Ron Paul was the only Congressman yesterday to vote against a resolution to authorize government reconstruction plans for Haiti. His explanation for his vote is here, in which he argues that a US reconstruction plan is just a gateway to establishing Haiti as a long term US protectorate. This concern has been echoed by the non-profit Doctors Without Borders.
But even if we grant the US government the best of intentions, even if we dismiss these concerns as conspiracy, however dubious our reasons for doing so, we should still oppose US aid to Haiti. Extreme cases like this have a certain educational value, in that they separate the libertarian wheat from the chaff. They separate those whose libertarianism is rooted in a philosophical adherence to the non-aggression axiom and those whose libertarianism is only an emotional predisposition toward less government.
Libertarians and conservatives are right to argue that government welfare programs are immoral because they rob a certain subset of taxpayers for the benefit of a subset of tax consumers, and because the taxpayers never consented to the redistribution. Welfare programs are therefore legalized theft. No doubt many of the 411 congressmen to vote in favor of the Haiti resolution (I’m looking at you, Michelle Bachmann) have argued thusly. So how is the same extorted welfare for Haitians morally justifiable?
I do not think it is. It is the same old scenario, except now Americans will be forced to pay for Haitians, maybe in taxes, but more likely in increased debt and inflation. One group is being aggressed against for the sake of another. The only conceivable reason that so many people can oppose one form of welfare but support another form is that their love of liberty is simply emotion. It is easy to argue theoretically against welfare when its recipients are living in anonymous, boring poverty. But when they are on the front pages of newspapers in agonizing despair, it suddenly becomes easy to throw philosophical principle aside and vote in favor of expediency.
The problem is that theory and practice are not so easily delineated. Something cannot be theoretically immoral but justified on account of practical expediency. Such, I think, is the enduring message of Ludwig von Mises’ “Tu ne cede malis…” (“Do not give in to evil [but proceed more boldly against it].”) Unfortunately, there are few Ron Pauls around. Few people will live consistently by principle and can realize that philosophical speculation is not just a parlor game but a necessary component of a good and just life.
The people who side with Ron Paul on the Haitian question will probably be smeared as heartless and selfish. Not so. We value private charity, not coerced charity. (Coerced charity is actually a contradiction in terms, because the “charity” comes from doing as you are commanded, rather than from a moral disposition, as would be implied from the term charity.)
Thus, anyone who is financially able should contribute to Haitian earthquake victims. A good tool for finding the right charity is Charity Navigator. Don’t let the state monopolize the charitable high ground. For the commandment to love your neighbor can only be fulfilled by non-aggressive means; otherwise we’re only talking about which neighbor deserves the love.Published in