August 21, 2014

Earth to Rick Santorum: Libertarians Founded the United States

Andrew Napolitano recently showed a clip in which Rick Santorum explained his views on libertarianism. His comments are also instructive in understanding his animosity (politically) towards Ron Paul. Santorum said:

“One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a Libertarianish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”

As David Boaz pointed out in the interview with Napolitano, Santorum seems to oppose a basic American principle- the right to the pursuit of happiness. I agree with him on this, but there is something even more fundamental here than that. It has to do with the conservative philosophy itself. One of the statements that Santorum makes is true. “That is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

There is a great disconnect between average Americans who refer to themselves as “conservatives” and the small group of politicians and politically-connected businessman who call themselves likewise. The members of the former group believe in the founding principles of the United States, including the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believe that these rights are endowed by their Creator. In other words, they preexist the government. They are not created by the government. It is the government’s one and only job to protect those rights and when the government fails to protect them and instead violates them, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish the government.

These inalienable rights are also referred to as “natural rights,” meaning that man possesses them even in the state of nature (the state without government). For Jefferson, whose philosophy was inspired by Locke, the reason that men formed governments was to protect these rights better than they could be protected otherwise.

Locke viewed man as capable of both good and evil. For Locke, man’s natural state was a state of reason, which meant that he respected the rights of other men and observed the natural law of non-aggression. “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

For Locke and his philosophical heir Jefferson, this natural law of non-aggression was the basis of government power. By prohibiting aggression by one person or group against another, the government would preserve the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Importantly, repelling aggression was also the limit of government power, for when the government exercised power for any other reason it was committing aggression itself and invading the rights it was meant to protect.

That this was Jefferson’s guiding political principle is clear from his many statements to that effect. In his first inaugural, he argued for,

“…a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

In a letter to Francis Walker Gilmer in 1816, he wrote, “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Even on religious freedom, Jefferson based his position on the non-aggression principle. ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The non-aggression principle defines liberty itself as Jefferson understood it. For him, as well as for the likeminded libertarians that led the secession from Great Britain, the word “liberty” as used in the Declaration of Independence had a specific definition. It meant the right to do what one pleases as long as one does not invade the life, liberty, or property of another human being. In other words, each individual was beyond the reach of government power so long as he committed no aggression against anyone else.

These are not conservative ideas. They are libertarian ideas. While Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and the others who espoused this theory may not have called themselves by that name, the basic tenets of their philosophy were the same. Today, the non-aggression axiom remains the fundamental basis for libertarian theory. Ron Paul bases his positions on it, as he said (about the 3:30 mark) when running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988.

Just as this non-aggression principle serves as the foundation and limit of government power between individuals within society, it is the foundation and limit of government power with respect to other nations. As all nations exist in a state of nature with each other, the natural law of non-aggression is the only one that governs them. As I’ve stated before, the non-aggression principle is the basis for the Declaration of War Power. The purpose of that power is for Congress to debate whether or not the nation in question has actually committed aggression against the United States. If it has, then a state of war exists and military action is justified. If it hasn’t, there is no state of war, no declaration, and no military action is justified. The use of military force in the absence of a state of war (previous aggression by another nation) violates the natural law.

The conservative philosophy rejects all of these ideas. There were conservatives in the 18th century just as there are today and their philosophy hasn’t fundamentally changed, either. The writer that most modern conservatives trace their philosophical ideas to was Edmund Burke. He has this to say about inalienable rights.

“Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.”

While modern conservatives like Russell Kirk have pointed to Burke as their philosophical inspiration, one can clearly see that Burke is here merely restating ideas from the true father of modern conservatism, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes asserted that in the state of nature man had “a right to everything,” even a right to one another’s bodies. Hobbes asserted, as Burke implies here, that man’s passions would always overcome his reason and because of this the state of nature was a state of war of “everyone against everyone.” For Hobbes, as for true conservatives today, man has to give up his natural rights upon entering society and accept those privileges to liberty and property that the government grants him.

