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Thieves and Welfare Staters


Last February a federal court in Richmond sentenced a Roman Catholic priest, Rodney L. Rodis, to five years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering arising out of his embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from church coffers. The state of Virginia has now indicted him for the actual theft of the monies.

While the evidence showed that Rodis had used the money to support a secret wife and three children (Catholic priests are not allowed to marry) and to purchase real estate in his native Philippines, an interesting aspect of the case was the plea that his wife made on his behalf.

According to the New York Times, Rodis’s wife “offered some insight into what became of the embezzled money. In asking for mercy for her husband, Mrs. Rodis wrote that he provided for his parents and that he ‘had also been a surrogate parent to his nieces and nephews. He has sponsored their education through college.’ Funds were used, too, to pay for surgery for a niece who has cancer.”

What if the evidence had conclusively established that Rodis had used all the money to pay for other people’s healthcare costs and educational expenses and that he had not used the money to benefit himself personally? Would that have made a difference? Would that have obviated a criminal indictment and punishment?

Not very likely. Even if Rodis had used the money to help others, most people would say that such altruistic conduct would not legally or morally justify what he had done. The money belonged not to him but to the church. He had no right, either morally or legally, to take the church’s money, even if he was using it to help other people with necessary healthcare and educational expenses. Rodis certainly had the right to ask the church to help his family members, but the church, as the owner of the money, had the right to say either yes or no. Stealing is stealing, no matter how the thief uses the money.

While most people can easily understand such a basic moral principle — that it is wrong to take what doesn’t belong to you even if you use the money for a good cause — they enter into a mental fog when it comes to the socialistic welfare state.

Under the principles of the welfare-state, democratically elected politicians vote to forcibly take money from people in order to give it to other people to help with such things as healthcare and education.

Ironically, people’s attitude toward their politicians is totally different from how they feel about thieves like Rodis. People honor and revere their politicians as well as those federal officials who take the money (e.g., IRS and Social Security Administration) and those who redistribute the money to the needy (e.g., Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, and Department of Education).

Such officials are viewed as noble, selfless people for helping others, despite the fact that, like Rodis, the officials have not used their own money to do good but instead money that has been forcibly taken from others.

The reason that people lose their moral bearings in this process is because they somehow have come to believe that because politicians are democratically elected, that serves as a moral justification for their adoption of a welfare state way of life.

Yet, if democratically elected politicians voted to force everyone to attend church on Sunday, everyone would immediately recognize that democracy has limits and that a person’s religious choices are not properly the subject of majority vote. They just have a difficult time applying that same principle to the choices each person makes — and has the right to make — with his own money.

Under standard welfare-state analysis, Rodis’s mistake was in taking the money directly from the church. What he should have instead done is lobby his congressman to tax people in other congressional districts in order to fund federal healthcare and educational grants for the people in Rodis’s district. That way, people today would be hailing Rodis’s benevolence and goodness rather than treating him as common thief. They would be forgetting that moral principles are immutable and, thus, apply equally to government officials and common thieves.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.