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Alex September 7, 2012 at 2:47 am

The United Kingdom, and most countries in Europe have public health, it might not be perfect, but at least you know you’ll be taken care of no matter who you are.

You can also have health insurance and private medical care if you can afford it, but the public service is pretty decent. I speak for the UK and Portugal, two countries I lived in.

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Jack Pavlov May 28, 2013 at 3:05 am

Vince,

It’s about, regardless of the conditions and state of our monetary value system, everyone deserves to receive help. This nation has come a long ways away from the simple concept of giving and receiving, and it’s turned into buying and selling. Even the smallest business to the biggest do cost cutting board meetings and come up with extravagant ideas and ways to save money for their own benefit. Not that their saving this money and then later donating it to charity or helping people out.
I’d gladly give up a generous sum of my monthly / yearly pittance (I don’t get paid much) to see less suffering in peoples eyes, to see kids in africa drinking clean water, to help a family in the grocery store with their produce. In the end, wouldn’t you want to be on the other end as the recipient if you were place in poverty or suffering. My happiness and love extends outwards to everyone and anything.

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Carl Klutzke November 21, 2011 at 7:59 am

Good post.

Obligatory link to The Just World Fallacy on You Are Not So Smart:
http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/07/the-just-world-fallacy/

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David November 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Ah great article, thanks Carl.

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Samuel February 18, 2013 at 7:33 am

I have always been on the search for stuffs like this. And you just gave me on a platter of gold. thanks

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 8:32 am

Ahh man Mr. Cain, why you gotta bash on us libertarians? I think it’s trash to believe that capitalism is a perfect meritocracy; not all of us are wealthy and healthy simply because our own effort. But whether or not the wealth was created by our own hands, it’s ours because our parents GAVE it to us, as a gift. Redistribution is theft, and I think America would be better off if it got rid of its Robin Hoon Syndrome. The super rich’s tax rates average at about 36%. When I become a millionaire, I would certainly find it extremely rude for people to say I OWE $360,000 to the community. Look, I’m all for charity. But OBLIGATED charity is, and should be seen as, theft. It’s really that simple. What gives anyone the moral and/or legal right to straight up reach into my pocket and take my money? The West needs to get rid of the attitude of entitelment. We DO NOT DESERVE health care; Health care is very expensive. We DO NOT DESERVE education; preparing a curriculum is tiring work. Sad to say, but WE DO NOT DESERVE food; someone had to grow and prepare that food, and you think you have a right to it simply because you’re hungry? I call BS. I’d love to get a response, take care.

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Collin Ferry November 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

Hey Zack,

It’s my understanding that most of the “super rich” are making their money off of money they already have. Capital gains. Thus, their tax rate is actually significantly lower than 36%. Taxing a super rich person the same amount as a middle class person is not theft, because everyone is paying the same percentage. They would be taxed equally.

For the record: access to food, basic healthcare, and education are human rights.

You may find it interesting to read the perspective of the third wealthiest man on the planet: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Collin,
I enjoyed the article a lot, it was very eye opening. I agree with the statement you made: Taxing a super rich person the same amount as a middle class person is not theft, because everyone is paying the same percentage. Absolutely, so it sounds to me like the ideal tax code is a flat rate, because everyone is paying the same percentage. What about instances where individuals get taxed twice? Their small businesses’ revenues are taxed, then the owner’s profit is taxed. What I advocate for is a fair tax code, much like Herman Cane’s 999 (I like Cane, but Dr. Ron Paul is the man). Lastly, please explain how and why access to food, basic healthcare, and education are human RIGHTS. A right is an entitlement, and I see how they may be LEGAL entitlements under our federal and states’ constitutions as of now, but how are they in any way MORAL and/or NATURAL entitlements, such as the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and property? In the state of nature, you gotta go win your bread, it’ll never be handed to you by Warren Buffett.

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Collin Ferry November 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Zack,

I was referring specifically to legal rights. The only “natural” entitlement, I imagine, would be eventual death. In terms of moral rights the conversation becomes far more subjective. Every individual has his or her own moral code.

Personally, I believe it is morally right to work toward organizing infrastructure in such a way that it guarantees food, healthcare, and education to all.

You seem to agree that the right to life is a moral one. I would argue that access to food and basic healthcare fall under the right to life (although specifically, I believe, it is only the right to not be murdered).

Free education is simply a good investment. It is a net positive that reduces poverty cycles, and is rapidly approaching a cost equal to internet access. See khanacademy.org for a great perspective on the feasibility of this.

Zack November 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Collin,
I don’t have it all figured out quite yet; I’m only 17 and still in highschool. But so far I’ve concluded morallity consists of nothing more than working for my own happiness, without killing, stealing, or lying. I think the arguement that selfishness is a vice, and giving is a virtue, is trash, simply because by nature we are all selfish. To remain alive, of course, we have to put food in our own mouth rather than our neighbors’ mouths. Take this situation: you have an abundance of food in a carry out box, and you pass a homeless man on the way to your car. He asks for some food, and informs you that if he does not eat within the hour he will surely die. If you decide not to give the food to him, and he dies, did you just kill him? I argue no, therefore it wouldn’t be morally wrong to refuse. The only difference, in my eyes, between this scenario and wealth redistribution, is that wealth redistribution is forced, which is the equivalent of the homeless man TAKING your food, whether or not you would have given it to him anyways, and claiming he’s on the morall highground because his wants are a demand on you.

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Jack November 21, 2011 at 5:58 pm

“I’ve concluded morality consists of nothing more than working for my own happiness”

I doubt I’m the only one who has a problem with that statement, can you please explain how you arrived at that conclusion?

Zack November 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’d love to, but I don’t have the coherent words and ideas to describe it just yet. I’ll get back to you. Can I have your email?

Jack November 22, 2011 at 5:10 pm
A Critic January 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm

“Taxing a super rich person the same amount as a middle class person is not theft, because everyone is paying the same percentage. They would be taxed equally.”

That doesn’t make any sense. If a thief robs 50% of a rich man’s wealth and 50% of a poor man’s wealth it is no longer theft?

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David November 21, 2011 at 5:48 pm

If redistribution is theft then taxation is theft. If taxation is theft then government is theft and public service is theft.

Do you really believe we would be better off with no taxation? (And by default, no government?)

We are not talking about charity. We are talking about building a society that is better than the caveman anarchy we would have without a government. You have enjoyed the enormous benefits of a non-anarchic society since you were born, all of it paid for by what you say you believe is theft.

I don’t think it’s even in dispute that taxation is necessary for a sane society. The question is whether it is smart for a society to withhold basic quality-of-life fundamentals like health care from people who can not pay for them personally.

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A Critic January 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“If redistribution is theft then taxation is theft. If taxation is theft then government is theft and public service is theft.”

Exactly right.

“Do you really believe we would be better off with no taxation? (And by default, no government?)”

Do I think we would be better off without the institutionalization of theft, and without an organized crime ring ruling us all by force? Why, as a matter of fact I do.

“We are not talking about charity. We are talking about building a society that is better than the caveman anarchy we would have without a government.”

Why would we have to have caveman anarchy? Why not have spaceman anarchy?

“You have enjoyed the enormous benefits of a non-anarchic society since you were born, all of it paid for by what you say you believe is theft.”

Yep, and what benefits they are! Tyranny of every form, foreign wars to kill people I don’t know and have no grudge against, an indoctrination system that wasted much of my youth, I also lost a good chunk of my childhood, etc etc etc.

“I don’t think it’s even in dispute that taxation is necessary for a sane society.”

I’m disputing it. Any sane person would dispute it. You have to be crazy to believe that committing crimes to better humanity is a sound basis for a civilization.

“The question is whether it is smart for a society to withhold basic quality-of-life fundamentals like health care from people who can not pay for them personally.”

Wrong. The question is whether it is smart for a society to set up a small class of men able to commit theft and murder and fraud while claiming that it is necessary to provide basic fundamentals of life to the needy. The answer, no it is not smart to be a sucker and make everyone else into a sucker.

You talk of kindness and good intentions, but your methods are barbaric, savage, violent, criminal, and insane.

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David January 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

If you want to be left alone, or if you don’t like being murdered and robbed, then you definitely want a functioning government. Why do people imagine anarchy means they’ll have some kind of peace or freedom? A stateless society means people will kill you and take what you have, as a matter of course. It means there are no laws and therefore no crimes, there is no recourse, only weaponry. Power hierarchies, exploitation and injustices would emerge far more easily than they do now. If you think democratic governments really are worse for you than free-roaming gangs of thugs and rapists then you have a poor imagination.

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A Critic January 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm

“If you want to be left alone, or if you don’t like being murdered and robbed, then you definitely want a functioning government.”

Really? If I want to be left alone I want a group of people to regulate, prohibit, tax, interfere, obstruct, and otherwise control every facet of my life. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

“Why do people imagine anarchy means they’ll have some kind of peace or freedom? A stateless society means people will kill you and take what you have, as a matter of course.”

The only group I can’t defend myself against is the state. It is easy to say that people will kill me and take what I have, but it would be a bloody and expensive and difficult battle for any gang to do so. It wouldn’t be worth their while, unless they grow into a state.

“It means there are no laws and therefore no crimes, there is no recourse, only weaponry.”

Well, I got the weaponry, but I don’t see why there can’t be law without a group of people charged with enforcing the law who are authorized to break the law. Seems to me that if you really want a system of law you need a group of people enforcing the law who aren’t authorized to break the law.

“Power hierarchies, exploitation and injustices would emerge far more easily than they do now. If you think democratic governments really are worse for you than free-roaming gangs of thugs and rapists then you have a poor imagination.”

I can shoot thugs and rapists and such. I can easily set up a neighborhood watch to do so too, most people in these parts are prepared for criminals. There is no defense when everyone gives their money and allegiance to a single group of people.

I’m very big on organization by nature and by choice. I agree we must have organization to our society. I disagree that we need to appoint murderers and thieves to rule over us in a failed bid to prevent theft and murder. After several thousand years of pyramidal hierarchies, I think we should try something new, i.e. a cell network.

A Critic January 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm

To clarify my main point:

It is a false dichotomy to state that the only two options are 1) the criminal organizations we call the state or government and 2) absolute chaos with no organization. Why can’t we have peaceful law abiding organizations? We can, except very nearly everyone keeps repeating the false dichotomy and refusing to acknowledge the options available to us.

Richard Harlos November 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

David wrote, “It means there are no laws and therefore no crimes”.

This is a common misconception of anarchy. An + archos = no rulers; it doesn’t mean no rules; it means no rulers.

That doesn’t solve the challenges that genuine anarchy implies, but then neither has our present system been very effective at inhibiting corruption from within, and a certain implied understanding between the corrupt how to maintain and preserve the status quo of their own power-grabbing and class advantages.

No system is going to be utopian, but some systems will likely get closer than others to the idea. A lot of it is having the courage to change… leaving behind formerly instilled & nurtured expectations from — yep, you guessed it — that status quo that stands to benefit most from you, and so many others, pursuing those expectations.

In contrast, George Carlin used to say, “They call it the American Dream because ya gotta be asleep to believe it.”

Zack November 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I do not want to argue that we do not need a government nor taxes; I completely agree governments are necesary. I also agree that a society should not withhold people from purchasing intruments that further life, such as health care. However, health care costs money. It’s not grammatically correct to claim societies “withhold” healthcare from those who cannot pay for it. The only thing not permitting them to purchase healthcare is reality. Frankly, we shouldn’t be concerned with “society,” because all society is is a collection of individuals. The INDIVIDUAL is what’s important. That’s why I read your blogs David, to better myself, NOT SOCIETY. Sure, by bettering myself I better society as well, which is a plus to the situation. But my primary reason to better myself is I WANT TO LIVE A MORE ENJOYABLE LIFE, not I want to make the society I live in a better place.

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

They absolutely most definitely withhold healthcare from people who can’t pay it. That’s why the first question they ask you is not about your health but your health insurance number.

And this story is why you couldn’t pay me a cent to live in America: http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/local/Firefighters-watch-as-home-burns-to-the-ground-104052668.html

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EcoCatLady November 22, 2011 at 1:14 am

Zach,

“When I become a millionaire…” But therein lies the rub. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, your chances of earning a seven figure income in this society are only slightly greater than your chances of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL. It could happen, but the cards are all stacked against you.

And if, somehow, you did manage to claw your way to the top, your success would be built on the backs of many, MANY other people, who will have worked hard all of their lives, and most of whom will never share in the “riches” (you know, luxuries like food, water and antibiotics).

Sarcasm aside, in my opinion, when it comes right down to it, this is really not a moral issue… it’s economics, not ethics. Because the truth is that the people at the top will be much more successful if those at the bottom are well taken care of. Businesses do need customers after all, and it’s really hard to squeeze much profit from someone who is starving on the streets.

So your chances of actually making it into the seven figure club are greatly increased if there is an equitable distribution of wealth. Counter intuitive as it may seem, supporting basic human needs (whether you believe people have a “right” to them or not) is really more about enlightened self interest than altruism.

