Sen. Compassion II

by Don Boudreaux on August 31, 2009

in Charity, Myths and Fallacies, Other People's Money, Politics

Here’s a letter that I just sent to the Los Angeles Times:

You join legions of others in describing Ted Kennedy as having been compassionate (“Ted Kennedy, America’s conscience,” August 30).  Aware that I’ll come across as low-brow – as unable to appreciate the transformative magic of politics – I must ask: What’s compassionate about spending other people’s money and minding other people’s business?

Suppose Mr. Kennedy were my neighbor.  One day he arrives at my door with a handful of other neighbors (all carrying concealed weapons) and demands some of my money and tells me that he’ll regulate what I eat, drink, and smoke.  “And I’ll stop your teenage son from being employed if no employer offers him a wage at least as high as one that my friends here and I determine is appropriate.”

I gaze at him aghast.  “Oh, don’t worry,” he assures me.  “Because my undying dream is to help others, I’ll spend the money that I take from you in ways that will help you.  But I’ll also spend much of it helping people on the other side of the tracks.  And any restrictions that I impose on your behavior are ones that, you can be sure, spring only from my compassion for you and others.”

Should I regard neighbor Kennedy as great and compassionate – as a gallant champion of the interests of others?  Or should I regard him as an arrogant bully, as fraudulent as he is dangerous?

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 2:40 pm

The sad thing is that Kennedy was not alone in Washington. How many Tom Coburns are there willing to say no to helping us?

And the next senator from MA will be just as bad as Kennedy if not worse because they all believe they were sent to Washington to do something and gosh darn it they will damn well do it. With our money.

It makes me sick to hear about how these politicians are public servants while the real work is done by the unheralded slugs back home. Most politicians like Kennedy couldn’t hold a job or run a business for more than 2 weeks.

Justin P August 31, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Kennedy did make great sandwiches.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Why does Prof. Boudreaux hate America?

muirgeo August 31, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Yes, I suspect he would rather have a private mafia telling him what to do or a Lord and his Vassals. I’ll take democracy over all the other forms humanity has tried.

Tyranny of the majority??? Hell yeah…it’s been way better then all those years of tyranny of the minority.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Even in the vast likelihood that tyranny of the majority is better than tyranny of the minority, must we celebrate the tyrants?

Justin P August 31, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Only if they say they are tyrants because they love us so much. (aka if they are Dems)

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 5:00 pm

He wasn’t a tyrant. He didn’t actually show up at Don’s door with armed men. That was made up in case you missed it. He was democratically elected to represent the people of his state.

mcwop August 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm

So was Bush, Reagan, Clinton, Nixon. By granting the government too much power, when you get the bad ones, you get bad government. Lest you forget the local governments too. In Baltimore they don’t show up with guns, just court orders to harass you for everything, until you give up and just pay the trumped up fines. They do it to poor people too. Unfettered government is bad, mmmmmky. I prefer to fight the continuous increase in government power, and continual erosion of our freedoms. Things like patriot acts, or health bills that might allow government easy access to my health records. I hate both parties, and their continuous mismanagement of government. Though I do believe in some government.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 9:08 pm

He didn’t actually show up at Don’s door with armed men

That’s a lie. If Don refuses to give Ted the money he demands, armed men will follow soon after to make sure Don gives that money, or goes to jail for refusing (and they’ll take the money anyway).

Corricopat September 2, 2009 at 9:25 pm

It was an allegory.

Sam Grove August 31, 2009 at 4:03 pm

It should be much easier to overthrow a tyranny of a minority than a tyranny of the majority.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Go tell that to the people of North Korea. Besides you don’t have to overthrow the majority… you just have to become the majority.

If your views suck and the majority of people understand this then don’t plan on success anytime soon.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Let me fix that for you muirgeo.If you HAVE MONEY and the majority of people WANT IT, then don’t plan on BUYING ANYTHING anytime soon.

Sam Grove August 31, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Funny how you cite an example that contradicts your thesis.

Anonymous September 2, 2009 at 12:19 am

“I’ll take democracy over all the other forms humanity has tried.”

I’ll take a constitutional republic over democracy.

JohnK August 31, 2009 at 3:19 pm

I imagine politicians start off as annoying neighbors who are full of unwanted advice.
Offended that their advice is not taken, they seek out positions of power where they can force people to take their advice.
Sometimes I think we’d be better served if political office was filled by lottery instead of elections, because the people who seek out such jobs should never have them in the first place.

