Morals and Liberty

JULY 01, 1971 by F. A. HARPER

Dr. Harper, long a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education, con­tinues his research, writing, and teaching as president of the Institute for Humane Studies. Reprints of this article can be obtained from the Institute for Humane Studies, Inc., 1134 Crane Street, Menlo Park, California 94025.

To many persons, the Welfare State has become a symbol of morality and righteousness. This makes those who favor the Wel­fare State appear to be the true architects of a better world; those who oppose it, immoral rascals who might be expected to rob banks or to do most anything in defiance of ethical conduct. But is this so? Is the banner of moral­ity, when applied to the concept of the Welfare State, one that is true or false?

Now what is the test of morality or immorality to be applied to the Welfare State idea? I should like to pose five fundamental ethical concepts, as postulates, by which to test it. They are the ethical precepts found in the true Chris­tian religion—true to its original foundations; and they are likewise found in other religious faiths, wherever and under whatever name these other religious con­cepts assist persons to perceive and practice the moral truths of human conduct.

Moral Postulate No. 1

Economics and morals are both parts of one inseparable body of truth. They must, therefore, be in harmony with one another. What is right morally must also be right economically, and vice versa. Since morals are a guide to betterment and to self-protection, economic policies that violate Moral Truth, will, with certainty, cause degeneration and self-de­struction.

This postulate may seem simple and self-evident. Yet many economists and others of my acquaint­ance, including one who was a most capable and admired teacher, presume to draw some kind of an impassable line of distinction be­tween morals and economics. Such persons fail to test their economic concepts against their moral pre­cepts. Some even scorn the moral base for testing economic concepts, as though it would somehow pol­lute their economic purity.

An unusually capable minister recently said that only a short time before, for the first time, he had come to realize the close con­nection and inter-harmony that exist between morals and eco­nomics. He had always tried to reserve one compartment for his religious thought and another separate one for his economic thought. "Fortunately," he said, in essence, "my economic thinking happened to be in harmony with my religious beliefs; but it frightens me now to realize the risk I was taking in ignoring the harmony that must exist between the two."

This viewpoint—that there is no necessary connection between morals and economics—is all too prevalent. It explains, I believe, why immoral economic acts are tolerated, if not actively promoted, by persons of high repute who otherwise may be considered to be persons of high moral standards.

Moral Postulate No. 2

There is a force in the uni­verse which no mortal can alter. Neither you nor I nor any earthly potentate with all his laws and edicts can alter this rule of the universe, no matter how great one’s popularity in his position of power. Some call this force God. Others call it Natural Law. Still others call it the Supernatural. But no matter how one may wish to name it, there is a force which rules without surrender to any mortal man or group of men—a force that is oblivious to anyone who presumes to elevate himself and his wishes above its rule.

This concept is the basis for all relationships of cause and conse­quence—all science—whether it be something already discovered or something yet to be discovered. Its scope includes phenomena such as those of physics and chemistry; it also includes those of human conduct. The so-called Law of Gravity is one expression of Nat­ural Law. Scientific discovery means the unveiling to human per­ception of something that has al­ways existed. If it had not existed prior to the discovery—even though we were ignorant of it—it could not have been there to be discovered. That is the meaning of the concept of Natural Law.

This view—there exists a Nat­ural Law which rules over the affairs of human conduct—will be challenged by some who point out that man possesses the capacity for choice; that man’s activity re­flects a quality lacking in the chemistry of a stone and in the physical principle of the lever. But this trait of man—this capacity for choice—does not release him from the rule of cause and effect, which he can neither veto nor alter. What the capacity for choice means, instead, is that he is there­by enabled, by his own choice, to act either wisely or unwisely—that is, in either accord or discord with the truths of Natural Law. But once he has made his choice, the inviolate rule of cause and consequence takes over with an iron hand of justice, and renders unto the doer either a prize or a penalty, as the consequence of his choice.

