How we use force of law to plunder our neighbor instead of love our neighbor
In 1696, the legislature of Britain implemented a window-tax. The more windows you have, the more you have to pay. If you are wealthy enough to own a home in London that has a lot of windows then you can pay your fair share (for the common good, of course). Some variation of this law existed for about 150 years.
This (even if well-meaning) tax was a swing at the rich but these laws rarely hit their targets. Those with the means just bordered up their windows with bricks leaving a legacy of absurdity making both air and light a government service that one has to pay for. When the law is used to target the rich, it rarely hits the target. In this case, a large tenant building full of middle
and lower-class renters would get taxed heavily. The owner would pass the cost down to the tenants. A swing and a miss.
One absurd law played out requires another absurdity to fix it. A similar tax was placed on the number of fireplaces and the number of bricks used to build a home. This, in turn resulted in bricked up hearths, cold residents, and building houses with over-sized bricks.
It is not that all laws are absurd. Undeniable laws exist naturally and organically. These natural laws govern all human activity. Natural laws are based on the responsibilities of the individual to bear the image of God. This requires certain rights in order to execute those responsibilities. These rights include the right to your own life. Not being killed. They include the right to your freedom. Not being enslaved. They include the right to property. Property is what you did with your right to life and freedom in the past. Not being robbed or plundered.
These are all expressions of natural rights. To take property is to violate what someone did with their life in the past. To enslave someone is to take their present life. To kill is to eliminate their future life. Any law that protects these rights is a good law that reflects the natural law that governs us all. Any law that violates these rights is no law at all. It is simply a legal form of plunder, enslavement, or murder.
The 10 commandments are an expression of natural rights and responsibilities. The commands can be divided into 2 sections. The first 4 commandments govern our vertical responsibilities toward God and the last 6 govern our horizontal responsibilities towards others.
Jesus affirms these two aspects of our natural responsibilities toward God and others.
|| Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Laws that attempt to govern human behavior and patterns above and beyond (inevitably, in violation of) natural laws, even when well-meaning, typically have un-intended consequences. This is because human activity is far too complicated to be centrally planned and all efforts to do so end in a range of aberrations to naturally occurring economic activity. The range could be anywhere from a minor drag on an economic engine to a catastrophic loss of freedom.
In Michigan, laws were enacted by the governor in an effort to protect people from the coronavirus (to characterize this generously). Usually, the absurdity of laws becomes apparent over time as people react, find work-arounds, and situations change while the laws do not. However, in this case, the absurdity became apparent very quickly. Michigan was shutdown and people were forced to stay in their homes where they cannot get vitamin D and fresh air. Businesses were divided between essential and non-essential. Of course, liquor, lottery tickets, and abortions were essential. Surgeries that were extremely important but not life threatening were non-essential. Buying plumbing supplies is essential but buying a baby-seat for your car is non-essential. Camping was prohibited and going to your remote cabin to isolate yourself was illegal. Stores that engaged in both essential and non-essential business had to rope off non-essential items with police tape.
In New York, nursing homes were forced to take Covid-19 patients by force of law while hospitals were empty. This law was an attempt to plan for the overwhelming of hospitals but resulted in the death of the elderly in nursing homes that were exposed to Covid-19 un-necessarily because the hospitals were never overwhelmed. Since the federal government will bail out those most impacted, there exists a perverse incentive to bungle laws like this as much as possible so that you are the first State in line.
Adam Smith was a Scottish economist in the 18th century. He postulated that the economic activity of man is far too complicated to be managed efficiently through laws. Instead, he saw an invisible hand that worked through those who freely pursue their own interests.
|| “By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.”
It is the natural law of economics but it is a moral law as well. People left alone to do what they will with their own life (future), freedom (present), and property (past) will result in a better long term outcome for all even if you factor in circumstances like the corona virus. The aggregation of people seeking their own self-interest while not being allowed to infringe on the life, liberty, and property of others provides a better world than one centrally planned even if the intentions of the planner is the common good (which is rarely the case).
Hyperbolically speaking, Satan, in charge of a weak central government that can make no laws that violate natural rights will result in a long term greater good than Mother Theresa in charge of a strong one that can make these laws. The Bill of Rights was an attempt to protect us from laws designed with good intentions. The lesson for those that want to impose their will on others through law is this: The powerful freedom consuming machine that you create will soon run out of fuel on others and then turn on you. If you are a progressive you are sure to be horrified that President Trump is now wielding the powerful central government that you created. If you are a conservative, you will be horrified at the executive branch that inherits the largest federal government budget that has ever existed. We all want absurd laws to be pointed in the other direction. Over time, a powerful centralized government will only attract the greedy. The very greedy that you feared in free markets will now have the power of the law as hooks into the lives of citizens.
Smith makes it clear in the Wealth of Nations that markets driven by freedom “are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life”. The invisible hand is the hand of God manifested by those that bear the image of God freely – which can be everyone, not just Christians. Corona virus has given us extreme examples of authoritarian tendencies that conceive in absurd laws that do not help or even cause harm. I hope the result is a disgruntled electorate but my fear is that the authoritarian tendencies are only a reflection of a people that do not want to have the burden of taking care of themselves. The outcome of this attitude is that the absurdity of law is used as a weapon that one people group will use against another.
Boomers have been sold a bill of goods in social security. The fruit of their labor was taken from them and now they want to be paid what they were promised. What they were promised is gone! So boomers, in order to maintain the status quo, have to pick the pockets of those that follow them – their children and grand-children.
Millennial's and beyond, sensing the inequity, want to use the law to create a system that doesn’t make you wait to retire before you can start drawing. they are smart. They can see that nothing will be left when they retire. They think the problem is capitalism but, in fact, it is a socialist system that tries to take the fruit of their labor to pay for an ever-increasing burden before they can even establish themselves financially. To compensate for this absurdity, laws are passed to subsidize schools through loans so millennial's can establish themselves sooner. This, in turn sends a false message to schools that there is a higher demand for fields of study that have no market value. Next thing you know, on top of the initial inequity, you have $120,000 in loans and no prospects. A swing and a miss!
Frederic Bastiat in The Law calls this legal plunder. Legal plunder, in a democracy is how the law is used by the majority to plunder the resources of the minority. The law has been used by Boomers to plunder those who come after and it will be used by millennial's to plunder those before. The inevitable outcome is the eventual redistribution of wealth by majorities through the plunder of minorities until the resources are gone and we have finally reached the point where there is no disparity – somewhere around zero.
Paul, in the letter to the Philippians exhorts Christians to emulate the humility of Christ and consider others more important than yourselves. “Each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). You cannot love your neighbor while you plunder him. The underlying assumption here is that you are looking after your own interests and you do not need to be reminded of those. Self-interest is healthy and necessary and should not be confused with selfishness.
The alternative to where we are headed as a nation is to use democracy to ONLY protect the rights of ourselves and others and encourage all to look after their own self-interests instead of looking to the state to meet their needs. This would require walking away from the machines that generate laws and it’s lure of power and money. The Apostle Paul tells us that “if you don’t work, you won’t eat” (2 Thes 3:10), and don’t walk in idleness, don’t be a busybody. A busybody is a perfect term for those that desire to make laws that govern the affairs of others instead of attending to their own self-interest. We have to contrast this with the message of the Governor of Michigan that the state can care for you and “no one should have to worry about making ends meet”.
Who should we believe? Unfortunately, one of those views comes with a $1200 check (for now).