Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, December 14, 2012.
For the purpose of illustration I am going to create for you two fictional neighbors. The first is named Maudine Poovey. Maudine is a sweet old soul who, ten years ago at the age of 68, buried her beloved husband Herb, with whom she had shared nearly 48 years.
Maudine’s passion has always been working outdoors on her lawn and landscape and even after Herb died, Maudine kept her landscape as neat as a pin.
But now at age 78, sweet old Maudine can’t work in the yard anymore. Her arthritis bothers her so and she can no longer use her hands very well. What’s worse for Maudine is that she can no longer afford the young man that mowed her yard every week. That’s because her retirement assets suffered some setbacks in the past few years. That, taken together with the fact that the nest egg that she and Herb worked a lifetime to put away doesn’t provide much income these days, has reduced Maudine to living pretty much hand-to-mouth. Low interest rates may help with financing the federal deficit, but low rates punish people who live off what they have saved.
So Maudine is alone, financially strapped and getting old. Her yard is becoming overgrown and now looks every bit as bad as it once looked perfect.
This is where we meet your second neighbor. Her name is Hillary Gooddeed. Hillary decided that the whole neighborhood should get together and help Maudine. Toward that end, and at Hillary’s urging, someone went in to your garage and helped themselves to your lawnmower, string trimmer and leaf blower for the stated purpose of cleaning up Maudine’s yard.
You, upon finding out that your lawn equipment has been up and taken, get plenty ticked off about it. That’s when neighbor Hillary swells up in self-righteousness to put you in your place. “How selfish of you,” says Hillary. “How can you be so insensitive to poor Maudine? For that matter, why do you even need your own lawn equipment in the first place?,” she goes on. “You can afford to hire someone to take care of your landscape for you. Maudine can’t.”
So here’s the question. Is it immoral for you to object to the confiscation of your property even if for the benefit of someone in need; or is it immoral for someone to seize your property? Did they steal your lawnmower? Or do you have an obligation to surrender it?
In this simple little story lies the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals with respect to the ongoing argument over tax rates. Conservatives believe in the sanctity of individual property rights, including the right to accumulate wealth and to dispose of it as the individual sees fit. Liberals believe that those who are well off should be compelled to forfeit wealth for the greater good. No one in this story disagrees that your lawnmower was confiscated just as no one disagrees that taxes are confiscatory.
The difference is that liberals believe that such confiscation is justified (look at poor Maudine). Conservatives believe that confiscation is by its nature unjust (Maudine’s situation is an entirely separate issue). Conservatives believe that taking someone’s property, no matter how noble the stated purpose, is stealing.
What liberals overlook in forming their arguments on behalf of Maudine is the fact that history has shown that Maudine does better when individual property rights are respected than she does when they’re not. People who don’t have to fight to hang on to what they’ve earned are by their nature more generous. The United States has more purely voluntary, non-profit agencies dedicated to helping the world’s Maudines than any other nation on Earth. Such is made possible by the generosity that naturally flows from people who are free to create wealth and free then to direct that wealth as they see fit. There was very little charity in Soviet Russia.
What those who would help Maudine fail to understand is that if too much wealth is forcibly confiscated, Maudine’s plight will be worse. Not only will no one be willing to help her, no one will be capable.