It is important, at this point, to note that morality presumes the existence of choice. One cannot be truly moral except as there exists the option of being immoral, and except as he selects the moral rather than the immoral option. In the admirable words of Thomas Davidson: "That which is not free is not responsible, and that which is not responsible is not moral." This means that free choice is a prerequisite of morality.

If I surrender my freedom of choice to a ruler—by vote or otherwise—I am still subject to the superior rule of Natural Law or Moral Law. Although I am subservient to the ruler who or­ders me to violate Truth, I must still pay the penalty for the evil or foolish acts in which I engage at his command.

Under this postulate—that there is a force in the universe which no mortal can alter—ignorance of Moral Law is no excuse to those who violate it, because Moral Law rules over the consequences of ig­norance the same as over the conse­quences of wisdom. This is true whether the ignorance is accom­panied by good intentions or not; whether it is carried out under the name of some religion or the Wel­fare State or whatnot.

What, then, is the content of a basic moral code? What are the rules which, if followed, will better the condition of men?

Moral Postulate No. 3

The Golden Rule and the Deca­logue, and their near equivalents in other great religions, provide the basic moral codes for man’s conduct. The Golden Rule and the Decalogue are basic moral guides having priority over all other con­siderations. It is these which have guided the conduct of man in all progressive civilizations. With their violation has come the down­fall of individuals and civilizations.

Some may prefer as a moral code something like: "Do as God would have us do," or "Do as Jesus would have done." But such as these, alone, are not adequate guides to conduct unless they are explained further, or unless they serve as symbolic of a deeper specific meaning. What would God have us do? What would Jesus have done? Only by adding some guides such as the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments can we know the answers to these questions.

The Golden Rule—the rule of refraining from imposing on oth­ers what I would not have them impose on me—means that moral conduct for one is moral conduct for another; that there is not one set of moral guides for Jones and another for Smith; that the con­cept of equality under Moral Law is a part of morality itself. This alone is held by many to be an adequate moral code. But in spite of its importance as part of the moral code of conduct in this respect, the Golden Rule is not, it seems to me, sufficient unto itself. It is no more sufficient than the mere admonition, "Do good," which leaves undefined what is good and what is evil. The mur­derer, who at the time of the crime felt justified in committing it, can quote the Golden Rule in self-defense: "If I had done what that so-and-so did, and had acted as he acted, I would consider it fair and proper for someone to murder me." And likewise the thief may argue that if he were like the one he has robbed, or if he were a bank harboring all those "ill-gotten gains," he would consider himself the proper object of robbery. Some claim that justi­fication for the Welfare State, too, is to be found in the Golden Rule. So, in addition to the Golden Rule, further rules are needed as guides for moral conduct.

The Decalogue embodies the needed guides on which the Gold­en Rule can function. But within the Ten Commandments, the two with which we shall be especially concerned herein are: (1) Thou shalt not steal. (2) Thou shalt not covet.

The Decalogue serves as a guide to moral conduct which, if violated, brings upon the violator a com­mensurate penalty. There may be other guides to moral conduct which one might wish to add to the Golden Rule and the Deca­logue, as supplements or substi­tutes. But they serve as the basis on which others are built. Their essence, in one form or another, seems to run through all great religions. That, I believe, is not a happenstance, because if we em­brace them as a guide to our conduct, our conduct will be both morally and economically sound. This third postulate embodies what are judged to be the princi­ples which should guide individual conduct as infallibly as the com­pass should guide the mariner. "Being practical" is a common popular guide to conduct; princi­ples are scorned, if not forgotten. Those who scorn principles assert that it is foolish to concern our­selves with them; that it is hope­less to expect their complete adop­tion by everyone. But does this fact make a principle worthless? Are we to conclude that the moral code against murder is worthless because of its occasional violation? Or that the compass is worthless because not everyone pursues to the ultimate the direction which it indicates? Or that the Law of Gravity is made impractical or inoperative by someone walking off a cliff and meeting death be­cause of his ignorance of this principle? No. A principle remains a principle in spite of its being ignored or violated—or even un­known. A principle, like a compass, gives one a better sense of direc­tion, if he is wise enough to know and to follow its guidance.