For Hobbes, not only did man give up his natural rights upon entering society, but he also had to grant the “sovereign” absolute and undivided power. This was necessary in order to completely dominate man’s natural impulses, which would always lead him to harm his neighbor if they were not checked. This power must literally keep each individual “in awe,” to make him fearful of committing any unlawful act. To secure this absolute power, the sovereign needed control over the economy, which he consolidated through a privileged, wealthy elite. He also needed control over education and even the religious beliefs of the people. No individual could ever be allowed to follow the dictates of his own will, as it would inevitably lead him to harm his neighbor or the commonwealth in general.

On foreign policy, Hobbes also viewed all nations as existing in a state of nature. However, since he viewed the state of nature as equivalent to the state of war, he viewed all nations not under control of the sovereign as de facto enemies. In reading Leviathan, one can almost hear George W. Bush’s famous remark, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” This is why conservatives support the deployment of troops all over the world. Like Hobbes, they believe that we are in constant danger from any nation that we are not completely dominating with the threat of force.

The reason that conservatism seeks to “conserve” the status quo is because its adherents do not believe that natural rights are inalienable. Upon entering society, man has to give up all of his natural rights, so the only rights that man has in society are those he has been given by government in the past. Thus, if you get rid of the past, you get rid of the rights. While the status quo might not be optimal, the conservative believes that to get rid of the status quo means returning to the awful state of nature, and necessitates reconstructing man’s rights – via government – all over again. Conservatives are always fearful that rights can be lost and never regained – as opposed to libertarians who believe that rights are inalienable.

The conservative tradition in America does not trace back to Thomas Jefferson or the Declaration of Independence. Its tenets are completely incompatible with the basic libertarian philosophy that informed Jefferson and that document. The conservative tradition in America traces back to Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who were the conservatives of their day. Hamilton sought to preserve the status quo, which was a central government with absolute power, along with its mercantilist economic system. The only change he sought was that the system be run by Americans rather than the British.

Hamilton was a Hobbesian on every issue, which is why he clashed so stridently with Jefferson. Hamilton also believed that the power of the federal government had to be absolute. Otherwise, the separate states would be in the state of nature with each other and inevitably at war. He often spoke of the “want of power in Congress” leading to the states “being at each other’s throats.” Economically, he wanted a central bank, high protectionist tariffs to enrich domestic manufacturer’s at taxpayer expense, and “internal improvements,” which meant the government using taxpayer money to build what we would today call “infrastructure.” While all of these policies were anti-free market, they served the agenda of securing the loyalty of a wealthy elite to the government. Hamilton went so far as to call the national debt “a national blessing” for the same reason. On foreign policy, Hamilton was an unqualified militarist who sought to lead an army in conquering an American empire, starting with the Western Hemisphere possessions of Spain.

He felt justified in all of these invasions of individual rights and violations of non-aggresion because he believed that what he called “national greatness” (today conservatives call it “American Exceptionalism”) trumped the rights of individuals. For Hamilton, as for conservatives throughout human history, the individual lived to serve the commonwealth, as opposed to the libertarian belief that the commonwealth only existed to serve the individual.

This conservative tradition can be traced throughout American history from the Federalists to the Whigs to the Republican Pary. The Republican Party was born as the party of big government, centralized power, and a mercantilist economy. Ironically, all that history remembers of the Republican Party at its birth in the 1850′s is its opposition to slavery – its one libertarian position – while ignoring its Hobbesian conservatism on all other matters. However, with slavery abolished, the Republican Party retained the rest of its philosophy through the next century and right up to the present day. One can hear it rehashed in any 2012 Republican presidential primary debate.

