The choice of many young voters would be Bernie Sanders who has positioned himself as the champion of the underprivileged. To quote a recent headline, “Bernie Sanders urges a “Moral Economy” during Vatican visit.“ By “moral,” he means, free college tuition and healthcare for all, massive government job works for the employed, and a 90 percent tax on the wealthy to correct the disparity between the haves and have nots.
Facts speak for themselves. After decades of economic ruin, these same Sanders ideas were rejected by hundreds of millions of Chinese, Russians, and Eastern Europeans. Also, the world’s three remaining “moral economies” (Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea) are horribly poor and brutal police states where the disparity between rich and poor is infinitely greater than in the West.
Is it or isn’t it true that charity by government is highly ethical, as The Bern alleges? As an Orthodox rabbi with years of Talmud study under my belt, I feel that a Sanders style economy would in truth be very immoral.
Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the 12th-century codifier of Talmudic Jewish law, discussed a case, and his underlying thinking speaks to this conversation. If a beggar or charity collector knocks on a door and finds only a child at home, he must refuse anything offered by the child. Taking from the child is akin to accepting stolen goods from a thief. Why? Maimonides explains that the money is not the child’s to give. And if asked, the parent (to whom the money rightfully belongs), might not agree to donate so much to this person. Speaking legally, the child stole his parents’ money – albeit innocently – and then distributed it to charity.
Inherent in this ruling is the premise that taking without permission what one person owns in order to help someone else is outright theft.
Now consider what actually happens when the near bankrupt U.S. government helps its poor through entitlements. The money to fund the programs must come from somewhere, and there are three ways to wrest it from the public: more taxes, more government borrowing, or more money printing. Tax dollars and the cash that later repays the new debt with interest come directly from those with money. Those same folks will fund the entitlements once again when printing cash irresponsibly eventually devalues the currency and wages and savings become less valuable.
Almost every humanistic social initiative of the left that seeks to assist the underprivileged is predicated upon this same form of malfeasance: The police powers of the state are used to seize what one citizen rightfully owns in order to assist others.
To cite some examples, rent control takes rent money the landlord would have collected and gives it to poor tenants. Affirmative action confiscates rightfully earned jobs or university admissions and redistributes them to others deemed needier. Minimum wage laws help workers by forcing employers to pay more than would have been necessary.
Obamacare may be the most odious example of this dynamic. It raises the cost of medical insurance for most people and makes them buy insurance they may not want. It tramples upon the democratic right to choose one’s doctors which can, in some situations, literally spell the difference between recovery or death. Above all, it puts the great American private health care system into the inept hands of government — the same outfit that runs the VA hospitals and the Post Office. Eventually, Obamacare will adversely affect the health of most Americans. This law forcibly takes so much from so many people. Why? To cover those who would otherwise be uninsured.
One could perhaps argue that government giveaways are entirely ethical. After all, the politicians behind them were democratically elected and given a mandate to govern as they see fit.
I disagree. The average voters are appallingly ignorant of what government consists of and how it spends money. Many (if not most) working people in this country wrongly believe that the massive entitlement expenditures do not cost them anything personally.
To illustrate this assertion, imagine fifty factory workers queued up in a bank waiting to cash their weekly paychecks. When walking out the door, how many of them would always willingly donate one quarter of their hard-earned cash to a food stamp program? At issue is not whether food stamps are a good thing. The point is that almost none of the workers would voluntarily part with that much of their hard-earned money. They need it for themselves! If middle class America fully comprehended that the money for entitlements comes right out of their pockets, most of them would probably vote for conservatives who oppose these programs.
850 years ago, Maimonides explained that taking without informed consent what one person owns in order to help others is outright thievery. By that ethical standard, the taxpayers must all fully understand what government giveaways cost them. I would recommend adding the following to every tax return: “Check here if you would like to fund the government’s charities and entitlements. But if you check this box, your entire tax bill will roughly double.”
A government must levy taxes in order to fund societal necessities such as basic education, physical infrastructure, and protection from physical and financial threats, both domestic and international. However, forcing or deceiving people into funding wealth distribution is robbery.
Kindness and charity are all-important virtues, both for individuals and society as a whole. The Book of Psalms (89, 3) says, “The world is built upon kindness.” In this spirit, the Judeo-Christian tradition has always extolled the practice of tithing for charity. However, charity is what is given voluntarily and to causes of one’s choosing, be it a hospital, church, or symphony orchestra.
Helping the truly needy is a cornerstone of any just Judeo-Christian society. But so is “Thou shalt not steal.”