Moral Postulate No. 4

Moral principles are not sub­ject to compromise. The Golden Rule and the Decalogue, as repre­senting moral principles, are pre­cise and strict. They are not a code of convenience. A principle can be broken, but it cannot be bent.

If the Golden Rule and the Decalogue were to be accepted as a code of convenience, to be laid aside or modified whenever "ne­cessity seems to justify it" (when­ever, that is, one desires to act in violation of them), they would not then be serving as moral guides. A moral guide which is to be fol­lowed only when one would so conduct himself anyhow, in its absence, has no effect on his con­duct, and is not a guide to him at all.

The unbending rule of a moral principle can be illustrated by some simple applications. Accord­ing to one Commandment, it is wholly wrong to steal all your neighbor’s cow; it is also wholly wrong to steal half your neigh­bor’s cow, not half wrong to steal half your neighbor’s cow. Robbing a bank is wrong in principle, whether the thief makes off with a million dollars or a hundred dol­lars or one cent. A person can rob a bank of half its money, but in the sense of moral principle there is no way to half rob a bank; you either rob it or you do not rob it.

In like manner, the Law of Gravity is precise and indivisible. One either acts in harmony with this law or he does not. There is no sense in saying that one has only half observed the Law of Gravity if he falls off a cliff only half as high as another cliff off which he might have fallen.

Moral laws are strict. They rule without flexibility. They know not the language of man; they are not conversant with him in the sense of compassion. They employ no man-made devices like the sus­pended sentence—"Guilty" or "Not guilty" is the verdict of judgment by a moral principle.

As moral guides, the Golden Rule and the Decalogue are not evil and dangerous things, like a painkilling drug, to be taken in cautious moderation, if at all. Presuming them to be the basic guides of what is right and good for civilized man, one cannot over­indulge in them. Good need not be practiced in moderation.

Moral Postulate No. 5

Good ends cannot be attained by evil means. As stated in the second postulate, there is a force controlling cause and consequence which no mortal can alter, in spite of any position of influence or power which he may hold. Cause and consequence are linked in­separably.

An evil begets an evil conse­quence; a good, a good conse­quence. Good intentions cannot alter this relationship. Nor canignorance of the consequence change its form. Nor can words. For one to say, after committing an evil act, "I’m sorry, I made a mistake," changes not one iota the consequence of the act; repent­ance, at best, can serve only to prevent repetition of the evil act, and perhaps assure the repenter a more preferred place in a Here­after. But repentance alone does not bring back to life a murdered person, nor return the loot to the one who was robbed. Nor does it, I believe, fully obliterate the scars of evil on the doer himself.

Nor does saying, "He told me to do it," change the consequence of an evil act into a good one. For an evildoer to assert, "But it was the law of my government, the decree of my ruler," fails to de­throne God or to frustrate the rule of Natural Law.

The belief that good ends are attainable through evil means is one of the most vicious concepts of the ages. The political blue­print, The Prince, written around the year 1500 by Machiavelli, out­lined this notorious doctrine. And for the past century it has been part and parcel of the kit of tools used by the Marxian communist-socialists to mislead people. Its use probably is as old as the conflict between temptation and con­science, because it affords a seem­ingly rational and pleasant detour around the inconveniences of one’s conscience.

We know how power-hungry persons have gained political con­trol over others by claiming that they somehow possess a special dispensation from God to do good through the exercise of means which our moral code identifies as evil. Thus arises a multiple stand­ard of morals. It is the device by which immoral persons attempt to discredit the Golden Rule and the Decalogue, and make them inoper­ative.

