A Moral Question for Democrats About Government Financial Aid

Sam has a problem. He has a number of very poor nephews and nieces. He has been working with a charity organization to help them, but the organization needs more funding. So Sam goes out and starts demanding money from his neighbors to give to the charity group. If anyone refuses to contribute, Sam kidnaps that person and locks them in a cage. Though charitable giving is laudable, as is the effort to care for one’s nephews and nieces, almost everyone who hears this story finds Sam’s extortion program morally impermissible. This includes both Democrats and Republicans, and people who believe in a personal moral obligation to donate to charity. Interestingly, however, many of the people who agree on the impermissibility of Sam’s behavior nevertheless support seemingly analogous behavior on the part of a certain other Uncle Sam. Some think it not only permissible but obligatory for the state to coercively seize funds (taxation) to aid the poor (welfare, etc). Of course, the penalty for breaking the law (not paying taxes in this case), is ultimately jail (kidnapping and placing in cage).

This is just one of many activities of government that are generally accepted despite the fact that seemingly analogous behavior would be widely condemned if carried out by anyone else. What gives the government the right to behave in ways that would be wrong for any non-governmental agent? Do moral rules only apply to peasants, or the general populace, and not to those who have joined the peculiar elite gang called “government”? Once a government hires someone, does this impart on that person a magical shield that deflects moral rules? Are not government employees also human persons that must obey moral rules? Is stealing wrong for Sam, but ok for Uncle Sam?

The above argument was mostly copied from political philosopher Mike Huemer.

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