I was stirred to write this in response to a post on Facebook in which Jimmy Carter was quoted as saying, “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying that you want a country based on Christian values, because you don’t.”
Let me begin by saying I know that there are people with genuine needs and there is a place for government action and help. But Jimmy Carter’s statement is not true because it is too simplistic and does not accurately reflect conservative philosophy. It fails to acknowledge the various aspects of the issue.
Frederick Bastiat in his book “The Law,” which was written around 1849 against the rise of socialism in France, stated that the socialist incorrectly presumes and preaches that someone who is opposed to the government doing a certain thing is against the thing being done at all. Conservatives are not against helping people. They are against the inefficient, wasteful and ineffective way the government does it.
There is an old saying that says “you get what you pay for.” When the government starts doling out money, the crowd gathers and grows. The other thing is that government aid does not lift people out of poverty, but actually keeps them there and passes it on down to their children. If you think government taking care of people’s every need will lift them out of poverty, just look at the native American Indian reservations. People who are dependent on government usually stay dependent and poor.
It would be different if the government could actually help and lift people out of their misery. But instead, you simply see an increase of those being supported by government.
The other problem is that much of the so-called compassion and aid to the needy comes from a redistribution of the wealth philosophy cloaked in the skin of “compassion.” To redistribute the wealth you have to take it from someone. If the liberal socialist accuses me of greed because I would like to enjoy and keep the hard-earned fruit of my labor (after paying reasonable taxes), then I could accuse them of theft because they want to take from me. If the conservative is greedy, then the socialist is a thief.
The cry of the French revolution was “Fraternity, Equality and Liberty.” But the problem is that you cannot have liberty and equality together in the absolute sense. They work against each other. To be equal men cannot be free. If men are free they will not be equal. By that I mean that the intelligent, the fortunate, the diligent, and the healthy will do well. Some people will labor and find ways to produce wealth. Some will excel, some will do OK, and others will struggle, and some will be poor, some will fail. But they will be free and have equal opportunity to invest themselves and produce or not produce.
Men can only be equal (in the egalitarian sense) if you take away their freedom and force them to be equal. Historically, communist countries have professed to being about equality. But history proves they have to do it with the gun and with force. And they end up with an elite dictatorship that runs and controls everything including what the people can believe or think. They end up with a rich and powerful ruling class, and a large population of masses who are equal and poor.
Communism and socialism, if given full reign, do two things that guarantee poverty and lack. These two things will cause people to quit producing and bring a nation to poverty. First of all, if you provide everything a man needs, he will quit producing. Why do I need to work and “break my back in hard labor” if the government will take care of me. Secondly, if I tell a man that he makes more money than he needs and that I must take it from him and distribute it to others who need it, then eventually that man will work to produce only what he needs. He will not spend more hours earning money that the government will take from him. People quit producing when you take what they produce. They will quit producing when you provide everything they need. The end result is general poverty and lack.
This principle is what happened in Russia and the eastern-block European countries. I passed through Berlin before the wall came down and witnessed the stark contrast between communist East Berlin and the free West Berlin. West Berlin with its freedom was prosperous and lit up like a Christmas tree with all the stores brimming with the prosperity produced by the philosophy of freedom practiced in the west. East Berlin with its government control and government supposedly redistributing the wealth and taking care of everyone was drab, dark, poor, and hungry.
The free-enterprise, conservative says, “A free society produces the wealth and enterprise that raise the standard of living for the general population. The excessive taxation and government control of the socialist society chokes freedom, prosperity, and initiative. Government control is just that—control. By moving away from free enterprise and into socialism, we will lose our freedom.
Communism seems to hate the wealthy, but it needs them. Socialism looks critically on the wealthy producers (whether business or individuals) as somehow bad or evil if they have wealth, or if they want to keep it. But the truth is that socialism cannot survive without those who produce wealth. The problem with socialism (and communism) is that they criticize the goose that lays the golden eggs as being evil while they steal the eggs from the goose as fast as she can lay them.
I am not against taxes. As Christians, we should pay our taxes. But excessive taxation is immoral. In my opinion it is immoral for a government to take 50 percent to 60 percent of a person’s income, no matter how much money he makes.
As a political conservative, I am in favor of helping the needy and the poor. I just don’t believe the answer is confiscatory taxes, government control, and loss of freedom. Socialism sounds sweet and compassionate but will choke the life out of a nation. Policies that produce freedom and individual initiative and allow for individual prosperity will in the long run benefit everyone.