Unfortunately, that’s not the direction things seem to be going in this country. We seem to be headed for a society that more closely resembles medieval feudalism than modern democracy. You can continue to comfort yourself with the fantasy that you’ll be one of the lords barricaded inside the castle walls, as opposed to one of the serfs toiling away on the outside, but I’d say your chances are slim.

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Gary November 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Likewise though, we DO NOT DESERVE our own money. As far as natural (or God-given) rights go, we have no right to keep “our” money or do what we want with it. The concept of ownership is a helpful provision to simplify interactions in society – a human-invented construct that must change to fit our needs, or else be discarded.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I’m dumbfounded. Please elaborate on why I do not deserve to eat the fruits of my labor.

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

At 17, how much labour do you actually do? And how much is the result of the labours of your parents, your school, your community and everyone else around you? You don’t exist in a vacuum.

Zack November 25, 2011 at 7:52 am

I’ve done enough hard work to know that I deserve to keep what I earn. Sure, I’m very fortunate to come from a wealthy background, but at the end of the day, I choose what to do with my life. No matter how many pretty flowers “the community” plants around my neighborhood, no matter how much support my parents give me, no matter how much I learn at school, I exist for my own sake, NOT THEIRS. I refuse to believe that my life is a debt to all those who have helped me.

Vilx- November 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

This reminds me of a sudden discovery I made when I was thinking about a computer game I was playing earlier this year. That game was CivCity:Rome. If you haven’t played it, in a nutshell it tries to emulate a little society – you can build houses, and assign people to do jobs. Each job produces some resources that the people themselves can consume then. The more resources people consume, the higher up they climb on the social ladder (and bring more tax money). For instance, the lowly peasant only needs to have water available, while a merchant also needs meat, clothing, olive oil, etc. If they don’t have these resources available, they regress to a lower state.

Now, I started to think – can I get the all of the households upgraded to the max (everyone lives in a palace and has all luxury items available)? And I soon realized, that the total amount of resources that would be needed to maintain this would be orders of magnitude greater than the total amount of resources that these households can produce.

In other words – the rich people could only be rich, because there were swaths of poor people supporting them.

And I wondered – so is it the same way with our world? If we were to distribute the entire produce of the world equally to everybody, how would we live? Could we even afford such things as cars and computers? Or even decent food and clothing (by todays standards)? I don’t know…

So, yes, it’s really frightening to realize that at least poverty is not a matter of choice but even a necessity to support society as it is today. In fact, all of us who have access to a computer and can read this blog are, in fact, filty rich compared to the majority of the world’s population.

I’ve also been wondering what could be done to improve this, but the only way I see out of it is to increase the efficiency of a single person, and to that end I know only one solution: better tools. So, I think – if you can, do help others, but also remember to help science, which holds our only hope for better life everywhere.

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David November 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm

>And I wondered – so is it the same way with our world? If we were to distribute the entire produce of the world equally to everybody, how would we live? Could we even afford such things as cars and computers? Or even decent food and clothing (by todays standards)? I don’t know…

I don’t support the idea of equal wealth distribution, and to answer your question, the average annual income across the world is $7-10k us dollars per year, so most westerners would be taking a huge hit. I think a pure meritocracy is impossible but that it is healthy in a regulated environment.

I don’t propose dividing everything equally because it eliminates all incentives of competition and contribution, but that doesn’t mean there’s any good reason that anyone should be denied seeing a doctor because of their income level.

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Jack November 21, 2011 at 6:06 pm

You should also take into consideration that in a truly communist society, goods are produced in bulk (because everyone gets the same thing), and this makes everything much cheaper, but I don’t know about $10k per person. I’m not a communist, I’m just throwing that out there.

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Donovan Peterson January 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

I’m not so sure about the truth of your statement “I don’t propose dividing everything equally because it eliminates all incentives of competition and contribution….”

I just read Drive, an interesting book on extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. I think our basic drive to contribute and compete is not based on extrinsic rewards and thus wouldn’t necessarily be hampered by dividing everything.

To be clear, I don’t support dividing everything equally. I do, however, believe that providing food, shelter, education and healthcare to those in need is beneficial to society at large.

Also, I think our young libertarian, Zach, would benefit from reading Non Zero or studying game theory.

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EcoCatLady November 22, 2011 at 1:52 am

You make an excellent point when you say “the rich people could only be rich, because there were swaths of poor people supporting them.” Unfortunately that IS how it works in the real world too. Despite what the right wing politicians would have you believe, a world where everybody is rich is just not possible.

But in my opinion, trying to figure out how to make everybody rich is really the wrong question. It would be more useful to ask whether being rich actually adds to someone’s quality of life. Most studies show that once people have enough income to satisfy their basic needs, more money really doesn’t make them much happier… in fact, it often makes them less happy.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from that in terms of societal organization, but I do think that on a personal level, it behooves each of us to examine our own money vs. happiness equation.

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Vilx- November 22, 2011 at 2:52 am

I think I made my comment a bit unclear. I didn’t mean that we should distribute all wealth completely equally. Indeed, I agree to David that it would both impossible and counter-productive. But the point of the article is that the current wealth redistribution schemes (by the government and otherwise) are insufficient to ensure an acceptable quality of life across the board. So I argue, that with current technology it would be impossible to achieve this, no matter how good the wealth redistribution gets. Again – this isn’t meant to discourage helping others (even helping one person is something, of course), but also to remind that you should support technology advances (and projects that aim to give tools to those that need them).

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Derek D. November 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm

That’s great, David. In some way, I think you are saying that no one lives in a vacuum. Everyone needs the support of other people in some way.

The larger point is that lifting up other people is the surest way to lift yourself up.

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David November 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Yes, that’s it. Even people who have zero concern for the wellbeing of others can still recognize that they would live in a society with far less crime and far less exploitation if they helped to make sure nobody is left destitute.

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A Critic January 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

“Even people who have zero concern for the wellbeing of others can still recognize that they would live in a society with far less crime and far less exploitation if they helped to make sure nobody is left destitute.”

What people who believe in the government refuse to get is that the people who have zero concern for the well being of others ALWAYS end up getting control of any source of political power.

Taxation is mass theft, it’s a criminal act. War is mass murder and mass theft, it’s a criminal act. Authorize a group of people to commit theft and murder to prevent theft and murder and what happens? The thieves and murderers take over the parts they didn’t start. Always. Again and again and again. How many hundreds of millions more people have to die? How many more billions must live under the yoke of a few tens of thousands?

And again, it doesn’t make any sense that in a bid to prevent bad things from happening you authorize a group of people to do bad things. The problem is NOT the solution!!!

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Nailz November 25, 2011 at 7:36 am

Your larger point is the essential point that most people miss when describing libertarianism.

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katie November 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Hi David, clearly and succinctly put.

I’m equally bamboozled by the ‘american’ attitude (sorry to generalise so crudely) to paying for health care and caring (or defiantly not caring) for fellow americans.

It makes no sense to me, partly because of the simple moral argument – who wants to own up to being so selfish?! But also because of the wider ramifications that you outline – it’s just shooting ourselves in the foot. So you strike lucky in life for whatever reason, and you get to keep all your money to yourself rather than helping nameless ‘feckless’ less fortunates. Great. But it just ends up costing us in other ways. I guess it’s fine for the super-super-rich, because they can afford to separate themselves off from normal society into their gated luxury communities. But for most folk, that’s not the case.

A completely equal redistribution of wealth won’t work, I agree with that point – like Vilx explained. But the increasing polarisation between the haves and the have-nots, the ever increasing gap between the fortunate and the unfortunate, it doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Looking out for each other – why is that so controversial?!

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Katie,
looking out for one another is in no way controversial; I love being looked out for, and I love giving a helping hand when I can spare it. But this is my problem; obligatory helping. The second helping someone becomes forced, in the form of taxes or whatever, it becomes disgusting. I want the freedom to choose who, how, and to what extent I help poeple. Also, it’s nice to think of it as “helping each other” but it can also be thought of as “leeching on the succesful.” In the case of wealth redistribution, we’re not “helping each other,” we’re taking money from the rich to help the poor. Nothing wrong with helping the poor, but there is something wrong with TAKING money from people. I don’t care how great the cause is, but if you TAKE anything from someone, you just stole.

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katie November 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Hey Zack – I guess the difference lies in your view of taxes. It has never ever even entered my mind that my taxes are taken from me, put like that, I totally see where you’re coming from! (Which is pretty cool, cos I’ve never before understood the vehement opposition to taxes, not when they’re going to be spent on things that are for the common good). In contrast, I’ve always framed it in different terms – I willingly pay, or give, my taxes precisely in order to pay for things like healthcare etc. And so I don’t have a problem with it. Totally polar opposite points of view, but it all hinges on word choice and the mindset that goes with it.

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Right, and it is a different mindset. I see it this way: say I’m a Christian (I’m actually agnostic) that is a firm believer in Creationism. Through taxes, I fund my neighbor’s education on Darwanism and evolutionary theory. This would inferiate me, seeing how I would be completely against the exact thing I’m paying for. I’m not opposed to taxes, per se, because taxes fund the government, and we NEED a government. However, I oppose large government, because large government = small freedoms.

David November 21, 2011 at 6:06 pm

>Also, it’s nice to think of it as “helping each other” but it can also be thought of as “leeching on the succesful.” In the case of wealth redistribution, we’re not “helping each other,” we’re taking money from the rich to help the poor

No, it’s really not as simple as a Robin Hood system. It is not only the rich who are taxed and it is not only the poor who benefit. A society that is determined to provide the basics to everyone is a better place to live no matter what class you are.

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Malene November 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Hey :-)

Great post!!

I have to say, that the American health care system makes me really grateful to live en Europe. In Denmark taxes are much higher than what u r used to -I pay 43%.
This may sound completely insane, but I never have to worry about getting sick -even if I need years of hospital care, I will never have to pay for it.

:-)

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David November 21, 2011 at 6:09 pm

It is something we take for granted here in Canada too. I can’t imagine what it would be like to living knowing that medical care is essentially off-limits to you, should you get sick or injured.

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Ashley November 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Hi, Libertarian here. I think you’ve got some of us wrong. A sanction of us are not against healthcare…if it’s at the state level. If that state decides they want to tax everyone for healthcare they can do that. The reason for this one it’s more moral and two more functional. It’s a moral issue because of the non-aggression principle us Libertarians follow, to not force someone to do something they don’t want to. Liberals believe this is true for everything except when it comes to money? Why is that? And this notion that all of the “good” things the federal government gives us like roads, public schools, healthcare (which a Libertarian would say could be done better without the government) is worth all of the bad things the fed does like unnecessary wars, bailouts and croni-capitalism is preposterous. Because the government surely spends more on the bad things. If all of the roads were pristine and public schooling didn’t just ready students to be good workers and healthcare would actually be somewhat close to the European system then that would mean they’d be spending less money on wars and more money on what the majority actually want when they “agree” with taxation. On the more functional note take a look at public schools. Does the school board always make the best decision for the school? No, because they don’t know all the nuances of what goes on in all the schools. Why do you think the Federal government would know all the best decisions for each state? Same with healthcare at the Federal level. If a state decides healthcare is for them then it makes sense that they would do a better job than the Fed would. Also if healthcare is truly what is best for the country it will spread. Other states will realize that they want this and adopt it to fit the needs of that state. This to me makes the most sense. Please prove me that I’m wrong!

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Fellow Libertarian!
Keep up the great work!

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David November 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hi Ashley. I didn’t mean to pick on libertarians, I just wanted to work that joke in there. It was a general stab at the notion that society is best served by insular self-interest and I know that isn’t the guiding principle of libertarianism. It could have worked with “capitalist” or “objectivist.”

I did use the US as an example, but the issue of wealth distribution and public welfare is relevant everywhere. So we can’t really answer it presuming that we live in US states. But I do understand the appeal of government moving “closer” to the people it governs by having more policy decided on a state or local level.

But that’s not really the issue I’m talking about here. Do you believe that there are people who don’t deserve health care, for example? And if so, do you think society is better off withholding basic public services from those individuals who couldn’t pay for them?

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Ashley November 22, 2011 at 10:27 am

Ah sorry have not been reading your blog that long and didn’t realize you lived in Canada (I do enjoy many of your other posts though). I think the misconception with a lot of people is that because Libertarians don’t want the Federal government to provide us these things, then that means we don’t want them at all. Not the case at all, we simply want to eliminate the “force” aspect and have the law making closer to the people.

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Ashley November 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Also the concept of charity is a wonderful thing. I have enough faith in humanity and believe that if we got away from this entitlement from the government idea a lot more people would donate or give out there services for free (see Ron Paul’s service as a doctor) and our problems could be solved without the government. I am not one to put my foot where my mouth is as a web designer I do pro-bono work a couple times a year for non-profit groups. You can’t put a gun to someones head and call it charity.

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Sounds like someone’s read Atlas Shrugged ;)

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David November 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Is taxation and public service really tantamount to putting a gun to someone’s head? I don’t think supporting the idea that a functional society ought to provide basic services is equivalent to some sort of entitlement complex. It is certainly practical and it helps mitigate social problems like crime and other misbehavior.

