Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Larceny of the Heart and Government

I noticed that my dog Hugo had taken a stick from my wood pile to play with. Since I was walking to the garden to dump the kitchen compost, with nothing else on my mind, this launched a train of thought about the nature of theft. I thought about how I hate being stolen from, but have not led a pure life in that regard myself. I thought about how society and government work, and how they could work better. Only then did I go back to thinking about how Hugo seems to be able to distinguish between what belongs to him and what belongs to others. There seems to be a mammalian basis for the concept of private property.

The phrase "larceny of the heart" kept popping back into my head. I believe almost every human being experiences larceny of the heart from time to time. I would put define this as a step building on mere desire. It involves knowing that something does not belong to you, and thinking of grabbing it anyway. Theft is actually acting on that feeling. Sometimes we humans rationalize our thefts. After all, if something has been stolen from us, do we not have the right to steal it back?

Like most people I was brought up on the straight and narrow regarding theft. It is hard to imagine either of my parents, poor as they might have been as children, ever stealing anything as adults. My childhood thefts were extremely petty.

The socialist ideas that were circulating in that era (late 1960's) only gradually had an affect on me. They can be summed up: capitalism is theft. By paying workers poorly, or overcharging consumers, or both, capital is accumulated. To that, I learned when I started studying political science, add an overlay of imperialism. It is possible to pay workers well in an imperialist country, and keep the capitalists and politicians happy too, by overcharging consumers and underpaying workers in economic colonies.

Many theories of government have been proposed, but they boil down to two scenarios: government to steal, and government to prevent stealing. Once a government has been around for a while, it usually does some of both, and it is usually biased to the status quo. This is that there are rich people, and they won't tolerate the idea that their wealth was created by some form of theft. No one is supposed to steal, but sharp business practices of the past, and even past violence, is to be forgotten about in all equations of justice.

Looking at our current government, we can argue endlessly about what part of taxation is for communal projects we all benefit from, and what is some form of legitimized theft. The rich don't like the idea of progressive taxation. The middle class may not like being taxed to subsidize both wealthy corporations (largely owned by rich people) and the needy. The people who do most of the actual work, but whose pay makes it fair to describe them as working class or even working poor, don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else. And the poor, well, they are a real mixed lot. Except they all want one thing in common: they want more. They share that trait with all of us.

When someone, or an institution, asks for a government subsidy or tax break, do they ever say to themselves, from whom will these tax dollars be stolen? I don't think so. Not the person faking a disability to draw $200 a week, not the defense contractor corporation grabbing $2 million a day.

I believe the core function of government should be the establishment of justice. You should get that for your tax dollar, even before you get roads or public schools or other things I think governments are the best institutions for providing. In America justice is scarce; mostly you have to hire lawyers to even have a chance of getting it. That is fundamentally wrong.

I think that very little of the "crime" that is actually punished in the United States involves serious theft or violence. It has nothing to do with justice. It is almost all about black markets. If the government would stop creating black markets, most ordinary (non-business) crime would go away. Prisons could be closed, saving the taxpayers a great deal of money.

The other place where we could clearly cut back on government is military spending. America is safe from foreign invasion. Unfortunately, other nations are not safe from the U.S.

I'd like a little justice for my tax dollars. I believe that by setting examples at the top, there would be less trouble at the bottom. The ideal examples would be Presidents and Congresses that did not commit crimes. But since that is rare in U.S. history, lets start with this: a war crimes tribunal. Let's try and punish every president from George Washington to Barack Obama who has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Then we can, with clear consciences, address the trickier issue of what is fair taxation, and what is legalized theft.

No comments:

Post a Comment