Yet if one will stop to ponder the question just a little, he must surely see the unimpeachable logic of this postulate: Good ends can­not be attained by evil means. This is because the end pre-exists in the means, just as in the biological field we know that the seed of continued likeness pre-exists in the parent. Likewise in the moral realm, there is a similar moral re­production wherein like begets like. This precludes the possibility of evil means leading to good ends. Good begets good; evil, evil. Im­moral means cannot beget a good end, any more than snakes can beget roses.

The concept of the Welfare State can now be tested against the background of these five postu­lates: (1) Harmony exists be­tween moral principles and wise economic practices. (2) There is a Universal Law of Cause and Effect, even in the areas of morals and economics. (3) A basic moral code exists in the form of the Golden Rule and the Decalogue. (4) These moral guides are of an uncompromising nature. (5) Good ends are attainable only through good means.

Moral Right to Private Property

Not all the Decalogue, as has been said, is directly relevant to the issue of the Welfare State. Its program is an economic one, and the only parts of the moral code which are directly and specifically relevant are these: (1) Thou shalt not steal. (2) Thou shalt not covet.

Steal what? Covet what? Pri­vate property, of course. What else could I steal from you, or covet of what is yours? I cannot steal from you or covet what you do not own as private property. As Dr. D. Elton Trueblood has aptly said: "Stealing is evil be­cause ownership is good." Thus we find that the individual’s right to private property is an unstated assumption which underlies the Decalogue. Otherwise these two admonitions would be empty of either purpose or meaning.

The right to have and to hold private property is not to be con­fused with the recovery of stolen property. If someone steals your car, it is still—by this moral right—your car rather than his; and for you to repossess it is merely to bring its presence back into harmony with its ownership. The same reasoning applies to the re­covery of equivalent value if the stolen item itself is no longer returnable; and it applies to the recompense for damage done to one’s own property by trespass or other willful destruction of pri­vate property. These means of protecting the possession of pri­vate property, and its use, are part of the mechanisms used to protect the moral right to private property.

Another point of possible con­fusion has to do with coveting the private property of another. There is nothing morally wrong in the admiration of something that is the property of another. Such admiration may be a stimulus to work for the means with which to buy it, or one like it. The moral consideration embodied in this Commandment has to do with thoughts and acts leading to the violation of the other Command­ment, though still short of actual theft.

The moral right to private prop­erty, therefore, is consistent with the moral codes of all the great religious beliefs. It is likely that a concept of this type was in the mind of David Hume, the moral philosopher, who believed that the right to own private property is the basis for the modern concept of justice in morals.

Nor is it surprising to discover that two of history’s leading ex­ponents of the Welfare State con­cept found it necessary to de­nounce this moral code completely. Marx said: "Religion is the opium of the people." And Lenin said: "Any religious idea, any idea of a ‘good God’… is an abominably nasty thing." Of course they would have to say these things about religious beliefs. This is because the moral code of these great re­ligions, as we have seen, strikes at the very heart of their immoral economic scheme. Not only does their Welfare State scheme deny the moral right to private proper­ty, but it also denies other under­lying bases of the moral code, as we shall see.

Moral Right to Work and to Have

Stealing and coveting are con­demned in the Decalogue as viola­tions of the basic moral code. It follows, then, that the concepts of stealing and coveting presume the right to private property, which then automatically becomes an im­plied part of the basic moral code. But where does private property come from?

Private property comes from what one has saved out of what he has produced, or has earned as a productive employee of another person. One may also, of course, obtain private property through gifts and inheritances; but in the absence of theft, precluded by this moral code, gifts come from those who have produced or earned what is given. So the right of private property, and also the right to have whatever one has produced or earned, underlies the admoni­tions in the Decalogue about steal­ing and coveting. Nobody has the moral right to take by force from the producer anything he has pro­duced or earned, for any purpose whatsoever—even for a good pur­pose, as he thinks of it.

