Government Is a Package Deal. Sure You Want to Buy It?

Reporter Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press reports that in the wake of the various reforms that were designed to “end Welfare as we know it” — sure enough, “[t]he number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted” — but other government programs, like Medicaid, food stamps, and disability benefits have expanded, so that:

Nearly one in six people rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago.

And that doesn’t even count the millions of Americans who are directly on the federal government payroll as employees, nor does it include the various recipients of federal subsidies or the owners and employees of companies that depend on government contracts. And although I couldn’t find the raw data the report is based on (and the report is not particularly precise in describing this data), I don’t think it includes the families who get more back in EITC than was taken from them in taxes, either. Receiving Social Security retirement benefits also doesn’t put you in that one-in-six.

But if you add all these things up, it seems we’ve become a nation of addicts — ignoring the damage the government is doing to us and those around us because we’ve become dependent on it and afraid of what will happen to us if it goes away.

I can’t tell you how often this happens: I meet someone who’s sympathetic to war tax resistance and wants to learn more about it, but who tells me “actually, I’m not against taxes — in fact I think we should have higher taxes. The government just needs to spend the money better, on socially valuable things.”

And so many people in the war tax resistance movement, too, have this fantasy that the “good” government spending can be separated from the bad — for instance, those resisters who pay 49% of their tax bill to protest the 51% of their income taxes that would go to war (admittedly, most of them know that this is a symbolic gesture, but it’s mostly symbolic of their belief in a Jekyll-and-Hyde government). Even weirder are the ones who think that they can legislate a firewall between military spending and other government spending with a Peace Tax Fund Act or some such mechanism.

I’m afraid it’s a package deal: You pay for government, you get it all.

What amazes me most are the pacifist liberals. I’ll hear someone tell me that they don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to use violent force — not to repel invasion, to stop a genocide, to battle injustice, nothing — which can be a respectable though difficult-to-defend position. But then they go on to say that they think the government ought to spend more money on public education, social welfare, the arts, medical research, and so forth, and it’s clear that they haven’t thought things through.

Do they really mean to say that they believe government agents ought to be able to use force, for nothing so desperate as to prevent genocide or repel invasion or overthrow a tyrant, but merely so that they can enforce something akin to charity? Would they themselves be willing to hold up people at gunpoint or threaten them with prison for such a cause? I don’t feel safe turning my back on a “pacifist” like that.

In my increasingly-obsessive project of collecting Thoreau’s political writings on-line, I’ve taken a detour into his surviving school-age essays.

I sure wouldn’t want my political philosophy judged by what I turned in to my professors, or even on what I wrote on my own time back when I was in school, so I try to be cautious on the one hand and forgiving on the other when reading this stuff.

Thoreau wrote these pieces between the ages of 17 and 20, . Most are short essays on particular themes, and I don’t know to what extent his treatment of the themes was his own choice and to what extent it was dictated by his professors.

One essay in particular, on conformity, seems to show that Thoreau was already rehearsing the themes that would come out in Resistance to Civil Government .

Others of the essays show Thoreau as an astute wrestler with ethical philosophy, choosing his words carefully and being skeptical of philosophies that presumed to have come up with a rulebook that would make conscience obsolete, or those whose moral precepts were asserted to have been proved when they were merely intuitions backed with logical arm-waving.