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Ashley November 22, 2011 at 10:18 am

When you strip away all of it it comes down to this. If you don’t agree with a policy the government redistributes your money to you have to pay for it or you go to jail. This is force, putting a gun to your head is merely a metaphor for that. We have this system where people down on there luck have to rely on this forced money instead of the willfulness of others and people who otherwise would give their money to certain causes won’t because they expect the Federal government will handle it when it’s often not as efficient.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Well said.

EcoCatLady November 22, 2011 at 2:36 am

Ashley,

I really have a problem with the whole phrase “entitlement from the government.” We do live in a democracy you know… it’s not like we’re demanding that the King give us something that we haven’t worked for. We’re simply electing representatives to handle certain jobs that we… the voters… the citizens… the people have decided can be better accomplished by pooling our resources. Government is just us, you know.

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Vilx- November 22, 2011 at 2:55 am

In theory, at least. ;)

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm

No amount of people doing pro-bono work a couple of times a year, or dropping a few coins into a few charity boxes, is going to pay for everything a government needs. Try paying for your military on that principle. You’d be arming them with slingshots.

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Zack November 25, 2011 at 7:54 am

“Everything a government needs.”
http://www.usdebtclock.org/
How much does a government need?

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marc van der Linden November 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Interesting post. America is the land of making dreams come true and a world power. That’s what many people in Europe – and over the whole world I think.

However, I always have been amazed that for basic health care you have to be a millionaire or you have the risk to die. One day I watched a TV reportage about an American black woman who went with her very sick child to an American hospital and she was refused because she had no right to stay in that hospital. She had to go to hospital 80 km further away. She went to there, but her child died on her way to there.

That’s inhuman.

In Europe this would be just unthinkable. Anybody would get urgent health care in any hospital. Immediate, without questioning.

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 3:18 pm

So it’s fair to save this childs life and let the community pick up the tab involuntarily? As unfortunate as it is, saving someone’s life costs money.

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Shannon November 22, 2011 at 12:28 am

Is it “fair” for the child that he/she was born into a poor family with no health insurance and then developed a serious illness?

And regardless of why the mother had no health insurance, was it “fair” that she had to watch her own child die in front of her? Is that just the fair price to pay for not having purchased health insurance?

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EcoCatLady November 22, 2011 at 2:23 am

Hmmm…. so, let’s say that you got mugged. The crook stole all of your ID, including any information about private health insurance that you might or might not have. You are unconscious and therefore unable to communicate any information about yourself. So now let’s say that some well meaning soul finds you on the street and takes you to the emergency room. But alas, since you cannot prove that you have insurance, and since it would not be “fair” that someone else might have to pick up the tab for your health care, they simply let you die. I guess it would really suck to be you in that situation.

You know… you can go around and around about what is and isn’t “fair”, but to me the more pertinent question is, do we really want to live in a society that operates like the one I have described above? I know I sure don’t.

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Could you please post a photo of yourself? That way, if anyone sees you dying the street, we know just to step over you and keep moving on. That’s what you’re advocating, right?

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Zack November 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

Haha, NO! Please stop putting words in my mouth and understand this thoroughly: If I see you dying, it is not my *duty* to save you. If I am dying in the street, I would of course love for you to help me, of course I would enjoy free healthcare, but that gives me no right to *force* others to help me, to *force* others to pay for the medical bills. Please understand that I am not against helping one another! I’m just outraged how you see no evil in *forcing* people to do things. Are we clear? Or do you still think that if I passed you in the street I would watch you die?

Jamie November 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I work within the healthcare system in the US. You can not be turned away from any hospital in the US for inability to pay for emergency services.
As a young adult without health insurance I was in a bad car accident and sustained head injuries. I was cared for without hesitation or question. After I was stable and it was determined that I did not have health insurance, nor did I qualify for Medi-Cal the state health insurance program (I made too much money) the hospital worked with me to establish a reasonable payment plan – far below what the actual bill for care was.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 12:21 am

Yes, but if you were unlucky enough to get Cancer as opposed to getting in a car accident, then tough luck for you. You just get to die slowly and painfully over the next few years because it wasn’t an “emergency”

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Ingrid November 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“Did you know that in the Far East, people pay their doctors when they’re healthy. When they’re sick, they don’t have to pay ‘em. So basically, they end up paying for what they want, not what they don’t want” – John Kramer, SAW VI

Here in Norway health taxes are merely taken for granted.

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David November 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Do you know any more about what he means by that quote? It sounds interesting.

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Ingrid November 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I am a Norwegian-Danish girl who’s never been to the U.S. so I have only what I’ve heard and read to base my opinions upon. But what I know about how the health system works here, is that you get your treatment and pay later (that’s the basic principle), and if it’s urgent like if you broke a leg or you need to remove a tumor, the state will pay this for you (well in principle what happens is everyone who earns above 40 000 kroners/8 000 dollars a year pays a certain percent taxes). Waiting lines are prioritated after how urgent your situation is, not how fast you can pay the money. Here’s a brief overview of the Norwegian health care system: http://www.awcoslo.org/Sections/LivingInOslo/health_care_in_norway.htm

Another article comparing the two. The American health care system and the Norwegian one: http://www.daria.no/skole/?tekst=4876

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Nate November 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm

As a libertarian and a fan of your work, I’m mildly offended but I do understand where you are coming from. Libertarians are against the tyranny of the many over the few…. whether it means the tyranny of crony capitalism or the having my options decided by a bureaucrat on a committee. Why is it deemed selfish to object to theft of individual work but deemed altruistic to claim other’s work in the name of ‘society’? The only difference between those two claims is one is specific and one is vague, so intellectually lazy people can pat themselves on the back thinking they are nice and detractors are just mean and selfish. It’s hard for me to imagine a more presumptuous and arrogant position to take than to claim what some people ‘owe’ other people or to constantly claim what is ‘best’ for others. People should not be able to tilt the odds in their favor and receive far more than they produce. This happens in our current system of corporations actively stifling competition with government help and would become even worse with more government attempts at picking winners and losers. We agree on that. We also agree that we aren’t all born with the same opportunity and that it’s good to try to level that out. Though we disagree on how best to get there. I’m all for public health care, though what I’ve seen proposed isn’t it and we definitely don’t have a real ‘free market’ for health care now. One of my favorite blogs that addresses this ‘libertarians=selfish’ claim is http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/.

There’s a reason why GE’s CEO practically lives at the white house. It’s much easier today to lobby for protection from competition than to actually compete. Same for healthcare companies and it’d be even worse if it was more ‘socialized’ in the way they are trying to do it. I’m sorry that makes me selfish if I would prefer mine and my neighbor’s fate to be decided more by our own actions and decisions than by those that hold the money/power.

Why is the solution to any social ill never more freedom? Our tax system is very regressive. Sales tax, payroll tax, etc hit poor people hard. So why is the liberal solution never to stop those taxes? Instead, they keep taxing the poor so that they can ‘give’ it back to them through social programs. It’s ok to hoard power and resources as long as it comes from elections and not the free market?? Just because I don’t pretend to know what is ‘best’ for others makes me selfish? Whether it be in a board room or public office makes little difference about how arrogant and immoral it is to presume you know what’s best for people you’ve never met.

Please don’t just assume that people who are against one particular flavor of tyranny are selfish. It’s that sort of petty name-calling that has gotten into this horrible cycle of childish bickering that is only getting worse. We need to elevate the conversation. We can start with the agreement that most of us are inherently ‘good’ people and want the same thing for our world.

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Zack November 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I’m a libertarian, and I’ve never heard of one “being OK with public health care.” What does a libertarian’s ideal of a public health care system look like?

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I’m not a hardcore everything-should-be-left-to-the-market libertarian. I just want a society that is fair as possible with as much opportunity for every citizen as possible. I believe in safety nets but not a nanny state.
As far as health care goes, first there needs to be a distinction between health care and health insurance. Insurance is something to protect you from a major loss of an unlikely but catastrophic event. I’m fine with socializing major medical insurance so that you have access to the same treatment if you get cancer whether or not you are poor. But routine care should be private and competitive, which is a far better way of allocating that scarce resource than by socializing it.
Think about car insurance. You pay for it so it covers you in the unlikely event of a bad accident, and you also pay a little extra to cover those that can’t afford it or choose not to pay it. But oil changes aren’t covered under your insurance because they are routine and not life-altering events. If car insurance and car maintenance was convoluted like health care and health insurance is…then oil changes would cost $900 and people would have to depend on a bigger entity (employer or state) to cover them for it or subsidize it.
I’m very willing to pay a lot of taxes to help protect my fellow citizens from very unfortunate events, but I don’t feel so good about subsidizing people’s every-day poor health choices in the same manner that I wouldn’t want to help maintain their car if they are abusive to it. Have you been to the US lately? People aren’t too smart about their health.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Thanks for the clarification. And yeah, I have been to the US lately, I live here :p and I just got done eating the most greasy taco full of cow intenstines. Yummm. Regarding insurance though, I don’t understand the concept. Whether it’s car, life, home, whatever insurance, all you’re doing is setting up a moral hazard. In other words, if I purchase car insurance, I’m betting that I’ll get in a wreck. Right? I mean, if I don’t get in wreck, then what the hell did I pay for? Check out this website: http://www.john-adams.co.uk/2009/10/28/moral-hazard-bonuses-seat-belts-and-condoms/

Nailz November 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

You might pay for insurance and never get in a wreck but at least you CHOSE to buy car insurance, and weren’t forced into it, like I am in Ontario. Also we have free health care in Canada, it works because it is run on a provincial level. It isn’t as susceptible to big corporate lobbying and doctors salaries aren’t determined by how many drugs they can push out the door. Mind you the health care system isn’t perfect but I haven’t met a single person who is against it libertarian, socialist, capitalist alike.

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David November 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Haha, didn’t mean to offend Nate. As I said to Ashley I just wanted to include that particular light bulb joke but it doesn’t need to use libertarians as the butt. “Objectivist” is probably better for the purposes of that joke.

That said, if we want a government at all we can’t really dispense with a) taxation, and b) deciding how to best use tax money. Any public policy must be a generalization, taxes by definition must be “owed”, and government spending must always be some form of “deciding what is best for others.” There will always be people who don’t like how these two necessaries are implemented, but we cannot say they are not necessary.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the specific policy-related points you make but you do seem more than mildly offended and your comment seems to presume much more about me than my light bulb joke does about you.

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

You are correct, I did over-react and showed a symptom of the problem I was decrying. That we are all so over sensitized by lowest-common-denominator accusations. Sorry about that. Ironically, I do consider myself an Objectivist also! Though a fairly soft one in that I’m fine with some, even a lot of my production ‘belonging’ to the public. I just hate the way it’s generally used by those who seek to hoard power and control others. In my ideal society, we are all free to trade our skills and gifts for things we aren’t good at in efficient markets that are regulated against monopoly. A true maximization of the division of labor and no one gets to use wealth to protect wealth. Obama raised almost a billion dollars for his run, twice that of McCain. You think that came from grass roots? The current winners of capitalism DON’T want truly free markets! They want protection to continue to milk their particular niche in comfort.

But the world isn’t perfect and the idea that a genius born in the slums has less of a chance to improve her fate than a child of a CEO rubs me the wrong way. I’m very willing to give to help give that kid the same chance I had… but I didn’t start with much and never asked for much. Just a chance, everybody deserves a shot, but not a free ride. If we go down that road of giving everyone a free ride then at some point we will run out of other people’s money and no one has any incentive to innovate.

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A Critic January 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

“That said, if we want a government at all we can’t really dispense with a) taxation, and b) deciding how to best use tax money. Any public policy must be a generalization, taxes by definition must be “owed”, and government spending must always be some form of “deciding what is best for others.” There will always be people who don’t like how these two necessaries are implemented, but we cannot say they are not necessary.”

Sounds very much like

“That said, if we want a war at all we can’t really dispense with a) killing innocent bystanders, and b) deciding how to best kill innocent bystanders. Any public policy must be a generalization, collateral damage by definition must be “necessary”, and government killing must always be some form of “deciding what is best for others.” There will always be people who don’t like how these two necessaries are implemented, but we cannot say they are not necessary.”

You can substitute in genocide, propaganda, indoctrination, bribes and kickbacks, and all of the other lovely wonderful features of government, such as waste and outright theft.