If one is free to have what he has produced and earned, it then follows that he also has the moral right to be free to choose his work. He should be free to choose his work, that is, so long as he does not violate the moral code in doing so by using in his produc­tive efforts the property of an­other person through theft or trespass. Otherwise he is free to work as he will, at what he will, and to change his work when he will. Nobody has the moral right to force him to work when he does not choose to do so, or to force him to remain idle when he wishes to work, or to force him to work at a certain job when he wishes to work at some other available job. The belief of the master that his judgment is superior to that of the slave or vassal, and that con­trol is "for his own good," is not a moral justification for the idea of the Welfare State.

We are told that some mis­doings occurred in a Garden of Eden, which signify the evil in man. And I would concede that no mortal man is totally wise and good. But it is my belief that peo­ple generally, up and down the road, are intuitively and predom­inantly moral. By this I mean that if persons are confronted with a clear and simple decision involv­ing basic morals, most of us will conduct ourselves morally. Most everyone, without being a learned scholar of moral philosophy, seems to have a sort of innate sense of what is right, and tends to do what is moral unless and until he becomes confused by circum­stances which obscure the moral issue that is involved.

Immorality Is News

The content of many magazines and newspapers with widespread circulations would seem to con­tradict my belief that most people are moral most of the time. They headline impressive and unusual events on the seamy side of life, which might lead one to believe that these events are characteris­tic of everyday human affairs. It is to be noted, however, that their content is in sharp contrast to the local, home-town daily or weekly with its emphasis on the folksy reports of the comings and goings of friends. Why the difference? Those with large circulations find that the common denominator of news interest in their audience is events on the rare, seamy side of life; widely scattered millions are not interested in knowing that in Centerville, Sally attended Susie’s birthday party last Tuesday.

It is the rarity of evil conduct that makes it impressive news for millions. Papers report the event of yesterday’s murder, theft, or assault, together with the name, address, age, marital status, re­ligious affiliation, and other de­scriptive features of the guilty party because these are the events of the day that are unusual enough to be newsworthy. What would be the demand for a newspaper which published all the names and iden­tifications of all the persons who yesterday failed to murder, steal, or assault? If it were as rare for persons to act morally as it is now rare for them to act immorally, the then rare instances of moral conduct would presumably become the news of the day. So we may conclude that evil is news because it is so rare; that being moral is not news because it is so prevalent.

But does not this still prove the dominance of evil in persons? Or, since magazines and newspapers print what finds a ready reader­ship in the market, does not that prove the evilness of those who read of evil? I believe not. It is more like the millions who attend zoos, and view with fascination the monkeys and the snakes; these spectators are not themselves mon­keys or snakes, nor do they want to be; they are merely expressing an interest in the unusual, with­out envy. Do not most of us read of a bank robbery or a fire with­out wishing to be robbers or ar­sonists?

What else dominates the news­paper space, and gives us our dominant impressions about the quality of persons outside our circle of immediate personal ac­quaintance? It is mostly about the problems of political power; about those who have power or are grasping for power, diluted with a little about those who are fighting against power. Lord Acton said: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts ab­solutely." This dictum seems to be true, as history has proved and is proving over and over again. So we can then translate it into a description of much of the news of the day: News is heavily load­ed with items about persons who, as Lord Acton said, are either cor­rupt or are in the process of be­coming more corrupt.

If one is not careful in expos­ing himself to the daily news—if he fails to keep his balance and forgets how it contrasts with all those persons who comprise his family, his neighbors, his busi­ness associates, and his friends—he is likely to conclude falsely that people are predominantly immoral. This poses a serious problem for historians and historical novelists to the extent that their source of information is the news of a for­mer day—especially if they do not interpret it with caution.

