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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Charity versus the Welfare State

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Christmastime helps to remind us of how the welfare-state way of life contradicts the principles of a free society.

At Christmas, people give gifts to each other. Many people also use this period as an opportunity to do special acts of kindness toward others. People make donations to churches and other charitable or educational organizations.

What characterizes all this activity is that it is entirely voluntary. People give or extend a helping hand to others because they choose to. No one is forcing them to do so. There is no gun pointed at their heads and someone saying: Give or else.

Does everyone give gifts to others or donate money to worthy causes at Christmastime? No, but that’s what freedom is all about — the right to say no. A good example is when the cashier at a grocery store asks, “Would you like to donate one dollar to such and such cause?” and a customer responds with, “No, thank you.”

The welfare state is founded on an opposite principle — the principle of force. With welfare-state programs, people are forced to care for others and to donate to others. That’s because welfare-state programs are government programs, which are based on force and funded through force.

Consider, for example, the crown jewel of the welfare state, Social Security. While many seniors have erroneously convinced themselves that they are getting their money back that they “put in” to the system, the reality is completely different. Social Security is nothing more than a plain old welfare-state program, meaning that seniors are receiving money that is being forcibly taken out of the income of working people.

What about the tax monies that seniors paid over the years through the so-called FICA tax? That money was spent when it was received. It was used to pay Social Security and other welfare-state recipients, fund the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, pay the salaries of DEA agents, and sustain the entire national-security establishment.

Contrary to what many seniors have convinced themselves, there has never been a retirement fund in which working people deposit their monies for use when they retire. Instead, the monies received through FICA taxes have always been spent upon receipt.

Where does force come into play? With the taxes. Let’s suppose that tens of thousands of working people suddenly write the federal government and say, “We hereby permanently waive the legal right to receive Social Security when we reach the age of 65. Therefore, we are no longer going to pay any more FICA taxes.”

Will the federal government let that happen? Of course not. When it comes to the payment of taxes, there is no choice or voluntarism involved. Every citizen is required to pay his taxes … or else. The “else” consists of placing and foreclosing liens on homes, businesses, real estate, and personal property. The “else” can also consist of jail time.

Notice how different mandated welfare is from voluntary charity. If a person refuses to donate to his church, the minister cannot place liens on his property or incarcerate him. With a welfare-state program, the government wields the authority — and the power — to collect the taxes that fund the welfare state as well as the warfare state.

Since the welfare state is founded on force, it stands to reason that it has nothing to do with care and compassion, two traits we generally associate with Christmas. That’s because voluntarism and force connote opposite concepts.

Let’s assume that you’re a millionaire and that one day I find you at an ATM. I pull a gun and order you to withdraw $25,000 from your bank account and give the money to me. You comply. It’s easy to see that my actions are based on force because I’ve got a gun to your head that I’m ready to use. Donate the money to me … or else.

But let’s suppose I take the money and give it to poor children in the inner city, to local churches, and to help poor people get cancer treatments.

Does that change the equation? I think most people would say no. They would say that I’m still a thief, regardless of how I used the money. They would want me prosecuted and punished.

But suppose I am willing to give you partial credit for my goodness. Since it was your money, we could share the limelight for how good we have been to the poor and needy.

Once again, I think that most people would say that that makes no difference at all. They would say that I’m still a thief, notwithstanding the fact that I did good things with the money I took from you.

It’s easy to see that in this example, I do not stand in the same category as the person who donates money to his church or to some scholarship fund. He is voluntarily choosing to make those donations with his own money. I, on the other hand, am donating money that has been forcibly and immorally taken from you through robbery or theft.

The theft example is no different when it comes to Social Security and every other welfare-state program. Under the welfare state way of life, the government uses force to take money from people to whom it belongs in order to give it to people to whom it does not belong. If people resist through non-payment of taxes, they have their properties seized or they’re put in jail. Again, that’s different from the people who are voluntarily helping out others with their own money.

Who are the caring and compassionate people when it comes to Social Security? IRS or Social Security bureaucrats, who collect the money? The president, who enforces the law? Congress, which enacted the law? The judiciary, which upholds the law? The taxpayer, whose money is forcibly taken from him and given to Social Security recipients?

Actually, none of the above. That’s because care and compassion have meaning only within the context of voluntary and willing choices, not actions taken through the use of force or the threat of force.

What about the fact that Social Security has been democratically enacted by a majority of Congress?

Well, can the majority sanction what is basically an immoral act simply by voting to adopt it as part of the governmental structure? What if the majority enacted a law that required everyone to attend church on Sunday? Or a law that prohibited people from reading books that promoted communism?

Wouldn’t most of us oppose such laws? Wouldn’t we say that fundamental rights are not subject to majority vote? Wouldn’t we say that the government should lack the authority to interfere, control, or regulate a person’s religious or intellectual choices?

Why then don’t we say the same with respect to what a person chooses to do with his own money? Why not separate charity and the state, in the same way that our ancestors fortunately separated religion and the state and speech and the state?

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.