Those of you who have been domesticated by the psychopaths we call politicians may not be able to say that these things are not necessary, but I can. They aren’t necessary. In order to believe they are necessary you have to deny that there is any better way. You have to ignore the huge costs and myriad unintended consequences. You have to abandon your own mind and join the hive. All of that is unnecessary. There are no necessary evils – and it is only a lie to say that there is.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 12:35 am

It boils down to this. You choose to live in a society. Because of living in this society, and working with other human beings, you become obligated to uphold your part of that society. You get benefits from said society (examples such as Fire Protection, Crime Protection, Education, Access to public systems, internet, the ability to learn from other people). If you chose to reap all the benefits of living in the society, the leadership of that society (or the majority, or however lawfulness is established) have every right to force, yes FORCE you to uphold your social contract for the betterment of the entire society. If you would like to choose to take all your wealth, buy a private island, and govern yourself with no help from the outside world, then I wish you luck Robinson Crusoe. But if you choose to stay living in the society you are now.. you better just buck up and realize that YOU are not any more or less important than anyone else, and YOU don’t get the privilege of doing or paying less just because you think you’ve worked hard enough to “deserve” it. That’s not your choice to make. What everyone has said before is true, you are part of a complex web… not living in a vacuum. You’re going to have to do things you don’t want to sometimes to get other things you want. In this case, you should be forced to provide basic humanitarian things like shelter, food, education, and health care. Imagine that there were only 50 people on earth. They could decide to live individually, or all come together to try and make a better life in the aggregate. The same principles would apply there that apply now. And if your argument is that the world is too populated for you to find somewhere to live “in a vacuum,” first of all I would say you’re wrong, but more importantly I would say that even if you ARE right… then that’s the world you live in bucko, and you’d best start to adapt or you’re going to be miserable and angry for the rest of your life

A Critic January 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

@Tony Draxler

“It boils down to this. You choose to live in a society.”

No I don’t. I don’t want to be part of your society. “Outside of society is where I want to be” – Patti Smith. I find your society to be violent, insane, and stupid. I want as little to do with it as possible.

“Because of living in this society, and working with other human beings, you become obligated to uphold your part of that society. You get benefits from said society (examples such as Fire Protection, Crime Protection, Education, Access to public systems, internet, the ability to learn from other people). If you chose to reap all the benefits of living in the society, the leadership of that society (or the majority, or however lawfulness is established) have every right to force, yes FORCE you to uphold your social contract for the betterment of the entire society.”

So because I had no choice in being born, I can be enslaved by those older than me to serve their purposes and for their benefit so long as they claim a high minded purpose for it? I don’t believe that.

“If you would like to choose to take all your wealth, buy a private island, and govern yourself with no help from the outside world, then I wish you luck Robinson Crusoe.”

That’s exactly what I’m doing with my life.

“But if you choose to stay living in the society you are now.. you better just buck up and realize that YOU are not any more or less important than anyone else, and YOU don’t get the privilege of doing or paying less just because you think you’ve worked hard enough to “deserve” it. That’s not your choice to make.”

Right, I don’t get to choose, because I belong to everyone. Uh huh. I’m not a slave, I’m not a serf, and I don’t wish to be treated as one. I don’t belong to you. Never have, never will. And while you can say it’s not my choice to make, I’m making it anyway.

“What everyone has said before is true, you are part of a complex web… not living in a vacuum. You’re going to have to do things you don’t want to sometimes to get other things you want.”

I always want to do the things I do. I choose to do so.

“In this case, you should be forced to provide basic humanitarian things like shelter, food, education, and health care.”

That’s barbaric, savage, violent. Humanitarianism does not come from the gun or whips or cages or the threat of them. I’m the most generous giving person I know and I’m also the one most opposed to using force to create a psychopath’s shoddy imitation of a kind and generous world.

“Imagine that there were only 50 people on earth. They could decide to live individually, or all come together to try and make a better life in the aggregate. The same principles would apply there that apply now.”

And if one of those fifty produces enough for him to live on, the other 49 can kill or cage him if he doesn’t share? That’s tribalism, it works if you are willing to accept a life of poverty and misery.

“And if your argument is that the world is too populated for you to find somewhere to live “in a vacuum,” first of all I would say you’re wrong, but more importantly I would say that even if you ARE right… then that’s the world you live in bucko, and you’d best start to adapt or you’re going to be miserable and angry for the rest of your life”

I’m quite happy actually. The world is plenty big enough for me to disappear. And I have and am adapting – but I do so without giving into the rule of psychopaths.

Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I’m afraid I don’t see what your issue is then Critic. If you’re living outside of a society, totally on your own, without being subjected to others rules or thoughts of what’s best, then I’m happy you’ve found what makes you happy. But to criticize a formed society that you say you have no part of is folly. If others have the same concerns as you, they can choose to extricate themselves as you did. Otherwise, if you want to play the game, you have to play by the rules. If you take everything you want out of the society and don’t give back what everyone else thinks is fair, then YOU are the one stealing. YOU are the one benefiting from others without reciprocating. If you use public education, water works, electricity grids, police protection, fire protection, etc and you don’t pay any taxes you are a criminal. You are stealing the fruits of other laborers. You are using the societal infrastructure. Basic Human Rights for all in the society is not too much to ask in return. I don’t want your house, I don’t want your car, I don’t want your tv… but I DO want you to help the sick, help feed the starving, and help protect the underprivileged.

Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

And furthermore, If anyone in said society doesn’t agree to those terms the choices should be clear… either be allowed to leave, or forced to participate. You have the ultimate choice. Nobody’s will is being forced upon you.

A Critic January 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

“I’m afraid I don’t see what your issue is then Critic.”

My issue? The torture, murder, indoctrination, and impoverishment of human beings by governments.

“But to criticize a formed society that you say you have no part of is folly. If others have the same concerns as you, they can choose to extricate themselves as you did. Otherwise, if you want to play the game, you have to play by the rules.”

I want to have no part of this society. I have no choice but to be part of it for the time being, and if I choose to separate myself, there will likely be conflict as you wish to enslave me, and failing that, you wish to cage or murder me. And no, I don’t have to play by the rules. No one does. It’s not even possible to do so. There are too many rules and too many conflicting rules for that to be even remotely possible.

“If you take everything you want out of the society and don’t give back what everyone else thinks is fair, then YOU are the one stealing.”

I’m stealing if I don’t let others steal from me?

“YOU are the one benefiting from others without reciprocating. If you use public education, water works, electricity grids, police protection, fire protection, etc and you don’t pay any taxes you are a criminal.”

Really? Wouldn’t that merely make me a welfare recipient?

“You are stealing the fruits of other laborers.”

Yes, the government is a means to steal the fruits of other laborers.

“You are using the societal infrastructure. Basic Human Rights for all in the society is not too much to ask in return. I don’t want your house, I don’t want your car, I don’t want your tv… but I DO want you to help the sick, help feed the starving, and help protect the underprivileged.”

So you want my life and you want my wealth?

There is no basic human right to a free lunch. ‘The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.’ – Frederick Bastiat.

Which is it – I can live for free at your expense and that’s the government helping the poor, or I can’t live for free at your expense because I’m a freeloading parasite? You can’t have it both ways!

Tony Draxler January 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm

@Critic – I still don’t understand how you can hold the world views you do, you must have had a very different past than I. You’re speaking in extremes, and likening helping the poor and destitute to yourself being enslaved, robbed, and murdered? Your hyperbole isn’t going to persuade anyone who uses logic and reason as their basis for understanding and will only cause to incense the emotional and irrational. I understand that YOU feel you are being persecuted far worse than any human should endure, but cannot fathom HOW or WHY you believe that in light of the actual human sufferings of the world. I hope that one day you can learn empathy, for it really is the only thing that can change the world for the better. Until then, I will have to respectfully, but unequivocally disagree with your life/political/humanitarian views. I don’t see paying taxes (even high taxes) as being subjugated to the levels of persecution, genocide, indoctrination and thievery that you do… rather a society (an imperfect society albeit) trying to do it’s best to take care of ALL members, not just those who are already at the top of the pile through mostly chance. I wish you all the best in your isolation and separation from humanity and society and hope that it brings you the greatest amount of happiness possible. As for me, I will continue to burden myself and BE burdened by the suffering of others and not be angry and selfish but to use my perspective to see the bigger picture and to feel for those who truly need help.

A Critic February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

“@Critic – I still don’t understand how you can hold the world views you do, you must have had a very different past than I.”

Probably. The state first lied and stole from me when I was five. Having my childhood destroyed allegedly in order to save it left an impression on me.

“You’re speaking in extremes, and likening helping the poor and destitute to yourself being enslaved, robbed, and murdered?”

Yep. I’m the poor and I’m the one who has to pay for the lazy poor and the lazy rich who prefer to help themselves to my meager earnings rather than earn their own.

“Your hyperbole isn’t going to persuade anyone who uses logic and reason as their basis for understanding and will only cause to incense the emotional and irrational.”

I am not employing hyperbole.

“I understand that YOU feel you are being persecuted far worse than any human should endure, but cannot fathom HOW or WHY you believe that in light of the actual human sufferings of the world.”

Really? How about the constant lying, stealing, and murder done by the state allegedly for my benefit? Do people really deserve to be ruled by psychopaths?

“I hope that one day you can learn empathy, for it really is the only thing that can change the world for the better.”

I, who oppose the impoverishment and mass murder of people by the state, need to learn empathy? How about you who turn a blind eye to the crimes you support? No need for a little sympathy for the victims of taxes and cluster bombs?

“Until then, I will have to respectfully, but unequivocally disagree with your life/political/humanitarian views. I don’t see paying taxes (even high taxes) as being subjugated to the levels of persecution, genocide, indoctrination and thievery that you do… ”

Study history and current events. My views are based on the bloody reality of the state, not it’s propaganda.

“rather a society (an imperfect society albeit) trying to do it’s best to take care of ALL members, not just those who are already at the top of the pile through mostly chance.”

Oh, everyone is going to be taken care of alright, just as a monster takes care of an unarmed woman walking alone at night.

“I wish you all the best in your isolation and separation from humanity and society and hope that it brings you the greatest amount of happiness possible. As for me, I will continue to burden myself and BE burdened by the suffering of others and not be angry and selfish but to use my perspective to see the bigger picture and to feel for those who truly need help.”

Are you sure you won’t simply continue to follow the crowd that follows the psychopaths down the slippery slope to hell?

Zack November 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm

>”Any public policy must be a generalization, taxes by definition must be ‘owed,’ and government spending must always be some form of ‘deciding what is best for others.’
Yeah, that actually is crystal clear, true information. I like it. But is “what’s better for others” a valid moral justification to taking from the few to benefit the majority? If it is, then the following scenario must also be true: 100 people are in a locked room. 99 are at the brink of starvation, but 1 has enough food to feed everyone. The 99 take just enough to keep themselves alive, leaving the 1 with more than enough food to be content. Thoughts?

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm

If the 1 kept the food, there would be an uprising and 1 would die. Though because the 99 is surely a diverse group, a small minority of them would annoint themselves ‘leaders’ and probably hoard the supply and dictate who gets to eat (see Egypt, Libya, etc).
What if 1 made a deal that if he shared the food then they’d all work together to share the fruits of their survival and prosperity? How could he trust the 99? How could the 99 trust the 1? How could the 99 trust each other? Property rights and contracts. People making solemn promises and commitments to each other that are offered and accepted freely without coercion.
It’s so easy to envision and plead for a truly communal system. But impossible in reality. That’s why so many pointed and laughed when the OWS people started turning away the homeless from their kitchen. Though I hold the bankers in equal contempt.
The right taunting liberals as lazy and the left taunting the right as selfish while the same power brokers reap the spoils isn’t the right way to fix this.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Wise words.

EcoCatLady November 22, 2011 at 2:30 am

Nate,

The problem I have with this sort of argument, is that you act as though the “government” is some nameless, faceless boogeyman, that holds all the power, and which we have no control over. The truth is that the government is us…. you know…. we, the people? It’s not some group of bureaucrats deciding what is best for “other” people, it is a collection of individual citizens deciding how we want to govern ourselves. I fail to see how people deciding that we can meet our needs more effectively if we pool our resources is “hoarding power”.

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I do believe in public services. Infrastructure, education, social welfare. There are many things better served by the ‘public’ than the private. I think our idea of what government should do is not far off. However, I am more cynical about the intentions of government at higher aggregations. My city council is a very close to ‘we-the-people’, state government is a little less so, and federal government in its current form sure seems like all it wants to do is to make sure those with the power (money) keep the power.

I don’t see a single person from either party lobbying for a truly progressive tax system that is actually fair to all… Why not a 40% flat tax exempting the first $30k of income? The ‘rich’ would pay way more than they do now and it would be truly ‘fair’ to everyone. NO payroll tax, no sales tax, same social security benefits, but also way less welfare…. Someone could make a living wage working as a waiter if they chose and if they wanted to they could take more risk and make more money. But we don’t ever offer that. Instead, we take a big portion of that waiter’s income in order to give it back to him in the form of eitc, food stamps, child tax credits, etc etc because we presume to know what’s better for him and his family. Then the rich get to whine about paying for his life and he’s stuck in a cycle of dependence on the system instead of himself.

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EcoCatLady November 24, 2011 at 12:01 am

Well, on some level I agree with you. But I don’t think that the federal government is power hungry per se… I think it’s that we’ve chosen poor representatives who are much more interested in their own re-elections than in serving our interests. What is needed is for the voters to hold our elected officals accountable.

