Just because we don’t want government to do it, doesn’t mean we don’t want it done:
Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society. And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State—then we are against education altogether. We object to a State religion—then we would have no religion at all. We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc., etc. They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.
That wonderful passage is from Frederic Bastiat’s short book The Law, which you can read for free here. Writing in 1850, Bastiat made a principled case that government should be limited to the common defense — banding together to defend ourselves against enemies from without and within. By contrast, taking property from one person to give to another is “plunder” — albeit “legal plunder.” It should not be allowed, as it tramples on a person’s freedoms.
The idea is that government does not have the right to do things that are immoral for individuals to do. We all have the right to self-defense, and so we have the right to come together to make that self-defense more effective. But, as popular a character as Robin Hood might be, nobody has the right to rob from the rich to give to the poor — and so, neither should government.
Bastiat’s definition of “plunder” is not confined to social welfare programs, by the way. He objects (as I do) to other forms of government coercion which have the effect of taking from one party and giving to another. These include tariffs, slavery, progressive taxation, free public schools, and labor laws.
One issue that arises when someone believes in limited government is: how do I teach this to children? Well, someone has come along and turned “The Law” into a kids’ book, complete with illustrations and a greatly condensed and simplified text. I have not read the book yet, but I did order it here, and look forward to giving it to my kids and discussing it with them. It is part of a new series featuring “The Tuttle Twins,” who learn about limited government and the free market. It is geared towards ages 6 to 11, but I plan to have both my 11-year-old and my 14-year-old read it.
They get enough statist claptrap from the state-run schools. If they’re going to get anything else, it will have to be at home.