Walter E. Williams

Most of our nation's problems are a direct result of our being immune, hostile or indifferent to several moral questions. Let's start out with the simple and move to the more complex. Or, stated another way, let's begin with questions that generate the least hostility, moving to those that generate the greatest.

If a person benefits from a hamburger, a suit of clothing, an apartment or an education, who should be forced to pay for it? I believe the question has only one moral answer, namely the person who benefits from a good or service should be forced to pay for it, that's if we wish to distinguish ourselves from thieves who only care about enjoying something and who pays is irrelevant.

Aside from the moral question is the economic efficiency question. If the user of something isn't paying, it's a good chance that he'll overuse and waste it. Our country's problem is that too many Americans want to benefit from things for which they expect other Americans to be taxed.

A related moral question is: Does one American have a moral right to live at the expense of another American? To be more explicit, should Congress, through its taxing authority, give the Bank of America, Citibank, Archer Daniels Midland, farmers, dairymen, college students and poor people the right to live off of the earnings of another American? I'm guessing that only a few Americans would agree with my answer: No one should be forcibly used to serve the purposes of another American.

You might say, "Williams, if Congress makes it a law, then you should submit to being used to serve the purposes of others."

Such a vision introduces the next moral question, namely under what conditions is it moral to initiate force and threats of force against a person who himself has not initiated force or threats against another? Before that question can be answered, you might ask for a bit more specificity that has an important bearing on the answer, namely are we talking about a free or a non-free society?

In a free society, there's no moral case that can be made for the initiation of force against one who hasn't himself initiated force against another. But that's a societal ideal that might be beyond our reach here on Earth. After all, we have delegated certain rights to government to provide certain services, as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, particularly as specified in Article I, Section 8 of the document. Each American is duty-bound to pay his share.


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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