In terms of taxes, I actually think you make some valid points, but I do think there are some folks who, through no fault of their own will never be able to make enough money to support their needs no matter what (think a person born with down syndrome etc.) And I believe that we as a society have a responsibility to take care of them.

The other thing that always gets me about the Libertarian party line is that it’s against government regulation of business. To me removing government regulations on businesses just means that they are able to use their money and power to take advantage of the considerably less powerful citizen by externalizing a HUGE amount of their costs to us. I’m all for the free market, but only if, for example, power companies have to pay for the health care of the millions of people who die every year from the air pollution that they cause… or if Wall street has to pay for the billions of dollars in losses that their crazy derivative schemes cost average citizens.

If we’re gonna talk about what’s fair, let’s really talk about what’s fair.

Zack November 24, 2011 at 7:07 am

EcoCatLady,
believe it or not, that’s precisely what libertarians advocate for: no government handouts and pay for your polution.

Jesse November 21, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Hey David,
I really enjoyed the post. I completely agree with the answer you gave to “Why should *I* be forced to help someone else?” Regardless of where you stand in society, if you create an imbalance it will eventually return to you and most likely to the ones you do care about. I feel it’s not an argument of politics or policies but a long standing principle that all people deserve to have certain needs met. Helping people who are down is far more beneficial to society, it raises the quality of society as a whole. The more healthy well thinking men women and children there are in the world the fewer problems we would have, and the wealthy would be bothered about it less.

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j0persha November 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Whenever I read anything about the American healthcare system I thank the gods I don’t have to live there – the idea that if you have a medical emergency and go to the emergency department they might not treat you because you can’t afford private health insurance (and incidentally are therefore probably low on the socioeconomic spectrum with poorer health outcomes generally)? Seems kind of barbaric to be frank.

Zack, I find your point of view very strange. your hypothetical – “So it’s fair to save this childs life and let the community pick up the tab involuntarily?” Yes, absolutely. Are you saying the community capable of saving the child’s life has no ethical responsibility to do so? A community is more than just the sum of it’s parts; it’s not just a collection of individuals who live near each other and interect on a regular basis. In a community the individuals come together and cooperate to make life better for everyone becuase as a group you can provide living conditions, services and facilities that improve life far more effectively than you could in isolation. It’s this stuff that means, e.g., we don’t have to spend all day looking for food; people studying to be professionals are able to have time off working while they learn; and people who are sick can be treated so they can return to health and continue to contribute to the community. Each individual is part of the community, and a community takes care of itself

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Philippa Chapman November 22, 2011 at 1:59 am

Amos 5

11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.

14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.

16 Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD God Almighty, says:

“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the LORD.
The Day of the LORD
18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the LORD!
Why do you long for the day of the LORD?
That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In other words, God appears to agree with Mr Cain :-)

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 12:41 am

The Flying Spaghetti Monster also agrees with Mr. Cain

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James November 22, 2011 at 2:01 am

Not to mention that the government doesn’t have an incentive to deny coverage like insurance companies do. Being unable to get insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or being denied coverage because the insurance company doesn’t want to pay for the procedure is something that can happen to anybody. But I live in Australia and I’ve never once heard of our public healthcare system denying somebody coverage for a life-saving surgery.

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Sam November 22, 2011 at 6:19 am

While I suppose the romantic “rags-to-riches”-type story is still theoretically possible, I would wager that there are very few “self-made” millionaires who have done so entirely on their own. The process isn’t so simple as “work hard-save money”. There is a great deal of manipulation of other persons, is there not? If someone, for example, opens a shop, they will not make a great deal of money creating, marketing, and selling the goods entirely on their own. Rather, they are likely to hire employees, buy supplies from outside sources, or participate in another form of trade with other human beings. By “outwitting” the competition and playing people correctly, a profit can be made. This is not a sinister act; that’s not my point at all. However, I think it is unfathomable to think of a person who has made money from a society as entirely separate from said society. The issue should not be viewed as rich people paying poor people; that’s a gross oversimplification. All people, rich and poor alike, pay into society and reap the benefits of said society. It is not an overstatement to say that those benefits include both healthcare as well as a safe and stable business environment. I think its safe to say that the majority of people calling for universal health care in the US are not Communists. Of course there is a balance to be sought. However, an individual cannot in good conscious receive the benefit of society without also being required to reciprocate. Unless they’ve lived a life isolated from the help of others. In which case they probably don’t have access to the internet and we’ll miss out on their opinion, sadly. Thinking caps, everyone!
That was quite long; apologies for the verbosity.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 9:28 am

>”I think it’s unfathomable to think of a person who has made money from a society entirely seperate from said society.”
When a company hires the multiple employees it need to be succesful, it is not (cleverly or unfairly) manipulating them. They are not necesarilly “outwitting” the competition, and they are not making a profit “off of other people.” A job is a contract, one in which both the employer and employee have voluntarilly agreed to. The job makes both parties better off. The job is not a “benefit of society” in the form you preach. Yes, it is because people can live together peacefully that specilization of labor is possible, that we have more and better leisure time, and that we may develop relationships with one another. THESE are the benefits of society. And to produce these benefits, the government need only enforce a few things: 1. Contract enforcement. 2. Property rights enforcement (including murder, because your body is your property).

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Nate November 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Well said. I’ll never understand how so many assume it is employer’s role to ‘take care’ of their employees. More burdens put on employers in a competitive economy only lowers wages and increases prices and protects the big entrenched firms from competition of new firms. People are so afraid that unburdening business will only result in the owners getting richer. IF there is healthy competition, companies would be forced to sell at competitive prices and pay employees what they are worth. The ones that pay their CEO’s and shareholders too much won’t be able to compete for long. But in today’s crony capital system they have the freedom to overpay the top and underpay the bottom. Regulations to attempt to ‘fix’ the income gap have the opposite unintended consequence.

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm

No, nonononono nnnnnooooo.

Your argument is sweetly naive to suggest that the employer and the employee are equals in this contract. The employer holds all the power because in their position they can pay a worker next to nothing and take everything they produce in return. The worker accepts this contract because the capitalist world we live in, plus the enormous unemployment and rising cost of living, means they have no choice.

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Calvin November 22, 2011 at 6:31 am

Hi, first time I’ve ever written on here since subscribing and the first time I’ve ever felt compelled. To get to the point, the idea that a wealthy person should have *no* choice but to part with a chunk of their income in order to help the disadvantaged distorts morality. Enforced contribution is not of the same moral value as charity, and if well to do and enterprising citizens are to be stripped of making that choice for themselves then you will have a society that reflects that coercive character.
I live in the UK at the moment, I’m not interested in comparing healthcare systems between here in the US (I do have some understanding of this complex issue) but what I am concerned with in this country is it’s psychology of entitlement. The welfare state is of huge concern here, it is oversized and overloaded with people who are resolute in their demand for money and various other benefits for no work or effort and for this to be a long term life choice. This way of life has been fostered from government to media, and now in mid-recession Britain the problem is resurfacing in it’s debt-ridden form to the bemusement of the state that now realises that pulling on the reins so late would be akin to political suicide: entitlement has become engrained in British culture.

The generalisation that all Libertarians are just Ayn Rand-spouting hard-hearts needs to be put to rest for the benefit of those like myself who are fed up with this strawman presumption of character. I’m not stupid enough to believe that all who are poor are deservedly so, the unjustly effected need a more informed and giving community that gives because they want to and have the choice to. All redistribution seems to do is cause reluctance and resentment from the middle class up and a thankless animosity from those receiving the financial assistance.

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James November 22, 2011 at 9:51 am

“To get to the point, the idea that a wealthy person should have *no* choice but to part with a chunk of their income in order to help the disadvantaged distorts morality.”

Not if you believe, as I do, that health care is a fundamental human right. I don’t think libertarians are hard-hearted, but I think libertarianism is a myopic (for lack of a better word) philosophy. It addresses individual rights, but it seems to have no concept of responsibilities. I believe that if protecting a fundamental right requires a tax, people have a responsibility to pay that tax.

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm

This is a hard debate. The idea that health care is a ‘right’. I sort of agree with that but it’s an incredibly slippery slope. It’s way more important to figure out where to draw the line, because just saying it’s a right implies a lot of nasty things. The demand for healthcare is pretty much infinite and the supply is not. If EVERY human on the planet received state of the art healthcare for every phase in life then society would not be able to support it. So where do we draw the line? If not by market prices, then HOW do we decide who’s child gets the kidney and which one dies?

If I spend 30 years of my life developing a miracle drug then would I be required to give it to all in ‘need’? Is this new resource that I just invented now an inalienable ‘right’ of the people? Do I have a ‘right’ to profit off my hard work or because healthcare is a ‘right’ does that mean as a healthcare provider I am now and forevermore a slave to ‘society’? What if I am unable to produce enough pills for everyone? Should I be executed for my crime against society since I violated their rights?
How much of my life belongs to you or society in general? If healthcare for all is a right then if I’m a doctor that would make me 100% servant to society. If I decide to be a lawyer do I get to keep some free will or will legal counsel someday also become a right once getting through bureaucratic red tape is the only way a guy can get a kidney to save his kid’s life in your world?

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm

James,
Libertarianism doesn’t address “responsibilities,” because libertarians understand the only responsibilities we have to others are negative ones, i.e. we have a responsibility NOT to do certain things, such as lying, stealing, and killing. We have a responsibility to NOT do those things.

Nate, well said yet again my friend.

Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 12:44 am

We have a responsibility to NOT let people die from sickness, injury, and disease

Mike November 22, 2011 at 6:43 am

You’ve written another thought-provoking post David, thanks. Reading through the responses, I was reminded of the “occupy” protests: Everyone senses we have a serious problem, but it’s very complicated and no one really knows what to do about it. I don’t pretend to know.

One of the responses really got my attention: “We do live in a democracy you know…” That’s a popular refrain drilled into us from birth, but it has never been true. I’m not sure what kind of society we live in, maybe a theocracy or plutocracy or oligarchy, or maybe a little of each. However we might label it, our society is becoming more hateful, selfish and indifferent to others. Way too many Americans share a GOP presidential candidate’s recently stated sentiment of “I got mine, screw you.”

However we might begin to think about and address our many national problems, the philosophy behind the last paragraph of your essay would be a good place to start.

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DiscoveredJoys November 22, 2011 at 7:43 am

I’m going to plug for deeper motivations than political opinions or even notions of morality. I suspect that there are two antagonistic human drives involved, although the relative strengths are going to vary from person to person.

The first drive is the drive to do good things, be charitable, help others. Many people are like this, with the greatest caring for family and then in decreasing amounts as others become more distant.

The second drive is not to be taken advantage of. This fear can be very strong if resources you are conned out of are stolen from your family, and the risk is greater if you don’t know how trustworthy remote people are.

Under these drives being charitable to remote others is risky, so it is easy to *justify* the quelling of the charitable impulse by imagining that the distant others are not worthy. Which may be why health care and social benefits have probably only caught on where there is an impersonal organisation to take that worry from people…

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Michael November 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

Reading through all these comments really compelled me to leave one of my own as well. Regarding the post itself, it’s pretty obvious that society requires such support towards those whose basic needs have not been met in order to maintain its stability. It’s true that for the tip of the pyramid to exist, the bottom must also exist and must be much larger at that – but it must also be solid, lest it falls apart. If the poor are dying, they cannot contribute to society and the rich end up suffering as well.

Now, regarding the morality of the “obligation” to contribute, I have to say I agree with both sides. Demanding an obligatory contribution is taking away money from those who have it and is in now way fair to them. That’s why I think certain additional taxes on the rich should not exist – rather, everyone should pay the same kind of taxes with the same percentage.

However, I also agree with the other side. People form Society. The rich are only rich because they had a society that helped upbringing them and that provided all the tools and necessities they required to achieve the status they now possess. At the very least, these people had the luxury of having people to work for them – thus their success was built upon the effort of others as well, not just them.

That being said, the rich are obligated to reciprocate to what society gave them: a chance, tools, workers, whatever it may be. If the rich feel that this reciprocation is unfair, then perhaps they should give back all that they took with society’s help and consider becoming a hermit.

From the moment you make use of what a State has to offer, be it basic needs, electricity, water, healthcare, education, you name it, you are being a part of the society, you are effectively leeching off of said society, and you are paying for a part of it through your taxes. And yes, you are leeching, because let’s take healthcare for example: compare what you pay for healthcare services, depending on the country you live in and its economic model, to the real cost of said service for the Government. Notice the rather large difference? Yes, I thought so.

Thus by contributing, you are simply repaying back a part of what was given to you. If you don’t fancy it, then leave. No one’s forcing you to accept a Government and this model – you’re free to leave if you so wish. But if you want to live in your country, then you have to accept how things work. You have to accept society.

This also goes, indirectly, for all those who support Anarchy in detriment of a Government. I, too, would fancy trying out that model, but I’m not hypocritical enough to leech my society and then cry thief when I have to pay back through taxes or accept my Government’s demands. Wouldn’t that be preposterous of me?

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nrhatch November 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

I think Calvin hit the nail on the head:

The welfare state is of huge concern here, it is oversized and overloaded with people who are resolute in their demand for money and various other benefits for no work or effort and for this to be a long term life choice.

