Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is It Immoral to Cut the Budget?

That's the title of an excellent op-ed in today's WSJ by Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute. Roger is a superb champion of liberty and a master of Constitutional law. In this article he reminds us that the federal government never should have gotten into the business of providing charity and redistributing income; those are the activities that are in fact immoral. The article is so good that everyone should read it, but I will repeat it here with some edits in the hopes that it can be more widely read and appreciated:

'What Would Jesus Cut?" So read the headline of a full-page ad published in Politico last month by Sojourners, the progressive evangelical Christian group. Urging readers to sign a petition asking Congress "to oppose any budget proposal that increases military spending while cutting domestic and international programs that benefit the poor, especially children," it was the opening salvo of a campaign to recast the budget battle as a morality play.
Well, if morality is the plain on which the federal budget battle is to be fought, let's get on with it. At the least, as the Sojourners say, the budget is a statement about the nation's priorities—much like a family's budget reflects what its members think important, or not.
But the similarity ends there because a nation, unlike a family, is not bound by tendrils of intimacy and affection. America, especially, is not one big family.
"We the People" constituted ourselves for the several reasons set forth in our Constitution's Preamble, but chief among those—the reason we fought for our independence—was to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Yet nowhere today is that liberty more in jeopardy than in a federal budget that reduces us all, in so many ways, to government dependents.
Our tax system sucks the substance and spirit of entrepreneurs and workers alike, filters that substance through Washington, then sends it back through countless federal programs that instruct us in minute detail about how to use the government's beneficence. Manufacturing, housing, education, health care, transportation, energy, recreation—is there anything today over which the federal government does not have control? A federal judge held recently that Congress can regulate the "mental act" of deciding not to buy health insurance.
The budget battle is thus replete with moral implications far more basic than Sojourners seem to imagine. They ask, implicitly, how "we" should spend "our" money, as though we were one big family quarreling over our collective assets. We're not. We're a constitutional republic, populated by discrete individuals, each with our own interests. Their question socializes us and our wherewithal. The Framers' Constitution freed us to make our own individual choices.
The Good Samaritan is virtuous not because he helps the fallen through the force of law but because he does so voluntarily, which he can do only if he has the right to freely choose the good, or not.
Americans are a generous people. They will help the less fortunate if left free to do so. What they resent is being forced to do good—and in ways that are not only inefficient but impose massive debts upon their children. That's not the way free people help the young and less fortunate.
And it's not as if we were bereft of a plan for determining our priorities as a nation. Our Constitution does that quite nicely. It authorizes a focused but limited public sector, enabling a vast private sector of liberty. But early 20th-century Progressives— politicians and intellectuals alike—deliberately shifted that balance. Today the federal government exercises vast powers never granted to it, restricting liberties never surrendered. It's all reflected in the federal budget, the redistributive elements of which speak to nothing so much as theft—and that's immoral.


mmanagedaccounts said...

"What would Jesus cut?" It is not a valid question. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," and "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." There is a kingdom of this world which belongs to the secular, and there is the kingdom of Christ, which is the Church. The Church and the State are not the same and are to remain separate. It is invalid to drag Jesus into the State and ask what He would cut. Orthodox Christians believe Jesus is sovereign over all states, but He does not rule over the state as He rules His Church. Our state is suppose to be governed by the Constitution while the Church is suppose to be governed by the Bible. And the Bible teaches us the two are not to be mixed.

Benjamin Cole said...

"Yet nowhere today is that liberty more in jeopardy than in a federal budget that reduces us all, in so many ways, to government dependents."

I agree--and also note FY2011 has $147 billion earmarked for VA and military pensions.

And we have created a huge permanent class of federal military employees and contractors dependent on continuing federal outlays, whether we face any military threats or not.

In some ways, however, I think the local governments are even worse. Try building a skyrise condo in Newport Beach, CA. The feds won't stop you--the City of Newport Beach will, and even require voter approval before you can begin (on your own land, even if you owned that land for generations).

Try driving a jitney.

Try setting up a push-cart food stand.

Try practising law.

Try being a barber.

Try setting up a website and selling wine from your vineyard direct to consumers in Florida.

Over and over again, we see it is local government and permitting, and state licensing that prevents people w/o too much capital from entering business.

Usually such permits and licensing are backed by the local business establishments. The push-cart vendor selling terrific hamburgers is taking business away from the bricks-and-mortar restaurant.

I do wish we could cut the federal budget, but would like to see cuts across the board, and especially in rural infrastructure subsidies and military outlays. These expenditures may be the most corrosive.

Social Security has set up a dependent class, but not one that diverts labor from one sector to another. We onerously tax productive people and give the money tpo unproducitive people in SS.

In military outlays, we onerously tax productive people, and then divert a productive person out of the jobs- and wealth-creating private sector and put him into unproductive military work.

The right-wing (to which I would heartily belong) is just blind to our atavistic military and the Red State Socialist Empire of rural states.

Yet add up Department of Defense, USDA, VA, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior and debt and you are near 70 percent of federal outlays paid for by income taxes. (The huge entitlement programs are paid for through payroll taxes).

If you want to pay less federal income taxes....start cutting.

John said...

One easy way for corporations to become less dependent on the federal government is to stop bidding on federal contracts.

Benjamin is right. Government and business are two sides of the same coin. They are co-dependent.

The fight isn't over public versus private. The fight is over who gets the keys to the Treasury.

Frozen in the North said...

The first question -- forget what Jesus would cut(which assumes that Jesus would cut...) The first question that has to be asked is what is the role of Government? Some people believe that Government should be equalizer, other that it should take a role in insuring that public goods are "paid for" other its defense of the realm.

What is unsaid, especially in the current GOP incarnation is that their only objective is reduce tax as and all barriers to trade (anti pollution etc.) Would Google exist if Microsoft could act as a monopolist (in fact would Microsoft exist -- in the face of IBM)?

Maybe the US should eliminate all public education, and public health care?

But first, you have to have some idea what you want from your government! The drivel of this article "what Jesus would cut" is probably blasphemy anyway, and frankly you should examine your values here

Jeff said...

First, Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost. The US is not His kingdom...but His kingdom will come...on earth as it is in heaven.

But mmanagedaccounts is wrong that church and state should not be mixed. The Bible does NOT teach us the two are not to be mixed...neither does our constitution.

There are righteous governments that govern according to Biblical principles and those that don't. God has a lot to say about government.

For example, in 1 Samuel 8 God warns Israel that an earthly king will reign over you, make your sons serve him, he will take a TENTH of your labors.

WOW. If it was only a tenth today.

A government that understands its authority comes from God will do what is right. A government that pushes God aside will not. We are now in the latter.

"If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under"
--Ronald Reagan

Jeff said...

Benjamin...on this you are right on!! (Except military cuts...that is an enumerated power of the federal govt)