Why “Progressives” Are Not Progressive

Dear Dr. Hurd:

Your previous column [on how Obama does not own the private wealth he redistributes] reminds me of how I tried to communicate the concept of property to someone time and time again, and failed. This individual seemed to be interested in understanding the issue, but either couldn’t or just feigned interest.

I said to him that the government does not have the right to ANYTHING in his wallet. He seemed to latch on to that idea. But every so often, through subsequent years, he would say to someone: ‘The government does not have the right to EVERYTHING in your wallet.’;

He did not get the concept that your property is your property, or it isn’t (like you say). To some it might seem like I’m splitting hairs, but there is a HUGE difference between
‘everything’ and ‘anything’.

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

You are so right!

Another issue is morality vs. what’s legal. Even in the United States, government does, as a matter of legality, have a right to a sizable portion of your income and property.

This has been the case for at least a century, with the emergence of the ‘progressive’ income tax, and surely in principle before that time. To state that government has a legal right to property is not the same as having a moral right to property.  

When I argue with people about government’s lack of moral right to private property, the look of fear and hostility on the person’s face—recognizing I have a point they cannot answer—then turns to, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous. We have always had the income tax.’

This is a clear confession that a person has no answer to the moral argument. They can only say, ‘This is how it has been for a long time. So it must be right.’

Of course, if this kind of reasoning had been employed at the time of the founding of the American republic, there never would have been a republic. Had there never been a republic respectful of individual rights and (for a time) hands-off capitalism, there never would have been the growth of a massive American economy as we now know it. And there would be nothing to debate, because America would be an economically barren wasteland like Mexico or most of South America today, with nothing for Obama and his ilk to redistribute.

It’s sometimes hard for human beings to admit mistakes. It’s often frightening for people to look at our entitlement state, and face the fact that the whole thing is based on a flawed foundation. Never should have had Medicare or Social Security? Unthinkable! Find a Democrat or a Republican who will say otherwise. Their premise is, ‘It was always so, so it must be right.’ That’s why facts, budget deficits and debts make no difference to most people.

Not only is the entitlement/redistribution state unsustainable, as the economic and budget numbers increasingly tell us, but it’s also morally wrong. In other words, government never had any business establishing Social Security and Medicare in the first place. Why? Because, in a free country, people are free to purchase their own retirement insurance or medical insurance, in a free market, or deal with the consequences if they choose not to do so.

Government never had any business imposing an income tax, either. Why? Because it’s not government’s money to redistribute. The money belongs to whoever earned it, inherited it, or otherwise obtained it via legal and moral means. Taxing income is punishing success and is equivalent, in practice, to making the claim that no wealth is private and that the government is entitled to take essentially whatever it wishes. 

To face the economic and budgetary facts of our time means confronting hard truths about morality. Most find that too abstract or ‘ideological’ to want to go there. OK, then. But in refusing to ‘go there,’ you’re never going to solve the economic and budgetary problems of our time. And those problems are only going to get worse. 

To get out of this, we’ll need economic theory and a philosophy of ethics. If we remove those subjects from discussion, we’re left to address a growing calamity with nothing but fear, shouts and screams, like we’re seeing today.

Strident proponents of what we have today love to call themselves “progressives.” And of course there’s “hope and change.” But these terms are meaningless when applied to the preservation of our massive transfer-of-wealth and entitlement state. Today’s “progressives” are furiously trying to maintain what we have, despite its inherent unsustainability. True change would consist of transformation into a private sector, limited government system of hands off capitalism. The fury and rage with which “progressives” greet such proposals gives you an idea of who the true conservatives are.

People defend things like Social Security and Medicare by claiming, “We always had them–therefore, they must be right.” Actually, welfare states throughout history have always ended in bankruptcy, decline or worse. Think Roman Empire. Think the Weimar Republic in Germany, which gave rise to Nazi Germany.

It’s not “progress” to merely repeat what has always ended in disaster. The road less traveled is freedom, in economics as much as anywhere. The first society to stick to such a course of economic and personal liberty will be the true hope and change for the human race.


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