Walter E. Williams

There's considerable unnecessary confusion and debate on public policy issues that would be more intelligently discussed and resolved if we'd say what is actually meant rather than using euphemistic disguises.

The Grutter and Gratz vs. Bollinger cases before the U.S. Supreme challenge the University of Michigan's use of racial preferences for undergraduate and law school admissions.

The university, along with its supporters who've filed amicus curie briefs, gives all manner of euphemistic justification for its racial practices. Instead of using terms such as "diversity" and "multiculturalism," the debate should make what is actually being practiced more explicit. That would enable us to ask what standard of morality justifies a publicly financed institution creating an advantage for one person, at the disadvantage of another person, based on the race of the individuals involved. Is race a suitable criterion for deciding who gets what in our society? That's a simple question with a yes or no answer, except for the devious intellectual and political elite.

How about all the government programs that account for at least two-thirds of federal spending, such as: aid to higher education, Medicare, food stamps, welfare or farm subsidies? Are they moral?

To get at the answer, we must first ask where Congress gets the resources to finance these programs. All except the most naive would recognize that neither the Tooth Fairy nor Santa Claus supplies Congress with the money. That means Congress can give one American a dollar only by first taking it away from another American.

Now we can ask the moral question. Is it right to take, through threats, intimidation and coercion, what one American has earned and give it to another American who has not earned it? Or put another way: Is it right for one person to be forcibly compelled to serve the purposes of another person?

That question can be asked at two levels -- the private and the social. If I see a person in need of food, what if I walk up to another person and, through threats, intimidation and coercion, take his money and give it to the needy person? I believe and hope that most Americans would see such an act as theft. Would the conclusion differ if we collectively agreed to take one person's money to feed the needy person? It'd still be theft. Immoral acts such as theft, rape and murder don't become moral when done collectively through a majority decision.

As a sidebar, it's most disappointing that black Americans are some of the strongest advocates for forcibly compelling one person to serve the purposes of another. Isn't that what slavery was all about?

How about the morality of tariffs or other restraints on foreign trade? Some of the obfuscation is lifted when we recognize that, for the most part, countries do not trade with one another. That is, the U.S. Congress doesn't trade with England's or France's parliaments or Japan's Diet. It's individual Americans who trade with Japanese automakers, French wine producers and English clothing manufacturers. What's the moral case for congressional use of threats or use of force to prevent two people who wish to engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange on mutually agreeable terms? If it's immoral for Congress to stop me or interfere with me, a Pennsylvanian, from trading with my fellow man in New Jersey, why isn't it also immoral for Congress to stop or interfere with my trading with my fellow man in London, Paris or Tokyo?

When we make government practices and programs explicit, we see that most of them are immoral. More importantly, we see why our Founders sought to limit the scope of government: The essence of government is force, and most often that force is used to accomplish evil ends.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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