Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The fallacy of 'giving back'

While this idea of 'giving back' has long been a pet peeve of mine, I must admit that this particular post was inspired by Walter Williams' column, "Understanding Liberals," where he concludes:

When a nation vilifies the productive and makes mascots of the unproductive, it doesn't bode well for its future.

Throughout the column he talks about the liberal concept of 'giving back' - rich people must be forced to 'give back' to the poor, as if what they'd earned had been taken forcibly from someone else. As Williams explains, liberals have a "misunderstanding" of the sources of income:

Suppose the true source of income was a gigantic pile of money meant to be shared equally amongst Americans. The reason some people have more money than others is because they got to the pile first and greedily took an unfair share. That being the case, justice requires that the rich give something back, and if they won't do so voluntarily, Congress should confiscate their ill-gotten gains and return them to their rightful owners.

A competing liberal implied assumption about the sources of income is that income is distributed, as in distribution of income. There might be a dealer of dollars. The reason why some people have more dollars than others is because the dollar dealer is a racist, a sexist, a multinationalist or a conservative. The only right thing to do, for those to whom the dollar dealer unfairly dealt too many dollars, is to give back their ill-gotten gains. If they refuse to do so, then it's the job of Congress to use their agents at the IRS to confiscate their ill-gotten gains and return them to their rightful owners.

Williams, in his plain and succinct language, details why this is a fallacy and certainly a wrong assumption to make:

Who should give back? Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart, Bill Gates founded Microsoft, Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer. Which one of these billionaires acquired their wealth by coercing us to purchase their product? Which has taken the property of anyone?

Each of these examples, and thousands more, is a person who served his fellow men by producing products and services that made life easier. What else do they owe? They've already given.

If anyone is obliged to give something back, they are the thieves and recipients of legalized theft, namely people who've used Congress, including America's corporate welfare queens, to live at the expense of others.

But it's not just in economic terms or redistribution of wealth that this concept exists. It's also routinely espoused by candidates as their reason for running for office, which is where my pet peeve comes in.

Too many candidates have no idea why they're running for office - other than they want to - but they can't come out and say "I just want to be..." a school board member, councilman, mayor, representative, senator, etc... That would be selfish, wouldn't it?

They don't say they're running with specific goals in mind, like reducing taxes, cutting costs, enlarging government, rewarding their friends. Such issues, whether liberal or conservative, don't resonate well with voters and have other, controversial, concepts associated with them.

So rather than tell the truth, they state that they want to 'give back' to the community.

My first thought when hearing such a phrase is: "Give back - what have you taken?!? And if you took something, running for office isn't the way to return it - that just puts you in a position to take more!"

Most who make this claim cannot even explain, when asked, what it means. They'll say that their 'community' has helped them in some way - been good to them, educated them, provided a safe place to grow up, given them an environment of clients for their business, etc...

But those things are 'purchased' - in fact, the education and safe environment are clearly paid for by themselves and their own families through income and property taxes and even fees. As for clients, that's a free exchange of goods - people willingly purchasing a product or service which has been offered. That's not a 'taking' (unless you're bilking them in some way) but an economic transaction.

Of course, in today's world, many people see such transactions as 'gifts of government,' failing to understand the economic principles behind the free exchange of goods, services or products. Too many think that their safety, for example, is not something purchased but something they, as a member of a community, are 'entitled' to without consequence (cost) and must, therefore, be 'repaid' to the community as a collective.

It is the implied collectiveness that so concerns me with this 'giving back' concept. It is as if they are saying that everything you have belongs to the community as a whole and you cannot earn them, as a result of your hard work, labor or ingenuity; they are 'granted' to you by the community as a whole which is responsible for dealing them out, obligating you to 'repay' them at some future date through service to the collective.

This collectiveness approach is clearly anti-American, as it is the opposite of individual liberty with the resulting consequences/rewards.

But there are instances when candidates have been the beneficiaries of charity - either by groups of people coming together in an organization or by individuals. If, in fact, a candidate has been such a recipient of someone else's charitable efforts, the way to 'give back' isn't to run for office, but to serve in a similar capacity, either by repaying to the individual(s) or organization through service or donations, or by 'paying forward' to some other in a similar circumstance.

The fallacy of 'giving back' as a reason for running for office is even more onerous when one considers the authority of such offices sought. Most individuals who are elected do not approach the duty of the office as 'service' to the community but as an authority over the community (or a warped sense of service being to tell others what is best for them despite their own opinions or wishes)- instituting laws, rules, regulations, fees, taxes, etc... to accomplish their own personal goals, even when such goals are contrary to the community as a whole.

So when I hear a candidate/politician say they want to 'give back,' I know two things:

1) They really don't know why they are running for office, or, if they do, they don't want the real reason known, and

2) They aren't going to be the type of representative that I want in a position of authority, as they clearly do not understand freedom versus collectivism and will make decisions based upon their 'misunderstanding.'


skeeter1107 said...

The concept of "giving back" is a sound idea if it involves the giving back of knowledge and information. The idea that giving back involves some sort of monetary obligation is only valid if you actually borrowed something in the first place.

Unfortunately it's been twisted through the prism of liberalism as to impose a sense of guilt and obligation because you somehow didn't fully earn it.

In our society, the term "giving back" has become accepted dogma and used as a hanging participle. When someone challenges that dogma, the knee jerk reaction is to shrilly denounce that person by calling them names. Such as...uncaring, sell-out, Republican and worst of all Conservative.

But that's okay. It's mean we hit a nerve.

The Frizzy Hooker said...

Very interesting

Mad Jack said...

This is a good post and I'd rate it as one of your better efforts.

I don't think that the point about their reasons for running or holding office are entirely accurate. By their actions, I think that they know what the reasons are, but that quantifying these reasons and (heaven help us all) actually publishing them would lead to a victory at election time. It might lead to something else...

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