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Petition to stop Trump: Only the State can be Generous!

We urge all our progressive readers to sign our petition calling on Donald Trump to stop his reactionary support of private charities, stop being generous, and let the state take care of people!

The state always is there to help the oppressed and the downtrodden. Donald Trump’s theatrics include handing a scholarship for the former Miss Wisconsin’s son, flying an ill boy, giving a simple bus driver money, and giving donations to veteran groups. Instead, Mr. Trump should consider expanding government services, where thousands of caring bureaucrats can help the toiling masses according to their massive needs.

It is a well-known fact that the government knows our needs and can take a better care of us than we could ever do it ourselves. A shining example of government generosity are EBT cards that can be used at Papa Murphy’s, KFC, Subway, Burger King and Jack in the Box.

A bigger, better, and stronger government will make sure you and your children will never see the capitalist bogeyman steal your wages, food, healthcare, contraceptives, and other human rights.

A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything from capitalists and redistribute it to you for free.

If you want that, you must stop Trump!

hammer and loupe logoEDITORS NOTE: This political satire by Hammer and Loupe originally appeared on The Peoples Cube.

The Bible and Hayek on What We Owe Strangers by Sarah Skwire

It’s so much easier to sympathize with our own problems and with the problems of those we love than with the problems of complete strangers.

Adam Smith observes in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that our ability to sympathize with ourselves is, in fact, so out of all proportion to our ability to sympathize with others that the thought of losing one of our little fingers can keep us up all night in fearful anticipation, while we can sleep easily with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands on the opposite side of the world have just died in an earthquake.

Hayek makes the same point in The Fatal Conceit:

Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules.

It may not be the best part of our humanity, but it is a very human part. We care more about those we see more often, understand more thoroughly, and with whom we share more in common.

And maybe that’s not so bad. We treat family differently, after all. My daughter will get a giant pink fluffy stuffed unicorn from me on her birthday. I don’t believe that I am similarly obligated to provide fuzzy equines for all other eight-year-olds. Different treatment is a way of acknowledging different kinds of bonds between people and different levels of responsibility to them.

All of this is on my mind because the other night, after I gave a talk on liberty and culture, an audience member and I had a discussion about banking, debt, and interest rates during which he carefully explained to me how Jews lend each other money for no interest, but when they lend to Christians, the sky’s the limit. Everyone knows it, because it’s in the Bible.

He was right, sort of. It is in the Bible, sort of.

It’s right there in Deuteronomy 23:

You shall not give interest to your brother [whether it be] interest on money, interest on food, or interest on any [other] item for which interest is [normally] taken. You may [however], give interest to a gentile, but to your brother you shall not give interest, in order that the Lord your God shall bless you in every one of your endeavors on the land to which you are coming to possess.

But textual interpretation is a tricky business. And textual interpretation of a text that has existed for thousands of years and been wrangled with by millions of interpreters — well, it doesn’t get much trickier than that.

But it seems worth noting that the word used here (both in translation and in Hebrew) is literally “brother.” This has been interpreted over the years to mean “fellow Jew.” But the word, as given, is brother.

What I think the passage means to emphasize by using this word — regardless of whether we are talking about literal brothers, or just “brothers” — is the importance and of treating those who are closest to us with particular care and concern. The kind of business relationship that is part of Hayek’s extended order, or that is located in an outer ring of Smith’s concentric circles of sympathy, doesn’t come with extra moral responsibilities to one another. A price is agreed on. A bargain is struck. An exchange is made. Everyone is content. But in an intimate order — with brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, parents or children — we have a responsibility to give more and do more than in the extended order.

And so observant Jews are told that they should not pay or charge interest to brothers — whomever they consider those brothers to be.

Though it has been interpreted uncharitably by many over the years, this passage from Deuteronomy is not a passage about cheating the outsider. This is a passage about taking special care of those who are closest to our hearts. It’s hard to find anything to object to in that.