To Steal or Not to Steal

As a means of specifically veri­fying my impression about the basic, intuitive morality of per­sons, I would pose this test of three questions:

1.         Would you steal your neigh­bor’s cow to provide for your pres­ent needs? Would you steal it for any need reasonably within your expectation or comprehension? It should be remembered that, in­stead of stealing his cow, you may explore with your neighbor the possible solution to your case of need; you might arrange to do some sort of work for him, or to borrow from him for later repay­ment, or perhaps even plead with him for an outright gift.

2.         Would you steal your neigh­bor’s cow to provide for a known case of another neighbor’s need?

3.         Would you try to induce a third party to do the stealing of the cow, to be given to this needy neighbor? And do you believe that you would likely succeed in induc­ing him to engage in the theft?

I believe that the almost uni­versal answer to all these ques­tions would be: "No." Yet the facts of the case are that all of us are participating in theft ev­ery day. How? By supporting the actions of the collective agent which does the stealing as part of the Welfare State program already far advanced in the United States. By this device, Peter is robbed to "benefit" Paul, with the acquiescence if not the active sup­port of all of us as taxpayers and citizens. We not only participate in the stealing—and share in the division of the loot—but as its victims we also meekly submit to the thievery.

Isn’t it a strange thing that if you select any three fundamental­ly moral persons and combine them into a collective for the doing of good, they are liable at once to become three immoral persons in their collective activities? The moral principles with which they seem to be intuitively endowed are somehow lost in the confusing processes of the collective. None of the three would steal the cow from one of his fellow members as an individual, but collectively they all steal cows from each oth­er. The reason is, I believe, that the Welfare State—a confusing collective device which is believed by many to be moral and right­eous—has been falsely labeled. This false label has caused the belief that the Welfare State can do no wrong, that it cannot commit immoral acts, especially if those acts are approved or tolerated by more than half of the people, "democratically."

This sidetracking of moral con­duct is like the belief of an earlier day: The king can do no wrong. In its place we have now substi­tuted this belief: The majority can do no wrong. It is as though one were to assert that a sheep which has been killed by a pack of wolves is not really dead, pro­vided that more than half of the wolves have participated in the killing. All these excuses for im­moral conduct are, of course, non­sense. They are nonsense when tested against the basic moral code of the five postulates. Thiev­ery is thievery, whether done by one person alone or by many in a pack—or by one who has been se­lected by the members of the pack as their agent.

"Thou Shalt Not Steal, Except…."

It seems that wherever the Wel­fare State is involved, the moral precept, "Thou shalt not steal," becomes altered to say: "Thou shalt not steal, except for what thou deemest to be a worthy cause, where thou thinkest that thou canst use the loot for a bet­ter purpose than wouldst the vic­tim of the theft."

And the precept about covetous­ness, under the administration of the Welfare State, seems to be­come: "Thou shalt not covet, ex­cept what thou wouldst have from thy neighbor who owns it."

Both of these alterations of the Decalogue result in complete abro­gation of the two moral admoni­tions—theft and covetousness—which deal directly with economic matters. Not even the motto, "In God we trust," stamped by the government on money taken by force in violation of the Decalogue to pay for the various programs of the Welfare State, can trans­form this immoral act into a moral one.

Herein lies the principal moral and economic danger facing us in these critical times: Many of us, albeit with good intentions but in a hurry to do good because of the urgency of the occasion, have be­come victims of moral schizophre­nia. While we are good and right­eous persons in our individual conduct in our home community and in our basic moral code, we have become thieves and coveters in the collective activities of the Welfare State in which we par­ticipate and which many of us extol.

Typical of our times is what usually happens when there is a major catastrophe, destroying pri­vate property or injuring many persons. The news circulates, and generates widespread sympathy for the victims. So what is done about it? Through the mechan­isms of the collective, the good in­tentions take the form of reaching into the other fellow’s pocket for the money with which to make a gift. The Decalogue says, in effect: ‘Reach into your own pocket—not into your neighbor’s pocket—to finance your acts of compassion; good cannot be done with the loot that comes from theft." The pick­pocket, in other words, is a thief even though he puts the proceeds in the collection box on Sunday, or uses it to buy bread for the poor. Being an involuntary Good Samaritan is a contradiction in terms.