Name August 31, 2009 at 4:37 pm

That is how it was done in Classical Athens. They also had annual reverse elections where the people would annually vote to banish one official.

pauld August 31, 2009 at 3:54 pm

It’s always easier to be charitable with other people’s money. In fact, giving away other people’s money and patting yourself on the back about it is the very definition of progressive liberalism. Getting canonized for it, well, that’s a rare talent.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Tyranny of the majority??? Hell yeah…it’s been way better then all those years of tyranny of the minority.Refreshing to see an Obama supporter admit that he favors tyranny, which means he favors slavery, provided it is implemented by the majority. This, of course, was exactly the attitude that prevailed in the southern states of America up until the middle of the 19th century. Odd, isn’t it, that those who wish to return to such a set-up dare to call it “progressive”?Now we will hear some sort of rationalization to the effect that some amount of tyranny is absolutely necessary and that he merely prefers the “kindler and gentler” whip wielded by a liberal Democrat to the mean and selfish whip that was wielded by Bush — all of which will be an attempt to pretend that a constitutionally-limited government based on individual rights — i.e. a government with no whip-wielder — never existed in the past and is not a possibility in the future.Of course, now that I’ve identified the next set of his rationalizations he will switch to the standby claim that the constitutionally-limited government didn’t work and had to be abandoned because it led to mass starvation, mass unemployment and mass poverty — or some such nonsense.

Gil September 1, 2009 at 4:04 am

Yeah you like your wordplay M. Smith. How about saying you prefer “tyranny of the private landowning minority”?

As muirgeo pointed Kennedy got elected by the people of his state. That’s how the current system works. It didn’t suddenly appear yesterday but evolved. Hence Don & others refusing to pay and having armed men come around to their doors amounts to normal debt collection procedure. It’s no different from a tenant who decides he wants to own the rental home and justifies his claim to ownership because he lives there, does all the work only to pay rent to someone who he hardly ever sees but this ‘other person’ is technically the owner because he has some piece of paper and if the tenant doesn’t pay rent armed men will come around and demand payment or drag him out. I’m not going to justify the system by the ‘gentler’ argument but because it is the legitimate existing system. If you & co. have a problem with the sytem then you & co. have to figure out how to smash it because it’s not going to wither for you & your co.’s benefit.

Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 5:48 am

Are you seriously arguing that property ownership is a mere technicality?

Gil September 1, 2009 at 5:55 am

Could you elaborate on what you are talking about, randian?

Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 7:33 am

Did you not say “this ‘other person’ is technically the owner because he has some piece of paper”? Usually, use of the word “technically” in such a context implies that the claim is illegitimate. So who really does or should own the home?

Are you not implying that “if the tenant doesn’t pay rent armed men will come around and demand payment or drag him out” is somehow unreasonable or unjust? Is demanding payment of rent in exchange for occupancy illegitimate? Is eviction illegitimate? If the tenant doesn’t pay, what should the landlord be able to do in response?

The difference between Ted and the landlord is that an owner should always have the right to say who can use their property and under what circumstances. That’s what ownership means. If you don’t have that right, you aren’t really an owner even if you have legal title to the asset. That’s why zoning laws are so destructive of liberty. The zoning board is the real owner of the property, not the title holder, because it’s the zoning board and not the title holder that gets to say how the property may be used.

In contrast, the goons Ted sent to steal from Don have no legitimate interest in Don’s property.

Gil September 1, 2009 at 8:20 am

I am saying people who go against the government are acting the same way as so-called “tenants from hell” who dig in their heels and refuse to pay rent and also refuse to leave. A tenant never got into a position whereby he could legally claim to be an owner but got a false sense of ownership because he feels doing the exact the same things as an actual homeowner makes him one. So too do people here think they ought to have full allodial rights to a parcel of land because they think merely occupying it counts. The Government never gave them full allodial rights when they bought it but they like to pretend they did.

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Hey this is simply an age old debate between guys like Edmund Burke who believes you need an elite class to over-see the masses and guys like Thomas Paine who had no problem stating that the wealthy should pay back to society as a matter of justice and liberty.

“When it shall be said in any country in the world, ‘My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of its happiness’: — when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.” Rights of Man, [1] p.250

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 7:13 pm

What age old debate, those 2 sides sound like the same side of the coin to me.Isn’t “an elite class to over-see the masses” ‘the Kennedy family’s (and all politicians) life long ambition?

I think your response is typical of the left, particularly when it comes to libertarians. We don’t want “our” guys in power, we want to be responsible for ourselves.

I am not saying I want you to live by my rules, I just don’t want to be forced to live by yours.

Jake S. September 1, 2009 at 6:11 am

“the taxes are not oppressive”

Granted, it’s only 1/7 of the conditions he laid out, but…?

I’ve already got an inkling that I’m not going to like the answer, but at what point do you (muirgeo) consider taxes to be “oppressive”?

Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 5:33 am


JohnK September 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

That’s the beauty of government. It allows people initiate force and fraud against others and claim legitimacy because someone wrote a law that said it was OK.
Theoretically I could pass a law that says I have the right to punch you in the face and take your car keys, and if you tried to do anything about it I could summon armed men in black uniforms to beat you into submission.
Ain’t it great?

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