Thursday, August 11, 2005

Everyone Else is Doing It

Why do so many lobbyists have little or no reservations about asking the government to steal from others to give to their organization? Why do politicians, who might not rob someone on their own, find themselves constantly using government as a tool to take the property of others? Is it because they can hide among all of the other people doing the very same thing? Or is it because if others are taking their money, they ought to take the money of others? Either way, this is a case of "every one else is doing it."

We defend their organized plunder in the same manner. "Neighborhood A just received funding for new roads; as a members of Neighborhood B, we believe we should receive funding for new roads too!" None of us necessarily want to be the recipients of subsidies, but when we are subsidizing others, the moral objection we originally held disappears.

Some amount of rationalization is necessary too. The way in which we phrase the motivation behind our actions reflects this thought process, "to benefit the community," "to help the disadvantaged," "for the public good," "for the children." We also rationalize our actions by saying, "everyone else is doing it." For example, many people have no objection to download music, arguing even that it is their right. Yet those same individuals would not go into a music store and steal a CD, demanding that it should be allowed because record labels charge too much.

Another part of this behavior is attributable to group mentality and the ability to hide within the group. Individuals don't lobby directly for themselves; rather, individuals lobby on behalf of a larger organization. We don't see IRS employees deciding which houses have more material goods and stealing from them; yet the same individuals work for an organization that takes the earnings of individuals every day. Why would the same individual, who would be unwilling to steal from others directly, have no moral objections to using the government to steal from others and give to his group? Hayek explains some of this phoenomenon,“To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.” Tell a secretary that she is to lie and say you are out of the office and no one would fault her for following your instruction. Perhaps we believe that it is wrong to steal on an individual level, but what about when we ask the government to take the hard earned money of others so we may have our subsidized education and other handouts?

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