Sarah SkwireSarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

Roman Catholic bishop advocates submission to the Islamic State

This brilliant article sums up not only the myopia of Bishop Robert Barron’s approach to the Islamic State (and to the global jihad in general), but the weakness and wrongheadedness of the entire contemporary Catholic Church when confronted with jihadist savagery.

There is today a wholesale confusion of weakness and submission with compassion and mercy, such that many Church leaders, including but by no means limited to Bishop Barron, believe that Christian charity mandates acquiescence to evil and submission to it. They think it is a matter of “respect” for Muslims as human beings for Christians to bow to violent intimidation from Islamic jihadists, and to assent to restrictions on their behavior that are demanded by way of jihadi threats.

Those who think, on the contrary, that it is more respectful and charitable to Muslims to refuse to enable and reward bullying and bloodlust have no place in today’s Catholic Church.

Bishop-Robert-Barron

Bishop Robert Barron being interview on EWTN Nightly News. Photo courtesy of EWTN.

“The Incredible Shrinking Bishop Barron,” by Maureen Mullarkey, OnePeterFive, November 23, 2015 (thanks to Tom):

I have never been more than an occasional viewer of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire chats. His recent televised interview with EWTN’s Catherine Szeltner put paid to whatever interest I had.

Newly elevated to an auxiliary bishop in the sprawling L.A. diocese, now-Bp. Barron was in Baltimore for his initial appearance among the USCCB. Ms. Szeltner was on hand to ask how Catholics should respond to the slaughter in Paris. “How should they react?” she wondered, as if Catholics were dependent on guidance in their attitude toward carnage.

This was hardly a spontaneous interview. Chairs had been set. The bishop had not been caught on the run; he was not speaking off the cuff. On the contrary, it is standard practice to establish before air time which questions will be asked. Ms. Szaltner was wide-eyed with anticipation for an answer that had already been rehearsed. Here was the fledgling bishop’s moment to affirm public solidarity with the mantra of love heralding the Year of Mercy. Which—the Vatican just announced—extends to Muslims.

Barron began with a self-reverential response that carried a hint of conceit for having been placed among the great and the good. Our new bishop has ascended above even just anger. The massacre aroused no outrage, not even a wince of distaste. Rather, his first words were on fire with . . . nostalgia. He found the atrocity “especially poignant” because he had studied in Paris for three years. And because he remembered some of the locations involved, the attacks were “moving and poignant.”

Not obscene, not demonic, foul or repellant. Poignant. It is a word appropriate for the death of a kitten. Applied to the murder and maiming of innocents, it is worse than unfitting. It is shameful.

He glided on to a serene tutorial on mercy, on the obligation to “respond to violence with love,” and “to fight hatred with love.” He enjoined Catholics to mercy and “a non-violent stance.” Listening, I realized why I have never been able to cotton to Word on Fire: Barron is smarmy. His genial TV persona has none of the alert, intellectual muscularity of Fulton Sheen whose lead he presumes to follow. This time on camera, he confused Paris in 2015 with Selma, Alabama in 1965.

Sanctimonious appeal to non-violence is typical of middle-brow respect for the strategy of King—learned from Gandhi—minus any grasp of its genius. There is nothing commensurate between the cultural situation of the American civil rights movement and the events in Paris. To try to impose the conditions of that movement onto Islamic jihad is astonishing in its obtuseness. Mercy is vacated of all meaning when it is used as an excuse for blindness to history, or for inaction in the face of present realities.

Genocide was never the end game of either the British or the segregationist forces in the United States. Genocide—mitigated only by conversion or the slavery of dhimmitude— is an objective of Islam. Barron misleads his audience with bankrupt, Vatican-stroking noises about nonviolence.

The limited applications of non-violence were obvious when, in 1938, Gandhi advised Europe’s Jews to practice nonviolent resistance against Nazi persecution. In some mystical way, this would supposedly result in Germany’s moral reformation. Nearly eighty years later, Bishop Barron offers the same futile rationale—in the name of Christ crucified—to Catholics.