Helping people who are also willing to help themselves makes sense. Keeping “parasites” alive does not.

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Michael November 22, 2011 at 8:59 am

Of course, there’s always that problem, but frankly, state institutions that provide such welfare and assistance are the only ones to blame for these “parasites”.

If the necessary queries and validations were performed correctly, theoretically speaking everyone would acquire the assistance they need in proportion to how much income they make and how many expenses they bear.

Unfortunately, this management isn’t always top notch. I can give you the example of my country, Portugal: Social Security has provided unemployment subsidies and all sorts of aid to any citizen who requests with little validation – often even corruptible – and because of this lenience, too many funds have been spent on those who did not require them (or who didn’t require that much value), becoming one of the many consequences of the huge economical imbalance and crisis we’re feeling right now.

Additionally, because of this lenience, the subsidy-mentality has been ingrained in the minds of many. People got used to being able to live off of welfare alone instead of helping themselves as well. Now, as a consequence, welfare is being made much more difficult to attain for everyone, including those who desperately need it but could not acquire it before since the “parasites” were being given priority over these people. This isn’t a manageable society, it’s pure self-destruction.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

Yes, exactly. Thankyou! Government is, inherently and by nature, a corrupt and immanageable machine. That is why libertarains wnat a small one. Sure, everyone can see the merits of a government that provides great roads, great education, great food, great everything that everyone needs. One thing on that though. IT’S NOT POSSIBLE!

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David November 23, 2011 at 7:04 am

One could argue that all humans are parasitic, and few could argue that society truly needs them alive. There can be all sorts of reasons why a segment of the population does not support themselves, and I don’t know if I necessarily want them starving, or dying without medical help. I certainly don’t want their children to. There will always be broken and destitute people in any society, and the proportion of them can be reduced with ensuring the basics are provided to all. There will always be people who take advantage, they will not die off no matter how cold we are to them.

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Zack November 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Please explain how “one could argue that all humans are parasitic.”

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Sarah November 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Because all humans feed off something else in order to survive and succeed. That something else is bigger; society etc…

You don’t just magically grow up and earn a million dollars all on your own.

Penny November 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

Socialist, Atheist Canadian that I am, I totally support paying for healthcare for everyone. I also support taxes paying for schools, roads and other infrastructure to which everyone has access…how can a society (American mostly) justify using tax dollars to pay for one and not the other? And how hypocritical is the religious agenda (which so pervades the American system, where a presidental candidate has not a hope in hell (sarcasm intended) of winning unless he/she presents a Christian facade) which denies basic health care on the basis of who DESERVES it?

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David November 23, 2011 at 7:11 am

That’s what’s most bizarre to me. That many of these people (who are against taking care of the destitute, without judgment) proudly call themselves Christians and see no irony about it.

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Chris Walter November 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

This is an interesting read for me because 2 years ago I would have been firmly in the camp of reducing taxes on the rich and equating wealth with morality. Thinking all this while taking advantage of public free health insurance for minors in the state of Kansas.

Meeting people from Denmark really helped me change my view on a highly regulated society that does in fact make society more fair and open for everyone.

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David November 23, 2011 at 7:13 am

Hey Chris. You picked out the most important concept in the whole post. The prevalent idea in America seems to be that financial superiority is a reliable indicator of moral superiority, and that the only thing a person can contribute to society is money.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

Exactly right, reminds me of a post you had talking about how often someone’s first question upon meeting a new person is “What do you do?” As opposed to “What do you like, what do you value, or who are you?”

-ugh, I’m so tired of living in the USA. Is it possible for me to sue the government for kidnapping since it made it financially impossible for me to leave the country? haha

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Abe November 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Hi Zack.

I’m glad that you are interested in learning about new ideas to improve yourself and society. Ayn Rand is a great place to start this life-long journey. Her books are wonderful tools to use as inspiration, however using her philosophy to determine your worldview is problematic because a lot of her arguments use faulty reasoning (google Ayn Rand fallacies and objectivist fallacies).

I also want to urge to try and stay away from thinking in terms of “fairness” and “morality”. Not because they are unimportant concepts, but because once you jump down that rabbit-hole it’s hard to break out of the vicious circle of “yeah, but”.

If your are interested in improving your reasoning ability, a good place to start is by studying logical fallacies and then perhaps move on to propositional and/or term logic.

Good luck on your journey. You are in for one hell of a ride.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Abe,
Thanks for the guidance and wise words. I’m loving the experience, and I can already tell that the rest of the ride is gonna be a blast. I’ll do some research on the fallacies of Objectivism, and yeah, I already have a book on fallacies; they’re not a new topic to me. I just began reading “The Virtue of Selfishness” by A.R., and so far I must say, to my mind, it’s pretty solid stuff. I’d recommend it, along with “Atlas Shrugged.” Both life changing. But, like you suggested, I’ll keep a critical eye out. Thanks again boss.

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Julie November 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Part of the problem with American healthcare is that it just costs so much more than in other parts of the world. Here’s a page with some graphs on the subject: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/11/an_insurance_industry_ceo_expl.html

So medicare as it is comprises a huge chunk of the federal budget. It’s just not economically feasible to provide free health care for everyone. This is partially because in other countries, the governments set the rates for treatments and drugs, even if they’re being purchased by private insurers. I’ve taken a hard look at Obama’s infamous health care plan, and it actually doesn’t look like such a bad idea. The only way to arm-wrestle the glutted insurance companies into covering everyone (there are currently huge holes for people like, say, the elderly) is to insure that everyone (even the super healthy types) is forced into buying insurance (the alternative is to pay a fee for being uninsured). A lot of people hate this, and I understand why. No one wants to be forced into doing something against his or her will. But it’s not that much different from the government paying for your healthcare and then taking the insurance premium in your taxes.

But this is all tangential to your main point, isn’t it. Quality of life tends to reported higher in countries with pretty even economic distribution (the Nordic countries, for example). I do think that everyone’s better off if we don’t have a lot of people suffering. We don’t hurt other people because we’re happy and well, we don’t steal because we’re rich. These crimes are born of hurt and desperation.. even the most self-interested should recognize the toll the destitute carry on the system. I’m sure they would rather be working, contributing members of society.

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VaeVictis November 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

“Why should I be forced to help someone else?”

Then what right do you have to exist? If it really is that hard to show compassion,love, or mercy to someone who really needs it at that time,then lets eliminate laws prohibiting theft, or murder, or rape. Everyman for himself right? Oh I forgot! “Everyman for himself; until it happens to me.”

I would like to thank the previous posters for their imput on this subject. Sometimes I feel like a real scumbag, but after reading some of the comments on here, I’ve learned I’m not that big a monster after all.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I’m sorry, I do not understand. Please clarify?

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VaeVictis November 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm

A common theme I keep noticing as far comments go are that it is “not my problem” when it comes to many social issues; government related or personal struggles individuals endure. But when the shoe is on the other foot, these opposers are the first to scream and whine when anyone refuses to help THEM. It’s the hypocrisy I’m bothered by.

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Zack November 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I too am bothered by hypocrisy, which is why I am also bothered by altruism and Christianity. I don’t see the hypocrisy present in the arguement for more freedom and less government, though.

Nitya November 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm

My response to people who dislike paying taxes is thus:
“There are plenty of places in the world where you don’t have to pay tax. However, you have to supply your own security (police force), pave your own roads, pay your own educational expenses, put out your own fires, probably have to go to another country to pay for your own health care needs etc. etc. And, you have to put up with others dying in the street. Would you like to live in a country like that? If so, why are you not there?”

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Nate November 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Nitya, making the claim that libertarians ‘dislike paying taxes’ would be like claiming that liberals are lazy and just want to mooch off other’s honest work. Neither is true and it cheapens the debate. My tit for tat for this would be to ask why you don’t move to North Korea where the fruits of everyone’s labor belongs to everyone else?

I love being part of a community and helping people and knowing they’ll help me as long as it’s mutually beneficial for both. I’ll give baby, even more than asked! It has nothing to do with whether or not I ‘like to pay taxes’ any more than it has to do with you wanting me to be your servant.

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Nitya November 25, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Nate, actually I’d rather live in North Korea than some hellhole on the far right, if we’re talking extremes.

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 12:51 am

You just want to pay what YOU think you should in taxes… But that’s not your choice to make alone because you’re living in a (here’s that word again) society.

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Eric November 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

This post actually goes along nicely with an article from the new economics foundation that they published about a month ago. {http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/ten-reasons-to-care-about-economic-inequality}
It presents (briefly) the idea of why we should care about an idea such as redistribution, from an economic standpoint, and nicely complements what David presented here.

And my own (brief) two cents:
The belief in a free market, libertarian society comes with an inherent belief in the underlying philosophy: every individual making a decision that serves their own self-interest results in the greater well-being of society as a whole. Even then, wouldn’t that society be better off if each individual person is smarter, healthier, and able to take full advantage of economic resources, even if it is only to further their self-interests? I feel that we so often forget how connected everything in a market society is, and how many elements must go right for one person to succeed.

Great post, David – thanks.

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noch November 23, 2011 at 1:06 am

self respect. so many of us lack that. if we can all have a little bit of that, eeryone will probably help everyone else more readily!
noch

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Ryan November 23, 2011 at 8:14 am

Is that what you really think about those that are against nationalized health insurance? Man, we libertarians need to get a good press agent.

I don’t know what Randian Objectivists you’ve been talking to but for the vast majority of libertarians, it has nothing to do with being deserved or not. Many people choose to not have insurance (I was one of them until I got married). Many people are simply between jobs – some by choice and some against theirs. Some people have preexisting conditions. And some have indeed been screwed by insurance companies. We have no idea why someone is without insurance – whether by choice or not – and wouldn’t pass judgement on someone stuck in that situation. It’s horrible.

The same applies to the “haves” or “have nots” *deserving* what their lot in life. Again, we have no idea how people come to that point in their life. You’re setting up a pretty flimsy strawman to knock down.

In addition, our rebuttals amount to significantly more than your claim. In fact, even JUST speaking morally, you’ve put the emphasis on the wrong word. Again, JUST morally, the question would be:

Why should I be *forced* to help someone else?

You seem to fall into Bastiat’s confusion:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” -Frederic Bastiat

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Nailz November 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

Great article! I think libertarians get a bad rap. The LABEL is associated too much with being selfish and concerned with your own well being. That is not what a libertarian is, and if anyone thinks that than you have to do more research.

Fact: the system is rigged so that the rich get richer. It has nothing to do with Libertarian view vs. another political view or econmic policy etc. Honestly, I feel many people who call themselves libertarians don’t even know what it truly means to be one. I feel they just like the type of policies that can be implemented based on that type of platform.

I appreciate libertarian type philosophy and beliefs because they teach me to look within myself before I look outside for answers and explanations to the problems in my life. Respect and care for yourself and you will do the same to others. Libertarianism is becoming to closely associated with competition, wealth, and distaste for the poor.

Libertarianism can bring people together. I believe this because if you TRULY understand Libertarianism it isn’t about one man over another, its about all of us being equal.

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Eric Pinola November 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm

A rising tide will raise all ships.

Help everyone with everything that you can, every time you can.

This is what separates the sheep from the goats.

No one came in this world with ANYTHING and everyone will leave it with NOTHING. To think otherwise is a sure sign of foolishness. Great piece. The politics side of it sucks.

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Zack November 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

In the words of Ayn Rand:
“There is no such thing as ‘a right to a job’ [who will be *forced* to provide it?] – there is only the right of free trade, that is: a man’s right to take a job if another man chooses to hire him. There is no ‘right to a home,’ – [who will be *forced* to build it] only the right to free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it. ”
Unfortunately, there is not a “right to be fed” or “right to healthcare.” One must provide themselves with these things instead of claiming that their empty stomache is a valid reason to use force against an innocent man.

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David November 24, 2011 at 6:49 am

The question is not what rights we have but what an intelligent policy is for creating a healthy society.

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Zack November 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

A policy that violates rights is not intelligent, is it?

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Avi November 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm

And how many rights do we have that are inviolable and are never circumscribed or sacrificed? Rights imply responsibilities. (You don’t have a right to drive a car unless you prove you can handle one responsibly.) Our primary responsibility is to take care of ourselves of course, but we also have a responsibility to not harm others, and to help and take care of others.

Zack November 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Were do you derive the responsibility to help take care of others from?

Avi November 27, 2011 at 12:22 am

@Zack

From my religion – surely you shall do justice, God demands repeatedly. God demands we be responsible for one another. Every human is created in the image of God, and everyone is deserving of respect and dignity. Life is precious and significant.
I believe that my atheist and Buddhist and Catholic friends would agree with me on that, although they’ll disagree on the God part of course, and they would cite Christ or secular humanism.

And from comic books – with great power comes great responsibility.

And finally, from common sense. No one can survive on their own. We are all dependent on one another. We’re all living on the same rock, using up the same resources. So we need to be responsible for one another on an individual level; we need social networks. We need to be responsible for one another on a collective level; we need social safety nets. The alternative is misery.