Today, conservative American voters wonder why the Republican politicians that they elect never seem to make the government smaller or less intrusive. They refer to elected Republicans who consistently grow the size and power of the government as “RINOS” (Republicans In Name Only). They believe these politicians are not “true conservatives,” because while they may belong to the Republican Party, they do not adhere to the principles of an underlying conservative philosophy that they imagine to exist. They are wrong. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, George Bush, and the rest of the establishment Republicans are the true conservatives. The American voters identifying themselves as conservatives are really libertarians  – they just don’t know it yet.

Go to any Tea Party rally. This is where you will supposedly find “radical conservatives,” but you won’t find them carrying any signs quoting Alexander Hamilton. You won’t find speakers extolling the virtues of government spending on infrastructure. Instead, you see signs quoting Thomas Jefferson and speakers mocking the many “bridges to nowhere” that have resulted from attempting to put Hamilton’s conservative ideas into practice.

The one inconsistency is the Tea Party’s support of the U.S. government’s military empire. This false note in the otherwise libertarian movement is the result of cultural confusion. These conservatives don’t yet realize that they aren’t really conservatives. They are libertarians, and the warfare state is inconsistent with the rest of their philosophy. They support it because they have been told all of their lives that it is the conservative position, which it is. However, limited government, inalienable rights, free markets, and individual liberty are not.

Contrary to Rick Santorum’s assertion that no society based upon radical individualism has ever succeeded, the libertarian, radically individualist principles upon which the United States was founded were precisely why it succeeded so spectacularly. It was libertarianism that made America different from any society before or since – what made it the “shining city on the hill” as Santorum calls it. It was the collectivist conservative philosophy that helped bring it down – with a lot of help from a third philosophical movement called Progressivism. Neither more conservatism nor more progressivism – nor any combination of the two – can solve the problems that America faces today. If Americans want to see liberty and prosperity restored in the United States, then restoring libertarianism is their only hope.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Rights and Responsibilities

There is an old argument about rights that has enjoyed resurgent popularity in these days of “spreading the wealth around.” It is the assertion that while human beings undoubtedly have rights, they also have responsibilities. In fact, it is said that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility that is its complement. One should not be surprised that this line of reasoning appeals to statists of all varieties, because they see in it a way to undercut rights and dress up their schemes of plunder and domination as “responsibilities.” However, it does not take the clear-thinking mind long to see through these sophisms, for they fail to hold up to a moment’s scrutiny.

What are the characteristics of a right? A right is an absolute and exclusive claim to something. “Absolute” because you cannot partially have a right to something. You either have a right to it wholly or not at all. “Exclusive” because that which you have a right to no one else can claim a right to. A right defines something that you are entitled to (there really is a proper use of that word). You do not need anyone’s permission to exercise a right. No one can charge you a fee for exercising it. No government can regulate it. You are entitled to exercise rights without interference by or permission from anyone.

Consider the right to life. Is your right to life absolute or do you only have a right to live under certain conditions? Do you have an exclusive right to live your own life or do others have some partial right to your life? Are you entitled to live, or do other people have a right to charge you a fee in return for allowing you to live? Can any government pass a law or regulation qualifying your right to life?

There are different kinds of rights, based upon their origins. Legal rights derive from a contract. While these rights originate with the consent of others, such as your right to a house that you have purchased, that right nevertheless takes on all of the characteristics described above once you have acquired it. The corresponding responsibility to the right of ownership of the house is the obligation to pay for the house. Your responsibility to pay derives from the contract you entered into. You are obliged to pay because you have consented to pay in exchange for the right to the property previously owned by the seller.

Natural rights are inherent in each person. These do not originate with the consent of others, but are part of and inseparable from our humanity. They cannot be taken away. Even if they are violated, they nevertheless remain. When we recognize something to be “wrong,” it is usually the violation of some kind of right. However, when we recognize something as “evil,” it is invariably the violation of a natural, inalienable right.