When thievery is resorted to for the means with which to do good, compassion is killed. Those who would do good with the loot then lose their capacity for self-reliance, the same as a thief’s self-reliance atrophies rapidly when he subsists on food that is stolen. And those who are repeat­edly robbed of their property si­multaneously lose their capacity for compassion. The chronic vic­tims of robbery are under great temptation to join the gang and share in the loot. They come to feel that the voluntary way of life will no longer suffice for needs; that to subsist, they must rob and be robbed. They abhor violence, of course, but approve of robbing by "peaceful means." It is this peculiar immoral distinction which many try to draw between the Welfare State of Russia and that of Britain: The Russian brand of violence, they believe, is bad; that of Britain, good. This version of an altered Commandment would be: "Thou shalt not steal, except from nonresisting victims."

Under the Welfare State, this process of theft has spread from its use in alleviating catastrophe, to anticipating catastrophe, to con­juring up catastrophe, to the "need" for luxuries for those who have them not. The acceptance of the practice of thus violating the Decalogue has become so wide­spread that if the Sermon on the Mount were to appear in our day in the form of an address or pub­lication, it would most likely be scorned as "reactionary, and not objective on the realistic problems of the day." Forgotten, it seems, by many who so much admire Christ, is the fact that he did not resort to theft in acquiring the means of his material benefactions. Nor did he advocate theft for any purpose—even for those uses most dear to his beliefs.

Progress of Moral Decay

Violation of the two economic Commandments—theft and covet­ousness—under the program of the Welfare State, will spread to the other Commandments; it will destroy faith in, and observance of, our entire basic moral code. We have seen this happen in many countries. It seems to have been happening here. We note how im­morality, as tested by the two economic Commandments, has been spreading in high places. Moral decay has already spread to such an extent that violations of all other parts of the Decalogue, and of the Golden Rule, have be­come accepted as commonplace—even proper and worthy of emu­lation.

And what about the effective­ness of a crime investigation con­ducted under a Welfare State gov­ernment? We may question the presumed capability of such a gov­ernment—as distinct from certain investigators who are admittedly moral individuals—to judge these moral issues. We may also ques­tion the wisdom of bothering to investigate the picayune amounts of private gambling, willingly en­gaged in by the participants with their own money, when untold bil­lions are being taken from the people repeatedly by the investi­gating agent to finance its own immoral program. This is a cer­tain loss, not even a gamble.

Once a right to collective loot­ing has been substituted for the right of each person to have what­ever he has produced, it is not at all surprising to find the official dispensers deciding that it is right for them to loot the loot—for a "worthy" purpose, of course. Then we have the loot used by the in­siders to buy votes so that they may stay in power; we have polit­ical pork barrels and lobbying for the contents; we have political patronage for political loyalty—even for loyalty to immoral con­duct; we have deep freezers and mink coats given to political or personal favorites, and bribes for the opportunity to do privileged business with those who hold and dispense the loot. Why not? If it is right to loot, it is also right to loot the loot. If the latter is wrong, so also is the former.

If we are to accept Lord Acton’s axiom about the corrupting effect of power—and also the reasoning of Professor Hayek in his book, The Road to Serfdom, about why the worst get to the top in a Wel­fare State—then corruption and low moral standards in high polit­ical places should not be surpris­ing. But when the citizens come more and more to laugh and joke about it, rather than to remove the crown of power and dismantle the throne, a nation is well on its way to moral rot, reminiscent of the fall of the Roman Empire and others.

