The G.I. Bill vs. a Free Society?

Q: I am working towards going to medical school, and as part of that process need to take some college classes as prerequisites for med school. I am a 6-year military veteran and therefore qualify for the GI Bill, which would cover all of my in-state tuition for 3 years as well as providing some additional living expenses.

It would make my life much easier than not having it. Yet, I also feel some vague guilt about it, as if I haven’t earned it. I lean towards libertarianism / classical liberalism in the sense of believing in a small, limited, constitutional government that exists to defend individual rights.

So that brings up the issue of whether the government should be paying for people’s educations in the first place. Yet, in a way, it’s like a contract in that the benefit is part of the deal for having served.

So, should I take the benefits as a legitimate trade for having served, or do you see some issue with it, i.e. would it be hypocritical of me to say I believe in a small government yet be taking money from them for my education? I would greatly appreciate your opinion!

A: It sounds like your criteria for deciding whether or not it’s valid to accept GI Bill money boils down to whether it’s a ‘contract’ between two consenting parties.

Unfortunately, that won’t fly as a justification. There’s nothing we can genuinely call a contract if it’s taken by force or compulsion. The GI Bill, just like other government programs, is paid for by tax money. Tax money is obtained by compulsion.

In a proper society, people would willingly contribute to a strong military, including—most likely—educational benefits for the people voluntarily defending them. But that still is no justification for compulsion.

The other side of the compulsion coin is that you had no choice about it, either. If you maintain (as I do) that the initiation of force is always wrong, then you’re as much a victim of the entitlement/transfer-of-wealth state as anyone else who’s acting against his or her voluntary interest. In principle, it’s no different than acting under the coercion of a kidnapper or a mobster. (I actually view wealth-redistributing politicians as much worse, because they act under the false pretense of morality, unlike a kidnapper or a mobster.) This, more than anything else, gives you a claim on that money—the fact that you don’t consider it yours, since it’s taken by force. However, it’s taken from all productive people by force, yourself included.

The same principle applies to any other form of government coercion, affecting the rest of us outside of the military. Social Security and Medicare come to mind. If you’re a productive person, you’re forced to pay into those systems via payroll taxes. If you support that compulsion, then you deserve whatever harm comes to you—including harm of which you might not be aware, given the absence of a fully free market society in which force may never be initiated against anyone. What might have been without the economy-crippling burdens of Medicare and Social Security? How much more robust and innovative might the economy—including for health care—have been? We’ll never know what was lost.

People who pay into these systems while supporting them morally and politically are, quite frankly, saps. Because they are productive people, they would fare just as well—no, in fact much better—in a society where the economy were permitted to grow eight percent a year (as a free market probably would) rather than just one percent a year (as we do now, at best); a free economy where there would be many more choices for retirement than Social Security and Medicare’s notoriously poor returns on investment; and a free economy in which their dollar (against a gold standard rather than Ben Bernanke’s gut feelings) would be worth a lot more. The saps have accepted the snake oil that politicians make our lives better and safer by hampering the free market, when in fact—like I said—we’ll never truly know what was lost.

As for the people who aren’t able to support themselves, or perhaps don’t wish to do so, in retirement or any other context, they are simply moochers. They are taking advantage of government force and using it to their own perceived advantage, while pretending that they have earned it and are entitled to it. I recognize there’s a difference between people who choose not to work and who simply, for whatever reasons, such as physical limitations, cannot work. However, people in the latter group are still not entitled to hold people up at gunpoint to provide the living they cannot earn. They are obliged to rely on voluntary charity, and in a free society they would do so (just as many do so in our not-so-free society). I maintain that those who need charity would actually fare better in a private economy growing eight percent a year than in a floundering or slowly perishing economy, such as ours, where it quite naturally becomes more about ‘every man for himself.’ But this is a point, I have learned, that for purely emotional reasons most are not willing to hear.

So you fall into one of three groups, in this context:  you’re an unflinching advocate of freedom; or you’re a sap; or you’re a moocher.

I’m not aware of any other group to which one can belong. If you’re an unflinching advocate of freedom, you don’t simply lean that way. You support that principle without qualification.

The fact remains that we live in a transfer-of-wealth society. Traditionally, it has been called a ‘mixed economy,’ in which some property and wealth are privately owned and some are seized by the government. Technically that’s still true, but in my view we have reached the point where we are, like Western Europe, Australia and Japan, a full-fledged socialist democracy. Obama has sealed the deal that way, and a majority of voters did so by reelecting him. I recognize that the U.S. Constitution still, in principle, flies in the face of this. But nobody in power now, nor with any prospect for coming into power, respects the Constitution any longer. I define the moment of transition from a mixed economy to a socialist democracy the moment the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in 2012. Even advocates of semi-freedom no longer really have a majority on the Supreme Court, and that’s unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

We’re a socialist democracy, plain and simple. If you’re someone who, like me, believes that the initiation of force is always wrong, and that no government has a right to engage in it, then you’re living under this socialist democracy by force. Other nations are just as bad or worse, so there’s nowhere, at present, to escape.

As my favorite philosopher Ayn Rand has said, morality ends where a gun begins. I take this to mean (my own interpretation here) that you’re doing nothing immoral by accepting government benefits for which you never had (and in the future, will likewise not have) any choice about helping purchase. Your only obligation is something that presumably would never feel like a selfless duty: Upholding, supporting, contributing to or voting for the principle of individual rights whenever—and if ever—you  have the chance.

As a member of the United States military, you at least have the opportunity to stand for the last fading remnant on earth on what once was, and hopefully someday will again be, the last great hope for freedom on earth.


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