Category Archives: Government

How to recognize an unjust law.

Unjust lawThe initiation of violence is the very the essence of government. No one disputes this fact. It is practically the definition of the modern state.

“What essentially sets a nation-state apart,” declared candidate Barack Obama, is that it has a “monopoly on violence.”

Since the state is known for its use of violence to enforce its decrees, Catholics need to go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 1930, to understand why governments use violence to compel obedience:

1930. Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. . . .

What are these human rights? The right to private property. CCC 2304. A worker’s right to spend his earnings however he chooses. Rerum Novarum 5. The principle purpose of the state is to protect these rights and the right to personal and collective security; that is, to promote the common good. CCC 1925.

The government that “flouts” the rights of people–an unjust government–can only obtain obedience to its laws by the use of violence.

Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that an unjust law is no law at all:

ThomasAquinas“As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all”: wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.” Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 95, Art. 2.

Since natural law is recognizable to most men, many succeed in conforming their conduct to much of it without the need for punishment. One way of measuring the “justness” of a law is to ask whether most people readily obey a law even without the fear of punishment. By this measure, laws against murder, theft and assault are just laws.

Contrast these laws–which are widely respected–with laws designed to control people who are not harming anyone (except perhaps themselves). These people may be unlicensed barbers, brewers, midwives or street vendors. Or they are guilty of questionable conduct: gamblers, smokers, drug users & sellers, drunks and adulterers. Most of these people would not kill you even if they could get away with it, but they freely commit these and other offenses, none of which harm anyone but themselves.

Some of these actions are widely considered to be immoral vices, while other conduct is prohibited for various political/regulatory reasons. People are more likely to commit such offenses when the law appears arbitrary, meddlesome and paternalistic; especially if the likelihood of being caught is low.

The one law that no one obeys voluntarily

There is one demand of government that almost no one (however virtuous they may be) would obey except under the threat of violence. That demand is the payment of taxes.

DonationImagine that the United States of America sends me an annual tax bill. It’s not really a bill. It’s just a notice telling me that my family’s share of the national budget is $7,325.00. The payment is purely voluntary, but I really ought to “do my part” and send in the money. Other than the social ostracism my failure might engender, there is no penalty for non-compliance.

Would anyone pay this bill? Perhaps we would, if: 1) we heartily approve of everything the government does; and 2) we think the government is so efficient that we are not motivated to look to competing services. Realistically, this is not going to happen. Those few people who claim they would pay such a “bill,” still want a proviso that everybody else would pay too. Of course, without the threat of violence, that is not going to happen either.

The benchmark of an unjust law is the degree to which the lawgiver must threaten or use violence to enforce obedience. A law which few will obey without the threat of force is–by this measure–an unjust law. Compulsory taxation is, therefore, unjust.

Libertarian Catholic

For more on violence and government:

Minimum wage: a barrier, not a benefit.

Anarcho-Ichthus

Government regulations use force to make us do what we might not otherwise do, supposedly for our own good. The irony of the minimum wage–like most government regulation–it that it causes more harm than good; and that the harm falls on those who can least afford it.

No one will disagree that a person ought to earn a “just wage.” The trouble is that government uses force to make employers pay a wage it deems “just,” an arbitrary figure arrived at by warring political factions. In reality, the minimum wage is neither a “just” wage nor a free market wage (one agreed to by both parties), except by occasional accident.

The first thing to notice about the minimum wage is that it applies only to those at the bottom of the pay ladder, unskilled, mostly younger people limited by their abilities or lack of experience.

Jeffrey Tucker tells how the minimum wage put his friend Tad out of work:

The minimum wage is nothing more than a barrier separating unskilled workers from a job. There is no requirement that employers hire low-skilled workers. What the minimum wage laws tell employers is they cannot hire anyone whose skill or ability prevents them from producing at the level of the minimum wage. For that person, the minimum wage is not a benefit; it is a door slammed in his face.

If his abilities enable him to produce $7 an hour, how can any employer afford to hire him at $8 an hour? The result is that these low-skilled workers cannot be hired even though they would benefit from the job.

Consider a small businessman who can buy a machine that can accomplish a task at a cost of $7 an hour or hire someone to do the job at a minimum wage of $8 an hour. If the machine and the worker can both do the job for $7, the employer may prefer to give the job to the worker, but he cannot because the government makes that a crime. He could pay the worker $8, but that would last only as long as it takes his competitor (who does buy the machine) to bankrupt him with lower prices.