Nor should we be surprised that there is some juvenile delinquency where adult delinquency is so ram­pant, and where the absence of any basic moral code among adults precludes even the possibility of their effectively teaching a moral code that will prevent delinquency in the young. If, as adults, we practice collective thievery through the Welfare State, and advocate it as right and good, how can we question the logic of the youths who likewise form gangs and rob the candy store? If demonstration is the best teacher, we adults must start with the practice of morality ourselves, rather than hiring some presumed specialist to study the causes of similar conduct among the youngsters; their conduct is the symptom, not the disease.

Thievery and covetousness will persist and grow, and the basic morals of ourselves, our children, and our children’s children will continue to deteriorate unless we destroy the virus of immorality that is embedded in the concept of the Welfare State; unless we come to understand how the moral code of individual conduct must apply also to collective conduct, because the collective is composed solely of individuals. Moral indi­vidual conduct cannot persist in the face of collective immorality under the Welfare State program. One side or the other of the dou­ble standard of morals will have to be surrendered.

Appendix: The Welfare State Idea

The concept of the Welfare State appears in our everyday life in the form of a long list of labels and programs such as: Social Securi­ty; parity or fair prices; reason­able profits; the living wage; the TVA, MVA, CVA; Federal aid to states, to education, to bankrupt corporations; and so on.

But all these names and details of the Welfare State program tend only to obscure its essential na­ture. They are well-sounding labels for a laudable objective—the re­lief of distressing need, preven­tion of starvation, and the like. But how best is starvation and distress to be prevented? It is well, too, that prices, profits, and wages be fair and equitable. But what is to be the test of fairness and equity? Laudable objectives alone do not assure the success of any program; a fair appraisal of the program must include an anal­ysis of the means of its attain­ment.

The Welfare State is a name that has been substituted as a more acceptable one for commu­nism-socialism wherever, as in the United States, these names are in general disrepute.

The Welfare State plan, viewed in full bloom of completeness, is one where the state prohibits the individual from having any right of choice in the conditions and place of his work; it takes owner­ship of the product of his labor; it prohibits private property. All these are done ostensibly to help those whose rights have been taken over by the Welfare State.

But these characteristics of con­trolled employment and confisca­tion of income are not those used in promotion of the idea of the Welfare State. What are usually advertised, instead, are the "ben­efits" of the Welfare State—the grants of food and housing and whatnot—which the state "gives" to the people. But all these "ben­efits" are merely the other side of the forfeited rights to choose one’s own occupation and to keep what­ever one is able to produce. In the same sense that the Welfare State grants benefits, the slave-master grants to his slaves certain allot­ments of food and other economic goods. In fact, slavery might be described as just another form of Welfare State, because of its like­ness in restrictions and "benefits."

Yet the state, as such, produces nothing with which to supply these "benefits." Persons produce everything which the Welfare State takes, before it gives some back as "benefits"; but in the process, the bureaucracy takes its cut. Only by thus confiscating what persons have produced can the Welfare State "satisfy the needs of the people." So, the nec­essary and essential idea of the Welfare State is to control the economic actions of the vassals of the state, to take from pro­ducers what they produce, and to prevent their ever being able to attain economic independence from the state and from their fellow men through ownership of prop­erty.

To whatever extent an individ­ual is still allowed freedom in any of these respects while living un­der a government like the present one in the United States, then to that extent the development of the program of the Welfare State is as yet not fully completed. Or perhaps it is an instance of a temporary grant of freedom by the Welfare State such as when a master allows his slave a day off from work to spend as he likes; but the person who is permitted some freedom by the Welfare State is still a vassal of that state just as a slave is still a slave on his day off from work. 


July 1971

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November 2014

It's been 40 years since F. A. Hayek received his Nobel Prize. His insights, particularly on the distribution of knowledge and the impossibility of economic planning, remain hugely important today. In this issue, we look back on the influence of his work. Max Borders and Craig Biddle debate whether liberty must be defended from one absolute foundation, further reflections on Scottish secession, and how technology is already changing our world for the better--including how robots, despite the unease they cause, will only accelerate this process.
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