June 10, 1998
To the Editor:
In its editorial of 6-07-98, The Gazette claims that we should pass the local option sales tax for the "public good." Other proponents -- and, indeed, many opponents -- argue for or against this tax on utilitarian grounds, i.e., whether these projects are "good" or "desirable" or "useful." All of these discussions, however, approach this issue from the wrong perspective.
As citizens, consider your answers to the following questions:
1. If you wanted something your neighbor owned but did not want to give up, would it be right for you to go to his house and force him to give it to you?
2. Would it be right for you and a group of your neighbors to go over to his house and force him to give up that property you desired?
3. Would it be right if you hired a gang of men to force your neighbor to surrender his property and then hand it to you?
If you answered "no" to those questions, then how can your actions suddenly become right and proper if you and a majority of your neighbors vote to have some politicians force your neighbor to give up his property even when he does not want to do so? If the first three cases are examples of stealing, how is theft magically transformed into a moral act by voting for it?
Simply because a group of people can vote and impose their will on a minority does not make their action morally valid. Might does not make right. In our constitutional republic, there are certain issues which are supposed to lie outside the proper realm of voting. That's what the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were designed to ensure. The tyranny of the majority is no less immoral than that of a minority. Unfortunately, our society has strayed far from that moral vision.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "...a wise and frugal government [is one] which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which 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..."
There is no "public good" beyond the good of the private individuals who make up that public. In today's world, however, the "public good" has, in reality, come to mean that some individuals benefit at the expense of other individuals. Money for the "public sector" can only come from private individuals who have earned it. Too many people today feel no compunction in taking income from those who do not wish to surrender it.
In a truly civic community, all interactions -- and the only moral ones -- among law-abiding citizens are voluntary in nature. In a truly civic community, no one initiates coercion against his neighbors for whatever reason. In a truly civic community, everyone respects the moral autonomy of all other peaceful citizens.
All the projects touted for this tax may be worthwhile and useful. Even if this were true, however, it would not justify forcing people to finance projects you cannot peacefully persuade them to support. The basic moral principle that "the ends do not justify the means" is evaded by all those who want to call upon government to steal what they cannot otherwise obtain by consent from their neighbors. Some of the worst horrors in history have been committed by those unafraid to impose their visions for society upon those who would resist what is done to them "for their own good."
To paraphrase the economist, Dr. Walter Williams, "I'll keep my money. You keep your money. If you disagree, what part of your money do I deserve and why?"
Though politicians seem to have forgotten the fact, involuntary servitude and slavery were outlawed by our Constitution long ago. Despite those who seek to steal ever greater portions of others' wealth, not one cent, nor one minute of my life represented by that wealth belongs to them. Private property rights are the cornerstone of freedom. Without them, liberty ceases to exist. A slave is someone whose production and wealth is confiscated and disposed of by a master. Yet there is not and can never be a "right to enslave"...not even a little bit.
If the "public good" is to have any valid meaning, it can only mean respecting the right to life and property of each and every citizen in each and every aspect of his existence. We need our government officials to return to the old view of community as Jefferson and his contemporaries envisioned it. A community where each citizen views his neighbors as either a source for loot or as a threat to his security is no community, at all, but a bitter, embattled war of all against all.
An honest person does not seek to enrich himself at the expense of his fellows. A moral person does not claim that his desires or his needs establish a claim on the time, wealth, or property of a neighbor. A person of integrity does not abhor extortion on an individual level while encouraging it on a social plane.
Before voting on this "optional" sales tax, I would like all citizens to remember: It's your responsibility. Your decisions. Your money. Your life. Hold onto them.
Your life belongs to you.
Vote "no" on June 23.