Inversion of circumstances between Islam and the West is as bizarre as it is reckless. Non-violence is the resort of the weak against the strong. By inviting Catholics to adopt “a non-violent stance” against jihad, Barron insinuates assent to inferiority. It is a failure of will dressed in Christian idiom. Call it submission.

In practical terms, what does it mean to respond with love to genocidal intention? How is non-violence applicable to a contest of civilizations in which one side is committed to the annihilation of the other? Wherein lies the moral force of non-violence against a bloodlust cultivated for fourteen hundred years?

Gandhi’s notorious advice to Jews was tantamount to telling them to march quietly to the ovens. Whether satyagraha serves freedom or a final solution depends on the variables of situation. Bishop Barron’s inability to discern critical distinctions makes his ministry dangerous.

He remains a cheery, good-natured promoter. Sadly, what he promotes is dhimmitude.

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Cliches of Progressivism: Rich People Have an Obligation to Give Back by Lawrence W. Reed

For a society that has fed, clothed, housed, cared for, informed, entertained, and otherwise enriched more people at higher levels than any in the history of the planet, there sure is a lot of groundless guilt in America.

Manifestations of that guilt abound. The example that peeves me the most is the one we often hear from well-meaning philanthropists who adorn their charitable giving with this little chestnut: “I want to give something back.” It always sounds as though they’re apologizing for having been successful.

Translated, that statement means something like this: “I’ve accumulated some wealth over the years. Never mind how I did it, I just feel guilty for having done it. There’s something wrong with my having more than somebody else, but don’t ask me to explain how or why because it’s just a fuzzy, uneasy feeling on my part. Because I have something, I feel obligated to have less of it. It makes me feel good to give it away because doing so expunges me of the sin of having it in the first place. Now I’m a good guy, am I not?”

It was apparent to me how deeply ingrained this mindset has become when I visited the gravesite of John D. Rockefeller at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple years ago. The wording on a nearby plaque commemorating the life of this remarkable entrepreneur implied that giving much of his fortune away was as worthy an achievement as building the great international enterprise, Standard Oil, that produced it in the first place. The history books most kids learn from these days go a step further. They routinely criticize people like Rockefeller for the wealth they created and for the profit motive, or self-interest, that played a part in their creating it, while lauding them for relieving themselves of the money.

More than once, philanthropists have bestowed contributions on my organization and explained they were “giving something back.” They meant that by giving to us, they were paying some debt to society at large. It turns out that, with few exceptions, these philanthropists really had not done anything wrong.

They made money in their lives, to be sure, but they didn’t steal it. They took risks they didn’t have to. They invested their own funds, or what they first borrowed and later paid back with interest. They created jobs, paid market wages to willing workers, and thereby generated livelihoods for thousands of families. They invented things that didn’t exist before, some of which saved lives and made us healthier. They manufactured products and provided services, for which they asked and received market prices.

They had willing and eager customers who came back for more again and again. They had stockholders to whom they had to offer favorable returns. They also had competitors and had to stay on top of things or lose out to them. They didn’t use force to get where they got; they relied on free exchange and voluntary contract. They paid their bills and debts in full. And every year they donated some of their profits to lots of community charities that no law required them to support. Not a one of them that I know ever did any jail time for anything.

So how is it that anybody can add all that up and still feel guilty? I suspect that if they are genuinely guilty of anything, it’s allowing themselves to be intimidated by the losers and the envious of the world, the people who are in the redistribution business either because they don’t know how to create anything or because they simply choose the easy way out. They just take what they want or hire politicians to take it for them.

Or like a few in the clergy who think that wealth is not made but simply “collected,” the redistributionists lay a guilt trip on people until they disgorge their lucre—notwithstanding the Tenth Commandment against coveting. Certainly, people of faith have an obligation to support their church, mosque, or synagogue, but that’s another matter and not at issue here.