Next, let us consider “responsibilities.” A responsibility is something that you are obliged to do. It is an obligation that you must fulfill in order to comply with a moral or legal code. Responsibilities do not always conform to our wishes. We may prefer to do one thing, but have the responsibility to do another. Responsibilities are actions that we are compelled to do, either by religious doctrine, our own consciences, or other people.

This raises the question: When is the use of violence justified in compelling someone to fulfill their responsibilities? Can violence or the threat of violence be used in enforcing all responsibilities? Obviously not. There are some responsibilities that cannot be enforced by other people at all.

For example, those who believe in God feel a responsibility to worship or to pray. While this may be their responsibility, it is certainly not enforceable by other people. If there is an absolute, inalienable right of conscience, then no human may use violence against another for failing to fulfill the responsibility of praying. Certainly God may claim a right to punish someone who has shirked this responsibility, but other people cannot. That is because the obligation related to the responsibility for praying is to oneself and to God, not to anyone else.

To put this into the framework of the argument that we are examining, you have a right of conscience and a corresponding responsibility to act according to the dictates of your conscience. To act against the dictates of your conscience may have negative consequences, but violence inflicted upon you by other people cannot be one of them. Otherwise, you must conclude that it is possible for a right to be destroyed by its corresponding responsibility.

So what responsibilities can be enforced with violence by other people ? It would seem self-evident that since violence is only justified in defense, that the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence is the responsibility not to initate force against someone else. It is only when one person has failed to fulfill this responsibility that others are justified in using violence. If other people were to use violence or the threat of violence under any other circumstances, they would be failing to fulfill their own responsibility not to initiate force.

This is demonstrated by the natural and inalienable right to liberty. Is this a right? Yes. Does it have a corresponding responsibility? Yes, the responsibility not to commit aggression against the equal rights of others. Can others use violence or the threat of violence to enforce this responsibility? Yes. This is the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence. Attempting to enforce any other responsibility with violence is to commit aggression, by definition.

However, it is not the rights to life, liberty, or conscience that the statist has in mind when he begins his sermon about responsibilities. While he may be willing to violate all of these rights as his means, it is rarely his end. No, the statist’s primary object is not your life or liberty, but your property. By property, I do not mean exclusively or even primarily land ownership, but rather that right that each human being has to keep the fruits of his labor and dispose of them as he sees fit. It is here that the statist will stand up to say, “Yes, you have a right to acquire and own property, but you have a corresponding responsibility to pay your ‘fair share’ to society.” Of course, the statist also claims the right to use the threat of violence – the government – to compel you to fulfill this responsibility. But where does this responsibility come from? And is property a natural and inalienable right?

There are only three ways to justly acquire property. One must either take it directly out of nature, create it with materials taken directly out of nature, or take possession of someone else’s property by agreement. This last means of acquisition may be the result of a gift or a trade. It is not important whether the previous owner was compensated for the property transferred from him, but only that he voluntarily consented to the transfer.

Most people acquire their property by exchanging their labor for the property of others. In other words, they are employed by other people to perform a certain type of work. In exchange for this work, they are given property in the form of money, with which they can then acquire other types of property. Depending upon the scarcity of the skills and experience that they offer to purchasers of their services (employers), they may be able to sell their services for larger or smaller wages.

Now, whether the individual in question makes $20 thousand, $200 thousand, or $2 million dollars per year in wages, no one would deny that his labor itself is his property. He has a right to this property, meaning that his claim upon it is absolute and exclusive. He is entitled to own his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. That is the basis upon which he sells his labor to an employer for the wages he demands in return.

If this is true, then it must follow that he also has an absolute and exclusive right to those wages. After all, he has just exchanged part of his life for them. Who else could claim any right to part of his life? The wage earner will invariably exchange most of his wages for other goods, but his right to whatever he acquires with his wages is identical to his right to his labor itself, which is merely a portion of his life. Denying this right necessarily supposes that other people have a right to part or all of his labor, and therefore part of his life.

