Monday, October 17

Referendum C & D -- Compassion, True and False

For some that may wonder why it is I am against Colorado's referendum C & D, despite support by many Republicans and businesses, I would like to suggest you read this article. Matt Kaufman at Boundless.org articulates with great insight the dangers of government-forced "compassion". Referendum C & D supporters may have great compassionate motivations for forcing the rest of us CO residents to fork over our hard-earned money, but it does our State no good.

My argument is that while the motives may be great, the methods are not the best or the right ones. If you want to argue that there are problems with TABOR, thats fine, but weakening it is not the solution, and giving more money to our State politicians to spend is not going to improve anything.

You can argue for some government programs on the grounds that they're necessary, and that no other alternatives will do: The argument may be wrong in many cases, but it's not inherently dishonest. You can't, however, seriously claim that any government programs are driven by compassion. Compassion, as I'm wont to point out, is voluntary by definition; coerced compassion is a contradiction in terms. And there's nothing voluntary about government. Government, by nature, is all about coercion: You pay up, or else. That brute fact doesn't change whether a state is popular or unpopular, a democracy or a dictatorship; it's still forcing some people to pay into programs they didn't choose to fund on their own. Those who run the state know this full well. They don't settle for inviting folks to contribute to even the most (allegedly) popular programs. They'd never consider setting the precedent.

Again, you can argue over whether force is necessary in a given case. You can argue over whether it's wise or just. But you can't get away with the Orwellian claim that force is choice. Force can at best restrain vice, but it cannot create any virtue — not compassion, not charity, not love. And to pretend otherwise is likely to end up making a mockery of those very virtues.

I got firsthand experience of this reality 20 years ago, when I lived for a time in Washington, D.C. I quickly learned that the city was overwhelmingly cynical, run by politicians and bureaucrats who felt perfectly free to squander millions and billions of dollars, unencumbered by any sense of obligation to the folk back home. Not only were they famously profligate with other people's money, they gave nothing in return. They were consistently and famously unresponsive to the general public: If you needed help, you were out of luck, unless you happened to be (or work for) a Big Shot.

The whole experience was summed up for me one day while riding the subway. The car was mostly empty until it stopped near the largest domestic government agency, what's now known as Health and Human Services around 5:00. A wave of people packed every seat, and from their age and dress as well as the location, it was obvious most were welfare-state employees on the way home from the office — people whose supposed profession was "caring" for "human needs."

At the next stop, a man on crutches got on; now here was a man with human needs. Yet I watched him make his way slowly, with difficulty, from the far end of the car, while not one of the healthy, well-dressed Caring Professionals got up to give him a seat. Finally he reached the back of the car, where I gave him mine. Though I didn't make a show of it, several people gave me dirty looks. It was as if such a minor act of decency had broken the unspoken social rule — Every Man for Himself — and held each of them up to shame. Only instead of hanging their heads guiltily, they were glaring resentfully.

This is what you get when government officially assumes the role of caregiver to the nation: You get not a more caring government, but a more callous "caregiver." To make matters worse, you get a more callous population. Among the evils of the welfare state is that it encourages people to think of caring for the needy as someone else's problem — to think "I pay my taxes, so I've done my part." The result is an attitude less like the Good Samaritan's than the Pharisee who imagines he's attained righteousness by living up to man-made rules.

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