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Follow the Rules

In my latest column for AIER I make the case for adults always to follow the basic rules that all of us who were raised by good parents were taught in childhood. A slice:

These rules are so natural and obviously good that responsible adults teach them to children as a matter of course. Everyone knows that people who practice these rules will almost certainly enjoy better lives than those experienced by people who chronically break one or more of them. And yet many people unthinkingly carve out a huge exception to these rules, imagining that some mysterious process renders these rules expendable, or even harmful, when people act collectively through political processes.

Consider the rules to avoid envy and not take other people’s stuff. Far from envy being discouraged in political dialogue and action, it is actively stoked to encourage the taking of other people’s stuff. Politicians ardently exhort audiences to covet wealth possessed by others. In tones ranging from the stentorian to the hysterical, they promise to take from the (always imprecisely defined) “rich” and to give the booty to the rest of us.

Sometimes we’re told that we deserve this wealth simply because today’s rich individuals currently have more of it than we do. On other occasions, such “redistribution” is excused with the baseless assertion that no one deserves to have multiple times more wealth than others.

Would you ever instruct your child, “Junior, if any of your classmates have nicer toys or more candy money than you have, you should envy those classmates. Stew in anger and resentment that some children currently possess more material things than you do!”

Of course, no parent would ever as much as think of feeding a child such dysfunctional advice. So why do so many adults tolerate – and even applaud — identical sentiments when expressed by politicians and pundits peddling public-policy proposals? When candidates stump for income “redistribution” on the grounds that some people have more money than other people, they play upon and fuel envy — an especially ugly and anti-social sentiment.

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