There was once an institution wherein one group of people claimed a right to the labor of others. It was quite rightly abolished.

The statist will answer that the wages were a “blessing of society” for which the wage earner owes some portion back. If that were true, one would have to question the rationality and efficiency of this mysterious entity called “society,” which chooses to bestow blessings upon people, only to immediately demand part of those blessings back. Why not simply bless the individual less, leaving both parties square?

In reality, the wage earner has already paid his  “fair share” to society. For the $20 thousand or $20 million he has earned, he has provided exactly $20 thousand or $20 million worth of labor. How do we know that his labor was worth that amount? The same way that we know the market value of anything. It is the price that others are willing to pay for it. Perhaps our wage earner is a painter. In that case, he has exchanged exactly $20 thousand in painting services for $20 thousand in cash. Nothing was given to him by any nebulous entity called “society.” He created that wealth himself with his own labor. To keep it and dispose of it as he sees fit is undeniably his right.

If there is any justification for a corresponding responsibility to society, it can only be the responsibility to pay for some service that “society” has rendered to him. As we have discussed, the obligation associated with a responsibility to pay for something derives from a contract. If one agrees to purchase something, one has the responsibility to pay the previous owner the agreed upon price. This responsibility corresponds to the right of ownership of the purchased property.

So what has our wage earner purchased from society? What has he consented to buy? Accepting the extremely elastic definition of “consent” employed by proponents of constitutional government, he has “consented” to purchase protection of his life, liberty, and property. As Thomas Paine put it, his responsibility is to “surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest.”[1] If there is any responsibility incumbent upon him, it is to pay for these services rendered and no more. Even taxation for this purpose has a dubious moral foundation, for it is apparent to everyone to that our wage earner has never really consented to purchase even this. That is why Paine also referred to government as “a necessary evil.”[2]

However, let us assume that somehow this consent is real. Like the purchaser of the house, the citizen has entered into a contract. His responsibility to pay for protection of his property corresponds to his right to demand that the protection he has purchased be provided.

For the statist, however, this logical connection between rights and responsibilities does not exist. He asserts that there is a responsibility that corresponds to the right to own property, but the responsibility he identifies destroys the right. For him, the citizen has a responsibility to suffer the very crime for which he established government to protect him from in the first place – the invasion of his property. He is not entitled to the protection that he has purchased, but instead has a responsibility to endure its very opposite. As John Locke put it, ”the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own.”[3]

Absurdity is at the root of all statist thinking, producing bizarre and disastrous results. The statist seeks to grant rights to the labor of others, such as healthcare, education, or housing, and corresponding responsibilities to provide these services under the threat of  violence. Neither these rights nor these responsibilities exist. This is evident on its face because the supposed rights are claimed by one person and the corresponding responsibility placed upon another. If one is looking for an explanation as to how a government can get so out of control that it spends all that it can possibly tax from its citizens and all that it can possibly borrow, yet still seems to need more, then false rights and responsibilities enforced by the threat of violence are a good place to start.

[1] Paine, Thomas Common Sense from Paine: Collected Writings Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 7

[2] Paine, pg. 6

[3] Locke, John Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration  Digireads.com Publishing Stillwell, KS 2005 pg. 113

Photo by Arvind Balaraman

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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>The True State of the Union: We Have No Rights Whatsoever

>It has been almost a week since President Obama gave his first State of the Union address, and it has been analyzed from the left, right, center, front, and back. Of course, the speech is really about the performance of the federal government, particularly its wonderful accomplishments under the leadership of the sitting president. This is not peculiar to the Obama presidency. As far back as Jefferson, presidents have used the Constitutionally-mandated stump speech to do a little self-promotion, although what they promote has certainly changed quite dramatically.

However, if the speech is supposed to reflect the accomplishments of the federal government, then we should expect that it will contain specifics about how that government has fulfilled its purpose, which is, as we all know, to secure our rights. At least that’s what our founding document tells us. Therefore, if a president is going to do a little bragging about what a great job he has done, it would be logical to assume that we would hear particulars about the way in which he has secured our rights. Logic, however, has little to do with the machinations of leviathan.