Zack November 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

And here’s the thing, I’m cool with all that. I’m cool with taking that and calling it a moral responsibility, a spiritual responsibility, whatever. What I’m opposed to is taking that and equating it with legal responsibility. Let me put it this way. You and I believe helping the poor is our duty. Great, let’s go out and help the poor; no one is stopping us. That doesn’t mean we can make other people help the poor. It’s their choice, and as they respect our choices, we need to respect theirs. That’s all I’m arguing here.

Geeman November 24, 2011 at 4:27 am

I love the way this thoughtful post has stirred up thought from Ayn Randies through to soul searching questions about the cost of Medicare and its tranche of the federal budget in the USA. I live in the UK and for all its problems – there are many and I’m not nationalistic, I am incredibly proud of the free health service which I have worked for it and been a beneficiary of when sick. The difference this care can make to lives and the entire web like interconnections throughout family and society is incalculable. We pass through the world and leave everything we posses behind, our high minded ideals about who we are, what we deserve, what others don’t deserve etc all evaporates. The best we can do is to leave behind useful systems that aid and carry the future generations.

When the right in the UK talk about small government and less taxes etc they always pose the question as one of choice i.e. why should some of my tax go to the health system or schools when I have private healthcare and private schools etc. But if we could choose which part of our tax goes where there would be a sizeable portion of society who would withdraw their tax from paying for missiles and drones to blow up other people’s schools and hospitals abroad. Our Governments whether in Europe or the USA always seem to find money for war and destruction however tenuous the reasons as has been well documented. Now, it seems that increasing numbers around the globe are waking up to the fact that there is always money, it is just a question of persuading them to do the right thing with it and share it out a little!
Fascinating post David, buy that man a pint!

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David November 24, 2011 at 6:55 am

Ok, I changed the light bulb joke to “Ayn Rand Objectivists” which I think is fair. Didn’t mean to single out libertarians like that, that’s just the form I heard the joke in.

And great comments everyone. People are making good points left right and center :)

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Zack November 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

I’m an Ayn Rand Objectivist, but I can still appreciate the joke, haha. Is this the most “controversial” post you’ve wrote yet? As of now there are 104 comments, which seems like a lot compared to your recent posts.

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Karen J November 30, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Thanks for pointing out the edit ~ I was wondering ‘what did I miss?’ ’cause I didn’t hear you dissing on Libertarians anywhere!

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Mike November 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

Considering the humanistic nature of your website, I’m more than a little surprised by how many of the comments express selfishness and indifference toward others.

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Zack November 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Please realize the difference between “indiference towards others” and resentment towards forced benevolence. Most of the comments that express selfishness are not advocating “indifference,” rather, they express frustration with the idea that humans should be used as sacraficial animals. Get it right.

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Meg November 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

Many of the 1% are wealthy via the military-industrial complex. Providing health care for the young kids whose parents can’t afford would be in their interests, I’d think: who else will be the cannon fodder, if not the poor and lower middle class? Of course, if we go into a fully drone-based military, the young people will not be so necessary, and thus quite a savings on the health and education needs. That must be it, then–skip taking care of the poor, and invest the savings into developing war robots instead! What clever foresight!

I’ve become cynical.

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Alex November 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hmm, interesting. I am always ‘mad’ at the poor aka the ones that just sit on the street to get money from the working class. It’s okay in the less developed countries like mine (Serbia) But I do not get those people in the USA who are homeless, I mean there always is a job somewhere that they can get and make money for a small apartment or a room.
Why do they mope on the street? I just don’t get it! Can someone explain it to me please? Why is it so hard to get a job and work? When there is a lack of workforce and there are jobs to get. “Get of your ass” Be alive and strive to survive and don’t depend on others!

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David November 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Well for one, it is entirely possible for there to be more job seekers than there are jobs. This is the case in many economies right now, and it means a certain segment of the population must be unemployed.

Many people are also simply unemployable. Mentally ill or unstable, disabled, addicted without support, victims of FAS, to name a few possibilities. It is normal in society to blame people for being unemployable, but I think that’s extremely shortsighted. In many instances they did not in any way choose to have the condition that makes them unemployable.

Even if you are potentially employable, if you are homeless you have no address and if you have no address it is extremely difficult to get a job (which can be difficult enough for people with addresses and support systems.)

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John Browne November 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Why is a socialized military “OK” but not a socialized medical system? Well, the “persons” protected principally by the Pentagon are corporations (incl many ‘transnational’); and the individuals protected by medical services are… just people.
Corporations, despite their “personhood”, have no reason to WANT to be part of the Fabric of the community… that’s not the way they roll. While it may be uncomfortable for the CEO’s wife to look around herself at a church service the week after her husband closed the local sawmill because a Taiwanese mill will pay 2 cents more per 1000MBF, that will pass… according to corporation logic… and really has no bearing on the “reason” that the corporate “person” exists (which shows what an advancement over puny ephemeral humans are, when compared to these ‘new’ Persons). ^..^

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Emil November 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Do the rich really need the poor to be rich? How sound is this logic? (just wondering)

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David November 30, 2011 at 9:55 pm

We can get very complicated with an answer to this question, but put it this way: the average income in the world is seven to ten thousand dollars. For someone to make more than that, someone else must make less than that. “Rich,” if it means anything, must mean you have what most others do not. The more millionaires a society is able to support, the more inequity there must be across the whole population.

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Karen J November 30, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Right on, David! Here’s another way to look at the same answer:
“Rich” is a relative term, and therefore requires a(t least one) corresponding category, that isn’t “rich”, to relate to. Thus: Yes, the rich need the poor (and the middle classes).
[The incredible wealth and income disparity between "the rich" and "the poor" (or even "the middle classes") in the current USA (and other societies) invites a whole different discussion. On a different post!]

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Steve December 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

There is a theory that was written about in the middle ages. It said that society passes through 4 seasons: warrior, priest, banker, mob. And back to warrior. In a way, each way produces its successor. The abuses of the warrior beget the priest, etc. The author said that you could tell what age you were living in by whose buildings were the tallest: castle, church, bank, pyre.

We have been in a money phase for a while. There also seem to be cycles within cycles.

The ruler makes the rules and bankers do not like to share. But each way has its form of violence.

If we were in the warrior phase, you would think it was okay for the strongest to have all the stuff b/c he could. You would justify it and it would feel natural. It would be okay for the ruler to take what he wanted and okay for the geeks to die under his boot or by his withholding food or medical care. Slavery would be just swell. Normal and therefore rationalized.

Money has its own brutality. It hires its goons to gas and shoot and passively let die all who impede its progress. Hey, its mine. Die. God did not make you strong, smart, rich or did not make you part of the mob with the pitchforks. Depending on which phase you’re in.

The ‘let them eat cake’ crowd is just time away from the guillotine, according to this theory.

I would like to think we are ready to understand that our technology has replaced labor to the extent that we can move to a higher level of motivation than scratching out a living, but I see little evidence for it. The only hope is for a kind of Berlin wall change where the walls just come down over night.

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Todd December 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Lets say that I have gone to college for 4 years and then to post graduate school for 11 years and have become a doctor and in the process of doing so have indebted myself. People then vote to have access to my skills and knowledge for free. I will be recompensed for my labor by a prodigal government bureaucracy, with no hope of ever becoming solvent. What gives you the right to my services, if indeed health care is a right? Does that mean that at any time day or night people have the right to my services regardless of my wishes? Do you have a right to the farmers grain as well against his wishes?

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David December 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

What gives you the right to my services, if indeed health care is a right? Does that mean that at any time day or night people have the right to my services regardless of my wishes?

No, I don’t think anyone’s saying that.

I went to school to be a surveyor. All three levels of my government spend money building roads and underground utilities, and I end up providing some of those services and receiving some of those dollars. If I choose to get into that line of work, incurring debt or whatever, that is my prerogative. The people do want public roads and public utilities, because clearly it is better to live in a society where these services are provided. I fulfill this role in the system voluntarily, and if I don’t like the fact that I am being paid to provide these services (because I think certain classes of people don’t deserve to use roads or whatever) then I don’t have to.

So, in the bizarre sense that you’re describing, yes everyone has a “right” to the fruits of my services — but only as long as I choose a line of employment that is funded with public dollars. The state pays for certain types of infrastructure with taxes, and that money will all ultimately end up in the hands of private citizens like me who are paid to provide those services. Whether I incur insurmountable student debt is entirely my problem and depends on how sensible I am with my personal finances. If there are doctors out there who would refuse to treat someone because they aren’t paying their own bill, I think they chose the wrong profession.

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Sir Evidence August 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Why you shouldn’t be forced to do anything against your will, if what you do does not violate other people’s life, property or liberty.

One rule of thumb about force is that “force begets force,” even when governments (namely, politicians) do it with well-intentioned laws. Laws are laws. They have to be respected or else. But there are rational and irrational laws. Rational laws use force to defend and protect honest, law-abiding citizens. Irrational laws initiate force against law-abiding citizens with abuse of power. Taxation is an example of one form of initiation of force on the part of a government against its own people. In totalitarian regimes headed by emperors, kings, czars, führers, and soviet leaders taxation is a logical form of abuse of power. Taxation implies the right of some people to force others to pay and spend their money for some “noble and not-so-noble” cause. In other words, it is the morality advocated in The Prince” by Machiavelli: The justification of ignoble means for a noble purpose.

Rationally speaking, government, I mean a moral government, exists for ethical reasons only. It should be an institution created and owned by the people. People should be the sovereign employers of those who get a job in government, because a government is a delegated institution that represents the moral standard of the people who institute it. If people can claim that they deserve something, all people on earth deserve to have a government that exists solely for the moral purpose of protecting each individual’s right to one’s life, one’s legitimately earned property and one’s legitimate liberty. It does not exist for the licentious purpose of taking from some, against their will, to give to others because they have a need. Everyone has needs. It’s just a matter of deciding which need should be recognized and who should be forced to pay for it by majority rule, which is another form of dictatorship. If I want to keep all the money I earn, but I am forced to give some by law to the politicians because they can use it more wisely than me, I don’t really care if I live under a czar, an emperor or a democracy.

Production is always scarcer than need and want. There has always been more need in the world than there are human means to fill it. And there is more poverty, more need and want, in those places where productivity is hampered by government power than there is poverty in those places where governments refrain from trying to be all-knowing managers of other people economic decisions. The poor have always been served better where people are free from government’s abuse of power. This said, I do not share the idea that anarchy is what society needs and government should be abolished. Rules are needed the second we form a relationship with another person. The smallest society is the relationship between two people. If 50% of the marriages don’t make it, that tells you that people have a very hard time telling each other which rules to follow. Anarchy can be implemented only if a single person goes to live on a desert island. There, he has no need for rules, because no one can violate his right to life, property, and liberty. These rights, and the rules we accept to protect them, constitute the reason why we need a rational, moral government for living in a moral society.

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Ophelia December 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

Brilliantly written! Kudos :)

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A Critic January 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm

“Because you’re better off if other people aren’t suffering so much.”

So you will make me suffer and I’ll be better off for it?

No thanks, I’m not into S&M games.

I’m poor and uninsured. I don’t want your health care, I don’t want your insurance, I don’t want your help. I just want to be left alone.

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A Critic January 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm

“Crime, distrust, self-destruction, poverty and other conditions we all hate grow directly out of lives that are missing something vital.”

How can you add that something vital missing by creating the things we all hate? DOES NOT COMPUTE.

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Michael February 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

Hi there, David. Long time reader, first time poster! I see I’m a few months late to this party (159 comments, wow!), but I’m glad to see the exchange of a lot of wonderful ideas and perspectives. This is a really important topic that should be discussed more often.

I remember reading this article some months ago and agreeing with it (as a stringent liberal), but having rediscovered it, I don’t feel quite the same way (as a now strict libertarian). Some of the libertarian posters here have added some commentary on how taxation is tantamount to theft, and I am inclined to agree. As you are from Canada, I think you have a better idea of what does work in your country, but some Americans have a better idea of how our country doesn’t work. The American government is not a benevolent humanitarian force, and I would argue that it hasn’t been at any time in the last hundred years. Most of us who disagree with the principles of the Federal Income Tax feel that our money doesn’t just go to helping the impoverished, but also that it goes to undeclared wars and bank bailouts, and is ultimately contributing to the system that is running itself into the ground.

Our tax dollars not only go to helping the impoverished, but they also go to bailing out these “too big to fail” industries (primarily military-industrial and medical-industrial complexes) and banks instead of the impoverished. Our health care, for example, is atrocious. The medical industrial complex here is highly regulated, and it suffers for it. It keeps getting more expensive–in every market, new technology makes prices go down (which is why many people in the Middle East may not have running water or electricity, but they have cell phones and coverage). In the medical business, prices go up. The Obamacare that’s been so talked about is nothing like Candian health care–Obamacare is not government owned. Americans are forced to sign up with a private insurance company or face an IRS tax penalty.

