On entitlement spending

by Wm. Robert Johnston
8 June 2003

Dear Editor,

In a May 28 letter, Jaime Garcia criticizes a letter by Harvey Christian, who was objecting to tax-subsidized entitlements. Garcia claims that this logic, if carried to completion, would apply to all aspects of government. But Garcia misses the point, demonstrating a lack of understanding of our government’s constitutional role.

The Constitution does not grant the federal government the authority to redistribute wealth, no matter how good the intent. It requires the government to provide for defense, justice, and "general welfare". Does this phrase authorize food stamps and social security? Absolutely not: only in the last century has this provision been so misunderstood.

About 1828, Congress was preparing to pass a bill giving money to the widow of a naval officer. Then Rep. Davy Crockett rose and objected: "We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money." Instead, he volunteered a week's pay from his own pocket.

Crockett's lead was followed on rejecting the bill, but not in personal charity. Today, hardly anyone in government even comprehends, much less supports, the moral argument above, but that makes it no less compelling.

The government is authorized to handle those tasks that cannot be handled at a lower level, and no more. When the federal government redistributes income between individuals, tells people what to do with their trees, or requires businesses to install automatic doors, this is not general welfare, but extraconstitutional meddling.

Garcia is mistaken in his citing of the scriptural call to charity: this is not a responsibility of government, it is a responsibility of the individual. The Bible also declares, "If any one will not work, neither let him eat." Charitable people should personally choose to help those truly in need, not expect a wasteful bureaucracy to handle this charge.

We have a growing fraction of the population who pay no net taxes, but still can vote to take more money from others. Thus Garcia’s welfare mentality is not only morally in error, it also creates a political "tyranny of the majority." Garcia's view may be popular, but an altogether different view is what made America great.

© 2003 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 29 June 2003.
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