Our government, as our Constitution says, derives its powers “from the consent of the governed.” The idea here is that we cannot and should not ask the government to do anything for us that we cannot legally or morally do for ourselves. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? With that premise in mind, lets build the following scenario.
You live in a triplex. You are in apartment No. 1, Johnson is in apartment No. 2, and Wilson lives in No. 3. You discover that Wilson is ill and cannot work. He never bothered to buy a health insurance policy because he just didn’t believe he would need it for quite some time. Wilson, it seems, is not good at making rational decisions. He has no savings because it was more important to use that money for bondo on his Camaro and a good Panama City Beach vacation every summer.
You believe that Wilson is about to starve to death. His electricity is going to be cut off, and he can’t afford to buy his blood pressure medication. You decide to help, charitable soul that you are. You scrounge through your bank account and find $200 to help your neighbor out.
Good for you. What a guy!
A month later Wilson is still in trouble. Your $200 wasn’t enough. It turns out that he spent $20 for a case of beer and at least another $100 or so at the horse races. Things may not be all that desperate, though. One of the thirty-five Lotto tickets he bought with that carton of cigarettes might pan out.
You decide to visit Johnson in apartment No. 2 to see if he can chip in. Johnson tells you that, while he certainly understands the seriousness of Wilson’s situation, he needs his money to send his daughter to college in the fall and to pay some of his own medical bills. Besides, he’s trying to save up some cash for a down payment on a house so he can get out of this weird apartment building.
You make the determination that it is far more important for Wilson to have some of Johnson's money than it is for Johnson to keep it and spend it on his own daughter’s education and a new home. So, here’s the question:
“Do you have the right to pull out a gun and point it right at the middle of Johnson’s forehead? Can you use that gun to compel Johnson to hand over a few hundred dollars for Wilson's care, and then tell Johnson that you’ll be back for more next month?”
Obviously, when put like this, you won’t run into too many people who will tell you that they have the right to take Johnson's money by force and give it to Wilson. They might say that they would try to talk Johnson into being a bit more charitable, but they don’t think that they have the right to just rob him at gunpoint. But this is the next question:
“Well, if our government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, how can you ask your government to do something for you that, if you did it for yourself, would be a crime? Why would it not be OK for you to take that money from Johnson by force and give it to Wilson, but it would be perfectly OK with you if the government went ahead and did it?”
Last time I checked, IRS agents were armed.
Another way to put this is an example from J. Budziszewski’s book, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man: “On a dark street, a man draws a knife and demands my money for drugs.”
1. Instead of demanding my money for drugs, he demands it for the Church.
2. Instead of being alone, he is with a bishop of the Church who act as bagman.
3. Instead of drawing a knife, he produces a policeman who says I must do as he says.
4. Instead of meeting me on the street, he mails me his demand as an official agent of the government.