The health care system Americans face right now is abysmal. There is a strong corporatist agenda amongst these huge industries, mainly because of these government regulations that grant them powerful lobbyists and the like. I believe that money is integral to maintaining a proper healthcare system, but we should consider where our money is going and who it’s actually helping, in regards to the notion of taxation. I recall Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American philosopher who devised the notion of the “wicked dollar.” He suggests that we often give our money to those in need out of guilt or to ease our conscience, and not necessarily out of charity. Essentially, the wicked dollar suggests we are being forced (via coercion from our conscience) to donate, and not because it’s the right thing to do. Actually, your article “Does Charity Leave You Cold?” covers this quite well. The same concept applies here, except it is compounded not only by the fact that our government is not in the business of helping people, but that the federal government also an industrial profit machine that tries to police the world.

One of the core values we learn in life is that we cannot force others to change, which is what our federal government attempts to do–at the cost of liberty, it attempts to legislate morality. It doesn’t work.

Great read as always, David! Looking forward to any replies, there are a lot of important ideas to be discussed. :)

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Paul September 2, 2012 at 11:51 am

My small contribution to this discussion is just to comment that there has been research done around the world about values. Sissela Bok (1995) “Common Values” stated that people in all times and places must endorse three sets of values:
1. Positive duties of mutual care and reciprocity,
2. Negative injunctions against violence, deceit, and betrayal,
3. Norms for rudimentary fairness and procedural justice in cases of conflict involving these positive duties or negative injunctions.

So we need to do good things, not do bad things and have access to fairness in whatever processes are necessary to resolve any conflicts. The first two of these are in one’s own control but the third depends on locality, luck, and trust. It is concerning if folk in developed, massively wealthy nations like the USA feel so disenfranchised from their own social institutions…

And an observation – the problem with discussions, when they are couched in the terms of ‘universal values’ is that there is a presumption that the value-position we are arguing from is ‘universally’ good, and so a person disagreeing with us is missing a crucial understanding (to our way of thinking) or is morally dodgy. It creates a field of white-noise in which you can barely hear your own thoughts, let alone the views of another person coming from a different context.

Paul

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Warren Dew October 1, 2012 at 11:11 am

You’ve made some mistaken assumptions in this article. Human, yes, but humans also gather information and correct their views.

The key statistic you miss is that the majority of those without health insurance in the U.S. have chosen to be free of insurance. They simply have other higher priorities, such as an apartment of their own, or commuting in a car instead of by bus. That was true for me when I spent a few years uninsured. For those who truly can’t afford health insurance, medicaid has been around for decades. Is it my place, or yours, to interfere with that decision?

The other mistaken assumption you make is that if we weren’t forced to help, we wouldn’t help. Possibly that assumption is true for you, who must think about how to be human. It is not true for me, nor for many other humans. We help when we can, and when it is needed. And forcing others to help when that is difficult for them is as bad as failing to help those in need.

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Mary November 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I just ‘stumbled’ here. I love this piece! :)

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murielar November 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

I guess helping others, as many other things in life, depends not on morality or religion or politics, but on having a clear conscience and feeling a better human being. We have all heard about people dying in wars and other countries, but it usually does not disturb our conscience, we are so used to it… When someone bothers about it, he or she joins some organization and takes action…and feels better with himself.

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Diane December 8, 2012 at 10:51 am

Thank you for expressing this so well.

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Padukah Tangerine March 23, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Oh David, I was about to be in love with you because of some of your other writing, and ask if you’d consider marrying a surgeon, but in response to your question, “Why should you be forced to help someone else?” I can only ask: what is force? and, why should anyone ever use force on another?

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David March 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

Well, if we live under a government, we are required to comply with their laws. If we do not, we can be forcibly imprisoned, fined, etc.

Taxation is in this sense a form of force. Some people think it is wrong for that reason, but most of us realize life is better with a functioning government than with no government and taxation is required for one.

Democratic societies are supposed to ultimately decide what services the government provides with the tax revenues. Being taxed so that public healthcare may be provided (even to people who pay little or no taxes) could be called “being forced to help someone else.”

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Padukah Tangerine March 25, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Oh, I agree that “Being taxed so that public healthcare may be provided (even to people who pay little or no taxes) [IS] “being forced to help someone else””!

But I cannot believe that increasing the potential violence [force] in this world is the way to improve it.

Surely there are voluntary and peaceful ways to accomplish the goal of improving access to healthcare whilst improving healthcare generally… I don’t know of any voluntary methods other than giving and trading– both of which work splendidly when not corrupted by corporate-government collusion. People are so quick to use violence as a means to their ends. Sigh.

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David March 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Don’t miss the point reacting to the word. Nobody said increasing the potential violence in the world is the way to improve it. Do you understand that the word “force” in the title refers only to the appropriation of tax dollars — something we do anyway, and which all reasonable people acknowledge is necessary? The title is a rebuttal to conservative viewpoints on public health care, which often claim that public services are tantamount to forcing them to help someone who doesn’t deserve it. I am using their words.

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Padukah Tangerine March 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Apologies, I should have made that a question: do you think violence is better than non-violence to ensure that “everyone” get what you think they need?

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David March 31, 2013 at 2:54 pm

No. You seem bent on missing the point here.

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Garrett April 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

First of all, I appreciated Carl’s link to the “Just World Fallacy” article. The myth that anyone with great monetary wealth surely must have worked hard is (or should be) terribly transparent.

Secondly, I’d like to make a simple point about money as a way of providing some food for thought. This thing referred to as “money” is merely a social construct with no intrinsic value. Does it strike anyone else as absurd and inhumane that billions of people are denied that which does have intrinsic value (food, clean water, clean air, etc.) because they lack that which does not?

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Garrett April 20, 2013 at 12:04 am

Those who are tossing around the term “theft” seem to be making the false assumption that their position/status isn’t itself the product of one kind of theft or another.

A reading recommendation: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html. And that applies to the members of any historically dominant group.

Historical injustices, such as Social Security benefits being denied to all but white males for a lengthy stretch of time, have lingering effects. To say nothing of present day injustices…of course, there’s no such thing if you subscribe to the “just world fallacy.”

There is no “free market.” Never has been, never will be. It’s a Randian Fantasy. Read Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. And, as I said in my previous comment, the very notion of money (this abstract social construct) is an absurdity if you think critically about it. I highly, highly recommend reading David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5000 Years. Here’s a link to a review: http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/david-graebers-debt-my-first-5000-words/. If you follow the link that appears in the second comment in the left hand margin (to the Ludwig von Mises Institute site), you’ll find a discussion in which Graeber himself thoroughly rips to shreds the argument put forth by his critic.

While we’re on the topic of social constructs, borders/countries are utterly arbitrary. “My country” this, “my country” that…it’s all nonsense.

All that said, ‘A Critic’ has made some very valid points. Most notably the fact that government – in the sense being discussed here – is run at the behest of Big Banks like Goldman Sachs (Timothy Geithner as Sec. of the Treasury), Big Pharma, Big Oil (Exxon, etc.), the military industrial complex and other transnational corporations. The revolving door (between the FDA or the EPA and the very industries they are meant to regulate) would make your head spin. The foxes are ‘guarding’ the henhouse. That’s no conspiracy. It’s out in the open. And the nation known as the “United States” (again, an arbitrary designation) is certainly not alone in that regard, even if the supporting evidence might be more egregious here than it is in, say, Canada or Japan or various European nations.

I’m afraid the notion that “government is we the people” is quite naive. As is the idea that “we the people” simply need to elect less corrupt people. It’s not just naive; it’s laughable, really. I suggest becoming familiar with Dunbar’s Number. To quote the Wikipedia page, “Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.” That number would seem to be right around 150. So, yeah, that’s a bit less than 320 million (US population). Another reading recommendation: http://www.jeffvail.net/2005/03/theory-of-power-online.html.

People have been purposely scared into believing anarchy (or “left wing libertarianism,” which shouldn’t be confused with Ron Paul/Ayn Rand nonsense) is synonymous with “chaos,” but it’s not necessarily so. It’s like when Christians imply atheists or agnostics must frequently engage in horrifyingly immoral acts. We know that’s not true, and we know there have been many anarchic societies throughout human history that have not produced the results one is propagandized to believe must be the result of “anarchy.”

David, I love your blog. I discovered it this past weekend, and I’ve found so many of your posts (such as “Forget World Peace”) to be deeply thought-provoking. I’ve probably read 30+ of your articles already. I hope you’ll have a chance to respond to the emails I’ve sent you.

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Garrett April 20, 2013 at 12:32 am

See, I fell into the trap myself. Instead of “the nation known as…,” that should read “the body of land known as…”

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Garrett April 20, 2013 at 12:33 am

Of course, that last comment of mine won’t make sense unless my previous comment passes the moderation process. :)

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Eusebio Mccrobie July 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

not whenever they seriously dont care about our survival which they dont it may be bullshit but when it does occur it would most likely be somthing similar to this . NO warning whatsoever, thats why all of the key governments of the world have already been developing underground bunkers which probably want operate anyway

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Louise July 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Hello David,

Great article! I grew up in the UK but now live in the US, and often ponder the dramatic difference between the two countries when it comes to their approach to healthcare.

I think, in part, it comes down to the American Dream- although I appreciate its optimism, it also has potential to be highly destructive (see Willy Loman…). As Malcom Gladwell (“Outliers”) and others have pointed out, success is in fact often as much down to luck as individual merit.

You might like this talk by Alain de Botton if you haven’t already seen it.
At minute 6, he starts talking about meritocracy.

http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success.html

Many don’t deserve their misfortune. When we fail to see this, we inflict untold harm on our fellow citizens and simultaneously do ourselves (as a society) a great disservice. When we do see it, perhaps we’ll develop greater compassion and things like universal healthcare will be embraced.

Thanks for being a voice of reason,
Louise

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Don September 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

“Should you be forced to help someone else?”

The author asks a great question. The answer is simple, NO. I’m shocked that there has been so much discussion without anyone answering the actual question.

Even if the question was asked ‘should’ you help another person depends on many factors. Should you help them up when they fall? Yes! Should you help them rob a bank? No!

As always, the discussion will wind it’s way this way and that, with lots of great points made and no agreement reached. Let’s see if we can all agree with one thing. Each person has the right to choose for themselves, they have agency over their lives, freedom to choose what they will do in each situation (do not confuse freedom of choice with freedom from consequences). Does anyone disagree that this is we all have this ability to choose for ourselves what we do every moment of every day?

It is because I believe every person has the right to choose for themselves what they do with their lives that I also believe no one has the right to choose for someone else without their consent (agency).

It is wrong for individuals to force their will on another individual. It is wrong for groups to do the same. When all is said and done, that right (call it agency, freedom of choice, ??) is the most important thing you have, a gift from the cosmos that no one can take from you even if they try.

So the answer is simple. No, you should not be forced to help anyone.

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Alison Moore Smith October 25, 2013 at 3:50 am

I’ve had chronic sinusitis since 1998. Send me your money. I deserve it. In fact, it’s my right.

P.S. Conservatives give significantly more of their own money to charitable causes. Weird. But I’m happy to give your money away. Put your money where your mouth is. I accept PayPal.

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Matt November 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm

As far as US government taxes watch Walter Burien CAFR reports on youtube. Even if you only get through 40 min it will blow your mind.
Reality blogger is another good one. Fact based research that will leave you changed how you look at the government and our so called rights.

One of the most scary and interesting things I learned was the legal definition of freedom.
Bottom line is you need to unlearn everything you learned in government run school.
The truth is very scary indeed.

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Homer November 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

The rich helping the poor is certainly a case of reciprocation, because the rich are only rich in the first place because they exploit the poor.

E.g. that smartphone in your pocket was only possible because of slave labour, at several stages in its production, from mineral mining to assembly.

But the moral obligation to help the poor goes far beyond mere reciprocation, it’s also about compassion.

If you came across a road accident victim in the middle of nowhere, and just walked away without at least calling an ambulance, thus condemning him to death, that is no different, morally speaking, than consciously deciding to murder him.

Similarly, being aware of any other sort of plight, having the means to help, but refusing to do so, makes you just as culpable, morally speaking, as if you caused that plight in the first place.

So yes, I strongly believe that those who are able but unwilling to help others should be forced to do so, for exactly the same reason that a murderer should be forced to go to prison, because they both deliberately and maliciously cause harm.

Asking “what’s in it for me?” is a bit like expecting there to be some sort of reward for NOT murdering someone. You don’t get a prize for being a decent human being, and you’re not supposed to, but you should be punished if you’re not.

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Jimmy January 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Unbelievable I just read all the articles first time I’ve given up my e-mail address in years your recipes for living life are very similar to mine especially what you said about beliefs. It’s so true believing anything wholeheartedly just closes your mind to a truth that could be right in front of us one day. And you’re on the money about everything else look forward to reading more very refreshing. As I’m sure you know it can be extremely hard to walk between there perceptual reality. and our ever-changing ever evolving concept of it. It is hard to retain your sanity in a room full of insane people that refuse all logic and reason. Thank you for shining your light

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