In fairness, President Obama did begin his speech with a few remarks about the actual state of our country – a state of economic devastation and unending war. The fact that both of these afflictions have been caused wholly by our federal government is something that seems to have gone right by him, although he is not unique in that respect, either. Having reminded us about how bad things are, he dutifully lays as much blame as possible on the president that preceded him (another time-honored tradition when succeeding a president of the opposing party). He then moves right into trumpeting his accomplishments.

The president explains how he hit the ground running after taking over during the financial crisis, which began during the last year of the Bush administration. He takes pride in the fact that he supported the bank bailouts over the wishes of the American people, because when he ran for president, he “promised he wouldn’t just do what was popular,” he would do “what was necessary.” I don’t remember that particular campaign promise, although I do remember him promising to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” or something to that effect. I suppose you can’t expect him to keep them all.

President Obama justifies his first initiative as president as follows:

“And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.”

Perhaps the president is correct on this. Perhaps he is not. However, there is one consideration that seems wholly missing from his thought process. Do the people whose money was taken to “stabilize the financial system” have any rights? By what authority was their money confiscated, even if it were for “the good of all?” Majority vote?

The president next goes on to extol the virtues of the first policy that was wholly his own. He says that his administration “extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts… As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.”

This seems to be a mixed message. The part about extending unemployment benefits and making health insurance cheaper seems like more wealth redistribution. However, he also mentions tax cuts that saved jobs and let people keep more of their own money. One might have been led to believe that he actually secured the right to property here, at least for some of his constituents. Then came the punch line.

“The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it. Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act. Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.”

It is ironic that one of the examples that the president cites is a window manufacturer. Those few lucid economists who are not among those “on the left and the right” who agree wholeheartedly with the stimulus bill certainly would have been unable to avoid recalling Frederic Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy.” It is the absurd reasoning that Bastiat exposes in his famous essay, “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” that underlies the entire “stimulus” strategy. Occasionally, this has been pointed out in public debates over these programs. However, there is one question that has not even been asked by President Obama’s most vitriolic Republican opponents. Do the people who were forced to fund the Recovery Act have rights?

President Obama implies that his wonderful largesse was accomplished without taxing anyone, but this is absurd. It may be true that he has not had a tax increase passed in the Congress, but the funding for the Recovery Act can only come from one place. For the portion that was borrowed by the U.S. government from other nations, that money will eventually have to be paid back. The government only has one official source of revenue – taxation. The fact that those who will pay the taxes to underwrite the Recovery Act may not be born yet (although I don’t personally believe that Washington has that much time left) doesn’t change the fact that they will be forced to pay it back.

There is also an “unofficial” source of revenue for the government, and that is inflation. For the portion of the Recovery Act debt that the Federal Reserve merely monetizes, it is no less taxation than is an appropriation from the Treasury. It is merely a more insidious form of taxation, one that does not look its victim in the eye, but rather steals from him silently through depreciation of a currency that he is forced to use by the government. Whether by official or unofficial means, there are individuals whose money will be confiscated by the government so that others may keep their jobs. Again, I ask, do those individuals have rights?

It should not go without mention exactly who these people are whose jobs have been saved by the Recovery Act. According to the president, “there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.”

Is there anyone among these two million that are not government employees? Perhaps the construction workers, although I’d bet they are working solely on government contracts. In any case, they are all on the receiving end of the taxation, necessitating that others must be taken from in order for them to receive.

The whole concept of the government “saving or creating jobs” is one whose injustice seems to elude everyone. That is probably because a century of “progressive” ideas has completely befuddled us about what a job really is. A job is a contract between a buyer and a seller. The employee is the seller, who sells his services to an employer for a mutually agreed upon price – his wages. This contract is one that both parties enter into voluntarily. The employer purchases the services because he is willing and able to do so. The employee sells for precisely the same reasons. Each has a right not to enter into the agreement, or to terminate it anytime he wishes.