A person who breaches a contract owes something, but it’s to the specific party on the other side of the deal. Steal someone else’s property and you owe it to the person you stole it from, not society, to give it back. Those obligations are real and they stem from a voluntary agreement in the first instance or from an immoral act of theft in the second. This business of “giving something back” simply because you earned it amounts to manufacturing mystical obligations where none exist. It turns the whole concept of “debt” on its head. To give it “back” means it wasn’t yours in the first place, but the creation of wealth through private initiative and voluntary exchange does not involve the expropriation of anyone’s rightful property.

How can it possibly be otherwise? By what rational measure does a successful person in a free market, who has made good on all his debts and obligations in the traditional sense, owe something further to a nebulous entity called “society”? If Entrepreneur X earns $1 billion and Entrepreneur Y earns $2 billion, would it make sense to say that Y should “give back” twice as much as X? And if so, who should decide to whom he owes it? Clearly, the whole notion of “giving something back” just because you have it is built on intellectual quicksand.

Successful people who earn their wealth through free and peaceful exchange may choose to give some of it away, but they’d be no less moral and no less debt-free if they gave away nothing. It cheapens the powerful charitable impulse that all but a few people possess to suggest that charity is equivalent to debt service or that it should be motivated by any degree of guilt or self-flagellation.

A partial list of those who honestly do have an obligation to give something back would include bank robbers, shoplifters, scam artists, deadbeats, and politicians who “bring home the bacon.” They have good reason to feel guilt, because they’re guilty.

But if you are an exemplar of the free and entrepreneurial society, one who has truly earned and husbanded what you have and one who has done nothing to injure the lives, property, or rights of others, you are a different breed altogether. When you give, you should do so because of the personal satisfaction you derive from supporting worthy causes, not because you need to salve a guilty conscience.

Lawrence W. Reed
President
Foundation for Economic Education

Summary

  • The innocent-sounding phrase, “I want to give back,” far too often implies guilt for having been productive or successful.
  • If you earned your wealth through free and voluntary exchange, don’t let others get away with making you feel guilty just because you have it.
  • The people who really should “give it back” are those to whom it doesn’t belong or who took it from others in the first place.
  • For further information, see:

“On Giving Back” by George C. Leef: http://tinyurl.com/lqd3lo6

“Give Up on Giving Back?” by Sandy Ikeda: http://tinyurl.com/or7jhh3

“Giving Back” by Steven Horwitz: http://tinyurl.com/pwqjqzw

20130918_larryreedauthorABOUT LAWRENCE W. REED

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Prior to becoming FEE’s president, he served for 20 years as president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. He also taught economics full-time from 1977 to 1984 at Northwood University in Michigan and chaired its department of economics from 1982 to 1984.

EDITORS NOTE: Versions of this essay have previously appeared in FEE’s journal, The Freeman, under the title, “Who Owes What to Whom?”

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is proud to partner with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to produce “Clichés of Progressivism,” a series of insightful commentaries covering topics of free enterprise, income inequality, and limited government.

Our society is inundated with half-truths and misconceptions about the economy in general and free enterprise in particular. The “Clichés of Progressivism” series is meant to equip students with the arguments necessary to inform debate and correct the record where bias and errors abound.

The antecedents to this collection are two classic FEE publications that YAF helped distribute in the past: Clichés of Politics, published in 1994, and the more influential Clichés of Socialism, which made its first appearance in 1962. Indeed, this new collection will contain a number of essays from those two earlier works, updated for the present day where necessary. Other entries first appeared in some version in FEE’s journal, The Freeman. Still others are brand new, never having appeared in print anywhere. They will be published weekly on the websites of both YAF and FEE: www.yaf.org and www.FEE.org until the series runs its course. A book will then be released in 2015 featuring the best of the essays, and will be widely distributed in schools and on college campuses.

See the index of the published chapters here.