Hypocrisy

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 tflenaerts@ucdavis.edu.

2 Comments

  • mertinburl
    February 19, 2013

    A lot of people pushed for and support the two big social programs: Medicare and Social Security. So it’s not the case that people are being robbed or forced to make these programs exist. These are very much an example of what happens in a democracy when people make their own decisions. And choosing to fund SS and Medicare at a national level is one of those decisions. If what you really mean to say is “I don’t like these programs because I’m too uninformed about their history or how they are unfunded” then please say so. But if you’re not then move on to another topic because not only are your reasons are poorly constructed but they also lack empirical evidence to back them up. And if the free market were so great then why is it that no country chooses to do things through private actors for things like pensions and get generous and sustainable benefits(and universal), while we support private actors through the tax code and get little to show for it for only a few of our citizens? Also, we pay more than any other country for things like health care and retirement and get lower quality service–while being non-universal–while all other wealthy countries have government organized schemes that ensure universal access and low cost at high quality.

    Oh, and SS and Medicare are paid through payroll taxes. So if you don’t understand what that means: that means that it’s not a so called “welfare” or “redistributive program” because people pay into it over their lifetime and get back what they pay in.

    No, no no no: the school curriculum at most schools is determined by local school boards. Not the state. If you don’t understand what local democracy means then that’s your problem but keep your ignorance to yourself.

    Psssshhh, progressive taxation? I wish but these are flat and regressive taxes in the case of SS and Medicare. I’m surprised your allowed to write this stuff because the one part of the tax code that is progressive is the income tax, all other taxes are flat or regressive.

    “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.” Or you could move to someplace where there is no government? Please do so. I promise you: no will miss you.

    Wow more ignorance. Privatizing all services might make them more profitable but certainly not more efficient or accessible. If the study of comparative welfare states has taught us anything it is that
    social services, as well as some heavy industries, are things that cannot be made better by the private sector and that instead of making services better or more profitable private sector agents tend to do a poor job with many of these services and at a higher cost.

    Capitalism does not equal freedom.

    And there were no capitalists in USSR but there were oligarchs.

    No you’re still a hypocrite. The fact that you believe that governmental education and other services are bad make you a hypocrite because you could just as well have chosen to have gone to a private school and use private doctors and contribute your own private retirement fund. And the government does allow you to opt out of some of these things if you can prove to have comparable coverage. So you’re still a hypocrite. If you want to do grad school after here please go to a private school, I’m sure a public school like this or Berkeley or UCLA, or University of Michigan, would not be up to your level of intellect: you smart, smart, smart boy.

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