However, when the government “saves or creates jobs,” it completely overrides the voluntary nature of this arrangement. If an employer is no longer willing or able to continue to purchase the services of an employee, the government has only one means at its disposal to change that outcome: brute force. It uses this force to confiscate the property of other people and thereby force them to purchase the services of the employee, since the employer is no longer willing or able to do so himself. The government claims it has saved a job, but it certainly has not secured any rights. In fact, it has acted counter to its purpose. It has destroyed the rights that it exists to protect.

It is the same evil at work in the president’s call for “health care reform.” As part of his plans to “improve the system,” the government will not only annihilate the right of property but liberty as well. While taxing some in order to pay the doctor bills of others, the federal government will ensure that no one can even conscientiously object. Every American will be required to purchase insurance from one of the government’s pet corporations, regardless of whether they want to or not. This amounts to a mandatory fee paid to the government merely for the privilege of being alive. Once the right to property is destroyed, the rights to liberty and even to life are destroyed with them.

Without repeating the analysis for every program that the president described, they all rest upon the same logic. There is some mysterious entity called “society” whose needs outweigh the rights of every individual that comprises it. In fact, it is apparent from the president’s speech (and those of most of his predecessors) that the federal government recognizes no rights of any individual whatsoever. Sadly, there are not many among the citizenry who think any differently. So long as representatives have been democratically elected, their power knows no bounds and recognizes no rights.

America was founded upon exactly the opposite idea. The reason that the U.S Constitution guarantees every American “a Republican form of government,” rather than a democratic one, is precisely because its framers believed that individual rights cannot be voted away. We cannot vote ourselves a right to other people’s property, not even to save millions of jobs (although it is really not possible to do so anyway). We cannot vote away another’s liberty, not even to lower health care costs for those who cannot afford it (although this will not work either). This was the central principle upon which our nation was founded – that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. A pure democracy does not recognize these rights.

Progressives promote the idea that “taxation without representation” was the chief injustice that led to the American Revolution. This is convenient to their agenda, because they go on to justify any tax levied by a democratically-elected body on the grounds that those being taxed were represented in that body.

Of course, this begs the question, “Why did the founders specifically instruct Benjamin Franklin not to under any circumstances accept an offer of representation for the colonies in the British parliament?” Perhaps we should be so wise. Secession anyone?

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

>A New Declaration of Independence? No You Can’t!

>I knew that there would come a day when I would not just roll my eyes at something our new president said, but instead would be gripped by genuine, cold fear. I thought that at least the traditional honeymoon period would go by (the first 100 days in office – when we would be treated to meeting the new president’s dog, watching him wave during cornball photo ops, and generally doing nothing of real substance) before he said something that truly terrified me. However, if I have to find something good to say about “the savior,” it is that he has certainly hit the ground running. The only problem is that he is trying to get us all running toward our mutual destruction.

In a speech on Saturday in Baltimore, he said words that should be sparking mass protests all over the United States. President Obama has called for “A New Declaration of Independence,” which of course would provide the ideological backdrop for his plans to try to “perfect our union.” So that I am not taking his words out of context, I will quote him verbatim based upon the official transcript provided by his staff.

“And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.” [emphasis added]

It will certainly be argued that this was just a rhetorical figure of speech, as Obama did not actually call for the drafting of a document. The dreaded words are certainly watered down by what follows them, making the statement seem more like an appeal to each person to make some sort of personal commitment to help make a better world. However, I here and now warn the reader not to write this statement off as just another speech. During his campaign, Obama repeated the words “service and sacrifice” so many times that it is likely that most Americans now feel that service and sacrifice are now required of them. Of course, the questions, “Serve whom?” “Sacrifice what?” and “For whom?” were never answered, but they certainly will be when our new emperor begins dictating policy to his rubber stamp Congress.

