Anyone advocating a laissez-faire capitalist society (i.e., a government whose sole purpose is the protection of individual rights, which I outlined in my first column) might seem to face a problem.
Obviously, we live in a mixed society, and many facets of our society reflect this. Besides the wealth-redistribution schemes and economic regulations that I have thus far criticized, there are government roads, schools, universities and public transportation. It could hardly be considered practical to attempt to live apart from these, even if one finds them to be improper or immoral.
And yet a common criticism of capitalists is that we benefit from and use the very system that we criticize. I attended a public high school. I would not even be writing this column were I not attending a public university. I have used a variety of government services; and if the need arose, I would probably collect benefits from social programs.
The question is: Does this make me a hypocrite?
The short answer is no. But to answer the question fully, we must explore the nature of all of these situations. Though it is not always obvious, in each case what the government is essentially doing is initiating force — imposing its will upon us in a way that disregards our consent or values.
It is clear that the government initiates force in programs such as Social Security or Medicare — in these cases, the government merely robs money from some and gives it to others. (Specifically, transferring money from the rich to the poor via progressive taxation).
The government initiates force in aspects of our society such as mail and roads because it prevents competition in providing those services and funds them with forced taxation. In other words, we have no choice about whether we want to support these.
The same applies to public schools or universities (though in this case private universities exist for the small portion of the population that can afford them). In the case of schools, the initiation of force is even more obvious since schooling is mandatory, and the curriculum is regulated by government officials.
So even if we could somehow avoid using roads or mail or going to public schools, we would be forced to fund those services because of taxation.
Ideally, in a free society, there would be freedom in these services: No one would be forced to support a school system they did not like, and no one would be forced to pay for roads they did not want to use. Moreover, competition in these sectors would likely increase efficiency and quality; businesspeople would be doing their best to provide the kind of education people want most, and for the lowest costs — because this is how profit is maximized.
Now, returning to the original point: Am I a hypocrite for using these services despite opposing them in principle?
It is clear that there is nothing remotely hypocritical or immoral about benefiting from these once we realize the role that force plays in these issues. If I am forced to support these improper government actions, how could it be that I am in any way responsible for them? And who could demand that I must sacrifice my values further, on top of being taxed, by not using these services or programs?
Consider some other examples: Could one reasonably ask a capitalist living in Soviet Russia to reject food from the state on pain of hypocrisy? Or could one demand that I must risk my life by being drafted just because the military has protected me in the past? Such a demand would be absurd.
When one is criticizing aspects of a society that are so pervasive that one can neither practically avoid them, nor choose not to support them, it is not legitimate to accuse one of hypocrisy or inconsistency for being involved in them.
This is the reality of living in a mixed or semi-free society. To fight for capitalism and freedom, we have to advocate the right ideas — but we cannot pretend that this can be done independently of the system we live in.
TRISTAN DE LIEGE is many things, but a hypocrite is not one of them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.