"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Destroying Life in Order to Save It
President George W. Bush, threatening finally to use his veto pen after nearly four-and-a-half years in office, said of a bill likely to pass both houses of Congress and wind up on his desk in the near future, 'I made [it] very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that.'
Bravo for you, Mr. President! You are absolutely, one hundred percent correct, at least insofar as you are hewing to Thomas Jefferson's dictum that '[t]o compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.' There are some taxpayers out here, in both red and blue states, who believe that embryonic stem cell research amounts to an abhorrent destruction of human life, and we do not wish to see our hard-earned money stolen from us and then used to fund such research, regardless of its stated objectives. Please stick to your guns and veto a bill for once in your life.
There is, of course, a caveat to all this, or else I wouldn't have much of a column. The caveat is this: How about some consistency, Mr. President?
Suppose I change just one word in the president's comment above, as follows: 'I made [it] very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote a policy which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that.' Now we have a problem, for this relatively insignificant change to the quotation'really a mere broadening of the theme'completely undercuts the president's rationale for invading Iraq, particularly given the now indisputable facts that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and no relationship with al-Qaeda. After all, aren't we now told that those 'intelligence failures' should be overlooked in light of the fact that Iraq is now awash in democracy? In other words, yes, we had to destroy some life in Iraq'and going to war guarantees a loss of life, so this can't be said to be a mere byproduct of the invasion'but it was for the greater good of saving others' lives and bringing freedom to Iraq and, in turn, to the broader Middle East.
As I pointed out in an earlier column, to accept such logic puts one in the company of one Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who quipped, 'You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.' Nevertheless, that is the logic employed with regard to foreign policy by the same man who refuses (and, again, rightly so) to spend taxpayers' money on a domestic policy that 'destroys life in order to save life.'
A conservative who understands and accepts this argument might nevertheless argue that, on the one hand, military spending is constitutional, whereas federal funding of science isn't. That is true, but it skirts the issue of whether or not a person should be compelled to fund policies with which he disagrees. So what if there's a piece of parchment somewhere that says that a gang of thieves can steal my money and spend it killing foreigners but can't spend it on research? If I oppose the use of my money to fund a war, why should I be compelled to give it up for said purpose? For that matter, even if I support spending my money on war or research, why should I be forced to do so?
'But,' pleads our hypothetical conservative, 'if we follow your line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then taxation would be impossible! How can the government be expected to operate in the absence of taxation?'
Our interlocutor is correct that taxation is impossible under this line of reasoning. In true Socratic fashion, the response is a series of other questions: What other line of reasoning do you suggest? Shall we declare that some theft is wrong but other theft is not, namely, that theft which the government has declared legal? Shall we pencil in an exception to Jefferson 's rule, to wit: 'To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical, except when the majority of his neighbors decides otherwise'?
Furthermore, if the government can't operate on voluntary contributions, then why should it continue to exist at all? If people have to be forced to support it, it follows that they don't genuinely value the services that the government ostensibly supplies. If, on the other hand, they willingly turn over their money to it, it implies that they do value its services.
This is, after all, how things operate outside the realm of the state. If I don't like the product Ron Popeil is hawking on TV at two in the morning, I don't have to give him any of my money, even if he sends me the product without my requesting it. If a contractor paves my driveway and leaves gaping potholes in it, I don't have to pay him regardless of whether I consented to his work beforehand. If, conversely, I happen to see a suit in a store window and decide I wish to own it, I will gladly hand over the cash to the store owner in exchange for the suit, knowing that if I am dissatisfied with the suit once I get it home, I can still return it and get my money back.
Which system is more moral: the one that coerces an arbitrarily determined payment irrespective of one's satisfaction with the product or service provided (if any is provided at all), or the one that offers a choice of whether or not to pay a price agreed upon by both buyer and seller on condition that one is satisfied with the product or service provided? It's no contest.
In one sentence, then, George W. Bush has just destroyed the rationale for both taxpayer-funded wars as a specific policy and taxation itself as a general policy. Unfortunately, neither he nor most of his supporters recognize it. Fortunately, we liberty lovers are here to ensure that Bush's embryonic idea grows into a living, breathing revolution in the minds of men.