May 3, 2009

The Law: A Call for Realism

“We don’t live in a perfect world,” you may argue. “We’ll never have true justice. Can’t we expedite the process of prosperity and use the law to improve the common good?” No. And here’s why: trying to enforce “good” is not merely unjust. It consistently fails to produce a good or prosperous society.

Socialists contend that without government mandates, people will make unwise economic choices, shun charity, ignore the education of their children, or be drawn in to false religions. As Bastiat writes: “They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange.”12 They base their decisions on the concept that the people are not wise enough to make decisions for themselves. While correctly realizing that people are naturally flawed, these politicians seem to ignore the existence of their own fallibility. Perhaps these politicians are more educated than the average citizen. Still, the consequences of their mindset are unsavory. Having a subjective standard (for no one can agree what constitutes the common good) allows selfish humans to unscrupulously promote their own interests. Forcing citizens to “be good” does nothing to cultivate real character.

Labor laws intend to protect workers. Yet, often, the opposite becomes the case. High income taxes in Europe have contributed to unemployment. A Newsweek article from 1993, reporting on Germany states, “As unemployment mounts across the continent, a growing body of economic wisdom points to payroll-tax-financed benefits as a job killer, mostly because new hires mean bigger tax bills for employers.”13 Such arbitrary and liberty-reducing mandates make it economically unfeasible for employers to yield to the law. From the National Review, “Including benefits and taxes, a French minimum-wage worker now makes 50 per cent more than his American counterpart. Beleaguered employers find some relief in the underground economy.14 These examples show how an artificially high cost of labor hurts workers and the rule of law. Governmentally organized labor, in the form of welfare benefits, also encourages irresponsibility on the part of the receiver. Again from Newsweek, “Germany's payroll taxes finance pensions, health care and unemployment benefits…. Such benefits, economists say, reduce the incentive to work.”15 Though these articles chronicle economies from the last decade, the principle is the same: labor restrictions ignore principles of supply and demand, trample liberty, and benefit few.

While the competition afforded by private schools and homeschools reduces costs and improves the quality of education for all consumers, government intervention in education has done the reverse. As the Cato Institute noted earlier this month16, the cost of education per student (adjusted for inflation) has increased by 128 percent over the past forty years. $9,266 was spent on every American student in the year 2004 alone. Despite having access to such extravagant budgets, public schools fail to educate America’s youth adequately. Again from Cato, “The longer American kids spend in our public schools, the worse they do compared to their peers in other industrialized countries.”17 Naturally, the weight of the government’s inefficiency falls on taxpayers. Shunning liberty in the name of the “common good,” our government pours funds into the black hole of public education. The return on their investment would be considered abysmal in any other venture.

Need we even mention morality and religion? True religion is based on a heart condition that overflows into action. Mandating moral behavior will not create a God-fearing nation, only a nation of legalists. If religion is true, then God will make Himself known through his followers. We do not need the government to convert others to the truth. More likely than not, unjust laws that enforce religion will only alienate citizens to the message.

Clearly, violating liberty cannot create character. Instead, it fosters contrived outward morality. Nor can legal plunder help a nation prosper. A government that loses focus on justice will become the friend of irresponsibility and waste, the enemy of entrepreneurs and all those who contribute most to national prosperity. So by all counts, striving for good without the compass of liberty will prove unsuccessful.

12 Bastiat, p. 25.

13 Charles Lane and Theresa Waldrop, “Is Europe's social-welfare state headed for the deathbed?” Newsweek, 23 Aug. 1993, p. 37.

14 Ed Rubenstein, “Right Data,” National Review, 30 September 1996, p.16.

15 Lane, ibid.

16 Neal McCluskey, “Hitting Bone Is the Least of Our Worries,” Cato @ Liberty, February 6, 2009, Cato Institute. 13 February 2009.

17 Andrew J. Coulson, “What? High Schools Go All the Way to Grade 12?Cato @ Liberty, June 1, 2006. Cato Institute. 13 February 2009.

Introduction // The Injustice of Enforcing "Good" // A Call for Realism // Justice Alone is Enough