Plundering Our Way to Prosperity?

by Jun 30, 2016

We all face numerous obstacles in life. Many of these are natural. There are always limits to our time and understanding. We must overcome the problem of distance and our useful means are always limited. In fact, the very first principle of economics states that there is no such thing as a free lunch. What this means is that we always face choices in human action because the resources we have at hand to achieve the desired ends are always limited relative to the ends. Another way to state this is to note that as human beings we can always imagine many more ends that we would like to accomplish but simply do not possess the resources to pursue all of them at the current moment. Therefore, we must choose which ends are most important to us and direct our limited means to the achievement of the most valuable ends. This reality was intentionally built into creation by God. This follows since God gave humanity a cultural mandate to take dominion over nature. To do this requires work and, thus, choice.

Beyond these designed limitations is the fact that nature now works against us. Following the fall of humanity into sin, God cursed the ground. As a result, no longer cooperates with our efforts. There are hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanoes that destroy what we have made. Such events set our efforts back. Even without such destructive events there is always entropy and decay. Things simply rot away and deteriorate over time. Thus, our jobs are never fully finished and we must constantly remake things that were already made.

But there is a bigger problem. This problem is our own sinful nature. Since the very design of the world we live in requires work, and since our work will be fraught with all manner of frustration and hardship resulting from the curse, people are prone to avoid working if they can. We are all tempted to let others do the work while we enjoy the fruits of their labor. That is, we are all tempted to violate the eighth commandment and steal the things that help us achieve our own ends from others. Rather than relying on our own productive efforts and engaging in voluntary trading relationships with others, we prefer to make other people our slaves.

Of course stealing can be accomplished in all sorts of ways. We think of the thief lurking in the dark at night possessing a weapon and ready to rob his victim. Or, we can think of the burglar who waits patiently for his victims to leave their property unattended so that he might pilfer what he wishes. Or, we can think of the individual or business that defaults on its contractual obligations thus shortchanging his customer. But there is another kind of theft that is more destructive than these individual actions. That kind of theft is carried out by individuals and businesses who use government to take the property of others and use it for their purposes. It is accomplished when laws are enacted that take money and property from some people in order to give it to other people. It is accomplished when people use government to engage in income redistribution which is always done by using force.

Many rationalizations are used to justify this sort of action. For example, it is often argued that government must intervene to stimulate the economy and create jobs during a recession. One supposed means of doing this is by subsidizing the production of certain products or engaging in the construction of some large scale public works project. But do these activities really promote economic prosperity? To engage in this kind of activity the government must get its resources from somewhere. Namely, they use taxpayer dollars. However, if taxpayers had been left alone they would have used their own money the way they wanted to use it rather than the way that the government uses it. This sort of activity does not create any jobs, it merely redistributes them. The beneficiaries of such activities surely enjoy their benefits, but these come only by extracting the benefits from the taxpayers and that is done by the use of government force. This is nothing more than government plundering its own citizenry for the benefit of a few special interests.  You simply cannot plunder your way to prosperity.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.

1 Comment

  1. Gary Sund

    In my state a welfare recipient receiving full benefits would have to earn the equivalent of $53,000 in the private sector to equal what they now get and that’s not factoring in the value of their non-working hours.

    15% Flat Tax is only answer as far as I can see. No loopholes, every individual, every entity and every corporation pays 15%


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