It should come as no surprise when we hear these new words from Obama again and again, until one day a story breaks that someone is actually working on a new declaration. Likely we will be told that this person – maybe a Congressman, maybe some other servant of the empire – was “so inspired” by Obama’s ideas that he decided to take him up on this one. It will of course be served up as the spontaneous action of this inspired person, and will be lauded as one of many wonderful results of Obama’s “transformative presidency.” Whether the official story is true or not will not change the disastrous results.

Most Americans reading this would probably wonder why a new declaration would be such a big deal. After all, the original Declaration does not have the force of law. Why would a new one constitute any substantive change?

While it does not have the force of law, the Declaration of Independence is monumentally important. It is not law itself, but the declaration of what the purpose of every law passed is supposed to be. As that document says, our government only exists to secure our individual, unalienable rights. Therefore, we declare in that document that we shall only pass laws whose purpose is “to secure these rights.” Implicit in “the Pursuit of Happiness” is the central, most important right: the right of each individual to the fruits of his labor.

As I argue in my book, this is the right without which no other rights can exist. This was the central theme in Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, which was the direct source for our Declaration by Jefferson’s own (repeated) admission. This was the true reason that our American Revolution was fought. We have ignored this plain fact for too long, as our increasing loss of liberty proves.

Unlike our last president, President Obama does not have the dubious freedom that a more limited intellect can provide. He knows how troublesome the original Declaration is to his agenda. While it still stands as our declaration of what our government is supposed to be doing, it stands in the way of what he wants our government to be doing, regardless of the fact that our government already violates its principles in so many ways.

Like the United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” I would anticipate that Obama’s new declaration would grant additional rights to everyone, including a minimum standard of living, healthcare, unemployment benefits, and the rest of the entitlements granted in Article 25 and beyond in the U.N. document. At first, that might seem like a great idea. How can more rights be bad?

The answer is that the price of these new “rights” is the surrender of the most important of the true natural rights – the right to the fruits of your labor. For example, “healthcare” is nothing more than the fruits of the labor of healthcare providers: doctors, nurses, technicians, hospitals, etc. Therefore, no one can have a right to healthcare. If the doctor has a right to the fruits of his own labor, then other people cannot have a right to that same labor. It is a logical contradiction. In order for everyone to have a right to the doctor’s labor, either the doctor – or whoever is forced to pay the doctor’s bills for “everyone” – must give up the right to their labor. No one can have a right to something that someone else must be forced to provide – at least not in a society that wishes to be “the land of the free.”

Of course, I am certainly not the first to point out that the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights was modeled on the Soviet Union’s Constitution, not ours. That is why it grants the “non-rights” that it grants – because it is based upon communist philosophy. Granting everyone a right to the fruits of everyone else’s labor is the definition of communism, and almost all of President Obama’s rhetoric is consistent with it. He never talks about protecting the individual. Instead, he says “out of many, we are one.” We all have a responsibility of service (to the collective) and sacrifice (for the collective). We have no protection from the collective, no matter what they demand out of our labor or out of our hides.

However, our Declaration of Independence stands in the way of all of that. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama is an intellectual and he knows that the Declaration can still provide an impregnable defense against his monstrous plans, if only the American people would rediscover its meaning. Once a new declaration is in place, he can make the argument that the old one is outdated and that “we have all agreed” that “the challenges of the 21st century” demand a different role for our government.” While rights are unalienable and therefore cannot be taken away, they can certainly be violated. A house resolution recognizing a new declaration of independence would provide strong support for just that.

This is a line that our government must not be allowed to cross. From this day forward, each time President Obama mentions a new declaration of independence, our voices must be raised together in deafening unison: No You Can’t! No You Can’t! No You Can’t! (I can’t hear you) No You Can’t!

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