The minimum wage is the reason some unskilled people will never find work. Just as clearly, if both employer and employee were free to agree on a wage, almost anyone could be employed, no matter how inexperienced, or how mentally or physically handicapped. Government, however, would rather give disability payments to the poor than see them working below whatever the minimum wage happens to be.

Some fear that the unskilled could be exploited without a minimum wage, but the harm in creating a permanent welfare class is far more damaging. John Paul II, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, encouraged the fuller “participation” of needy people in the economy, “to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources.” For those on the lowest economic rung, the minimum wage prevents such participation.

It is curious that much of the pressure on politicians to increase the minimum wage comes not from the poor, but from the unions, whose members have no interest in working for minimum wage. They do have an interest, however, in preventing competition from workers further down the ladder.  Larger corporations may also favor the minimum wage as a barrier against competition. Companies that are either better situated to absorb a minimum wage increase or that already pay their lowest-skilled workers more than the minimum wage are thus given an advantage over their smaller competitors.

Mandatory minimum wages are ineffective because they are price controls by another name. While the real beneficiaries of the minimum wage laws are people with skills and experience, many people are genuinely concerned that without a minimum wage, employers will be able to pay wages that are even below a free market wage.
Such an outcome could never exist for a significant time in a free market.

Simple math dictates that no merchant can pay employees more (or less) than those employees produce. Competition from similar businesses will quickly force the over-paying merchant to lower his wages or he will: a) lose his customers due to the higher prices he must charge; or b) lose his profits if he does not raise prices.

What will happen if the merchant is stingy and somehow manages to hire employees at $6 an hour when the market rate for unskilled labor is around $8 for similar work? Such a variance will quickly be resolved when the $6 employees learn they can earn more with a competitor across the street; or when the merchant across the street learns he can hire away as many employees as he needs from the stingy merchant at $6.50, or $7 or $8.

The stingy merchant will be able to hang on to his employees only if he pays $8 (the market wage). If he pays $6.50, the merchant further up the street will hire them away at $7, but only until the next merchant hires them away at $7.50, and so it goes. The market itself will correct inequities in pay rates—and unlike government—will do so without causing unemployment of the least productive and vocationally handicapped workers.

[excerpted from Chapter 6 of Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be libertarian]

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Tolstoy: on the purpose of national armies

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It is generally supposed that governments strengthen their forces only to defend the state from other states, in oblivion of the fact that armies are necessary, before all things, for the defense of governments from their own oppressed and enslaved subjects.

~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You

Doing evil that good may come of it? Romans 3:8 as applied to the state.

No matter how well a government might behave in most matters, no modern state (except perhaps one: the Vatican) avoids aggression as a means of accomplishing the “good.” Even the “good” government—which never initiates violence except to finance its good-deed-doing—finds itself making the moral choice condemned by St. Paul in Romans 3:8: that of doing evil that good may come of it.

Libertarianism and the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.”

Few trends are more damaging than the relentless march of the state into every area of life. With each passing year, the state brazenly exposes its contempt for the dignity of the individual and thereby testifies to its own illegitimacy.

The Church recognizes that while man is a social creature, he himself is prior to society; prior to the state. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it.” CCC 1930.

Man is above the stateHuman society is first composed of its individual members, who form numerous associations for survival, companionship and every other human need. Whether the group is a family, a church or any other co-operative effort, every institution derives its governing authority from the consent of the individual person. Society has an order that must be respected.

Pope Leo XIII taught that “Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.” Rerum Novarum, 7.

Regarding the next societal level—the family—he wrote, “[T]he domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of community, and founded more immediately in nature.” Rerum Novarum, 13.

This natural ordering of society is known as the principle of subsidiarity.

In 1931, Pope Pius XI lamented the “near extinction” of these intermediate institutions that left the individual standing alone before his master, the state. In the place of

. . . that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State. This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. 

Quadragesimo Anno, 78 – 80.

Subsidiarity is a principle of respect, and of justice. Subsidiarity best promotes the common good at every level of society. Nations fall. Civilizations die, but every person we meet is an immortal being, higher than anything in the physical creation; above and before the state. So let’s show some respect.

 

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