Plunder

“There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. Personally, I cannot imagine a more alarming situation.”

Why is it that actions that are illegal and universally accepted as immoral suddenly, as if by magic, regarded as both moral and legal by many of our fellow citizens when performed by people acting in some official role under the banner of government? Why is plunder illegal for some, but legal and acceptable for others?

And what is legal plunder? “But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law — which may be an isolated case — is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system. The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.”

Acceptance of this argument has indeed led to a system of legalized plunder that we really should reject if we are to be the moral people John Adams spoke of when he said that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”.  Last time I checked, it was still immoral and sinful to steal from others.

Suppose my neighbor is hungry. Of course it is a moral act to feed him. But suppose I came to you and stole money from your wallet and used that money to feed my neighbor. Do the ends (feeding my neighbor) justify the means (theft)? If you were the one from whom I stole, you would no doubt consider my actions immoral, illegal, maybe even evil. You would rightly feel violated, aggressed upon.

But what if I was able to convince enough people to pressure enough legislators to pass a law that then made it legal for me to come to you, rob you, and redistribute your property to benefit someone in need? By the magic of government, does an immoral act suddenly become moral, legitimate, virtuous?

Those darned welfare recipients.

Wait a minute. The welfare recipients aren’t the ones in the legislature passing laws that legalize redistributive theft. They aren’t employed in cushy taxpayer funded positions within agencies that carry out the act of theft. They aren’t the ones who will come and arrest you if you refuse to pay up.

Now suppose there is an industry or a particular corporation that, for whatever reason, finds favor with those in key policymaking positions in government. Perhaps it employs lobbyists who were former legislators. Imagine if legislation could be written that would protect such corporation or industry from the risks associated with the free market. Suppose regulations and legislation could be fashioned in such a way that would limit competition, or even impede new businesses from entering into the market in the first place. Imagine legislation that redistributes property from individuals and transfers it to such corporations in the form of subsidies.

Do these corporations receive the same societal condemnation as the lowly welfare recipient? Why not? Is it because some industries benefit our community, us personally, or because we philosophically agree with the mission of the corporation? Is that justification for theft?

The fact that theft is in certain cases “legal” does not magically transform it into a moral act. The law cannot make the unlawful lawful, the lawful unlawful, the immoral moral, or the moral immoral.

“The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!  If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.”

So what are we to do?

“There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are ‘just’ because law makes them so.”

The first step is to reject this faulty belief system.

Quotes from Frédéric Bastiat’s “The Law” and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen”

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