Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let the Guilt Trip Begin

With the census getting started, pundits and government officials have begun their campaign to "educate" the public regarding the importance of participating. As one example, we have an OpEd in Sunday's Chronicle:
The city of Houston loses approximately $1,700 for each person who doesn't fill out the census form. When you don't fill out your census form, you're shortchanging your neighborhood.
In fact, you end up sending your tax dollars to other states like Oklahoma, Colorado or, God forbid, California or New York. Your tax dollars are collected annually from your income and the sales of products you've purchased, but determining where those tax dollars get spent will be done using data collected from the 2010 census. Wouldn't you rather our tax dollars return home to our communities?
On a superficial level, this might appear as an appeal to our self-interest. Wouldn't you rather have your money spent on roads that you can use on a daily basis? Wouldn't you rather that your money be used for schools that your children attend? Most people would say "yes" while ignoring or evading the premise that underlies such questions.

The money taken through taxation is not our money--it belongs to individuals. My money belongs to me, just as your money belongs to you. We do not share ownership. Further, I have a moral right to spend my money as I choose, just as you have a moral right to spend your money as you choose. Nobody, including the government, has a moral right to dictate how anyone uses his money.

Of course, most people see it differently. They believe that each of us must pay our "fair share" and the use of coercion to achieve this end is proper. They believe that there are certain things--such as building roads and funding schools--that must be done collectively. Left to our own devices individuals would refuse to pay for such things, to the detriment of all. If we are free to pursue our own self-interest, each of us would neglect these "common goods".

An honest look at the world would reveal the absurdity of such a claim. Grocery stores, cell phone companies, auto dealers, and indeed every private business produces and provides values desired and needed by individuals. Coercion is not required to motivate farmers to grow food; force is not needed for that food to be processed and delivered to our stores. The self-interest of farmers and food processors is the only motivation required. Indeed, it is the self-interest of each individual that motivates him to seek more education, or work an extra job, or take other actions to improve his life.

That individuals can pursue their self-interest and society still functions in a civilized and mutually beneficial manner escapes most people, despite the overwhelming evidence. Fundamentally, the reason is not the impracticality of rational self-interest, but the view that it is immoral. Morally, we are taught, we have an obligation to place the welfare and interests of others before our own. The standard of morality, we are taught, is self-sacrificial service to others, whether the nation, the state (in the case of the advocates of nullification), or our community. And this unchosen obligation is not a mere suggestion, but one that you must honor, or else:
Some treat the census the way they treat voting. If they don't vote, they're making a statement about their disapproval of all candidates. Or they choose not to be bothered. But filling out your census form isn't a right. It's your obligation. You're required to fill out your form by law or face federally mandated fines.
In other words, if you choose to remain silent in regard to the census, you are subject to criminal penalties. As a friend pointed out in 2000, when they come to arrest you for your "crime" you will be informed that you have a right to remain silent, which is exactly what they are arresting you for doing.

This contradiction is not an accident, nor is it an isolated example of government incompetence. It is the very nature of the initiation of force. Force negates the mind; it compels individuals to act, not in accordance with their own judgment (which might be aimed at improving their own life, i.e., their self-interest), but for the purpose of serving others. In the case of the census, we must do "our part" for our "community", or else.

Any appeals to self-interest are merely cowardly attempts to hide what lies behind the census. Such appeals are an attempt to inculcate guilt, hoping that we will do "voluntarily" what they will ultimately force us to do. What thugs of every persuasion do not realize is that the mind cannot be forced. They count on their victim's moral sanction and cooperation. When they get neither, they must expose themselves for the brutes that they are. And that is something that the census takers do not count on.

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