Surgery Center of Oklahoma Blog

October 27, 2011

The Distraction Leading Us Over the Falls

Filed under: Uncategorized — surgerycenterok @ 8:18 am

Breaking news:  a bank bag carried in a car  in Oklahoma City apparently came undone spewing $20 bills all over the place.  Dozens of motorists stopped to scoop them up.  The “scoopers” could now face felony charges.  Charged with?  Possession of stolen property.

How are the “scoopers” any different than those who accept government welfare payments?  I don’t just mean the poor.  The crony capitalists, the whole bunch at the trough who gorge on taxpayer dollars.  They see the cash strewn everywhere and decided to….well…just pick it up.  How is this different?

Often times I hear conversations about folks on welfare.  I hear how they game the system.  I hear about Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries and how they game the system to their advantage.  Legislation is kicked around to curtail this gaming.  Those who are “picking the government money off of the street” are denigrated  by power-hungry politicians trying to gain popularity.  Florida welfare recipients are subjected to drug testing in order to receive their “benefits.”  Entire political campaigns have been based on denying illegal immigrants’ children access to “public schools.”  Government policy debates result in limits on the number of children for which a single mother receives support.

What a distraction.  It is easy to ignore the original act of violence, the theft that occurred to put the money on the street in the first place, isn’t it?  Focusing on the abuses of the system and denigrating those who have “figured out an angle” here and there is fluff.  This distraction prevents focusing on the original premise posed by an adherence to property rights.  Aid to the poor by individuals is called charity.  Aid to the poor through “government” requires a violation of the property rights of individuals supplying the money.  To paraphrase Walter Williams:  it is one thing to give a hungry, cold women $20 out of your wallet for something to eat….quite another to have  a government goon put his gun in your ribs for $100 so the women might get $20.

Leonard Read‘s writings (“Anything That’s Peaceful,” and others) have helped me avoid this distracting trap:  focusing on the recipients of the loot.  The idea of “reforming entitlement programs” ignores the initial theft and violent act required to finance the programs in the first place.  Leonard Read and Frederic Bastiat regularly referred to taxation as legalized theft or plunder.  Quite simply, theft is legal when government does it, and not legal when individuals do it.  This is a basic philosophical tenant of good and limited government that forms  the backbone of the great libertarian thinkers including Edmund Burke, Hume, John Stuart Mill, Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson, to name just a few:  government cannot engage in acts that are considered criminal for individuals.  This basic tenant has been ignored  by our government for a long time.  What Bernie Madoff did was illegal, but the much more massive Ponzi scheme, Social Security, is perfectly legal.  Sticking a gun into the ribs of a liquor store clerk for their cash is illegal.  Mugging tomorrow’s grandchildren to pay the current elderly’s medical bills is not.

Is possession of stolen property wrong?  Of course it is.  But I blame those who accept the legitimacy of the entitlement programs and support their continued existence more than those who scoop up the loot lying around on the street.  I think that many times political arguments and debate are much farther downstream (and closer to the falls!) than they should be.  Once property rights are violated, any subsequent discussion about  distributing the loot seems pointless to me.  I don’t care where the thief eats with money stolen from me.  That I have been robbed in the first place is my primary concern.

G. Keith Smith, M.D.


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