Good Intentions and Bad Policy

There is a common phrase of unknown origin that simply states “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions!”.  The phrase has often been interpreted in reference to well-meaning individuals with good intentions who do not act upon them.   When it comes to government I’ve never really seen it like that.  Actually I find myself more aligned with Daniel Webster who wrote:

“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”

The law, or government for that matter, should be such that it restrains us from doing harm to one another.  As was noted by John Locke “The Reason men enter into society in the first place is for the mutual protection of their property!”   Property in that sense in not limited to our real estate but to all property: the property of our Life, the property of our Liberty and the property of our possessions.

This concept is also nothing new, even the 10 Commandments of the Bible point to the mutual respect we are to show to each other with regards to Property.  After all, what is Thou Shall not steal but a command to respect the things that belong of another individual;  Thou Shall not Kill but a command to respect the Lives of others?

What happens when government steps outside of those bonds of protections and into the bonds of becoming our caregiver?

Certainly, as individuals, we should see the need for Charity.  As individuals we should do what we can to help our fellow man.   If we then, as individuals, should have such good intentions, then shouldn’t the government also pursue these acts of Charity.

Many think so but the way I see it, this begins us down that Road To Hell.

Government, in the first place, is incapable of being Charitable.  Government doesn’t have any money that they haven’t taken by force from other individuals.    You can’t be Charitable when you are spending other people’s money.  No matter how great the need may seem to be,  forcefully taking money from one group to give to another isn’t Charity.

In the first place it violates the very thing that Government was intended to do.   We can look at the “too big to fail” bailout of 2008.   Here was the government stepping in to allegedly save institutions with executives being very well compensated in those institutions and in order to save them.  They then took money from individuals making far less establishing a debt that will be paid for by future generations.   The government took from those who had far less to provide for those who had far more.   Some of those institutions saved may be more solvent today than they were but it did so by creating economic hardships for others and it did so by force.

When Thomas Jefferson penned our Declaration of Independence he replaced the term property in paraphrasing John Locke and wrote, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.   Jefferson, in doing so provided a more accurate understanding of our right to property.

We do not have a right to a thing, but we do have the right to pursue those things that make us happy unhindered by government.   Just Laws would be laws that protected that pursuit, not guaranteed the results.

Once you have worked to obtain your home, invested in your own castle, no matter how modest, you have a right to keep that which you honestly obtained.  That is not to say that you have a right to a house, it is only to say that once you have purchased that house; once you have done what is necessary, the home is yours.   The same applies to all other forms of property.

In understanding this pursuit of Happiness, we also need to understand that all actions have consequences.  Pursuing in not a guarantee of positive results.  Negative actions have negative consequences.  Just as you have a right to succeed we also have a right to fail.

Today our government indulges itself in the feel good rationale of doing things out of the best of intentions.   The renaming of roads and bridges is just one of those examples.  Yes, its a feel good moment, but is this really the necessary functions of government.   Few stop to think about the cost of such projects and in the grand scheme of things it may pale in comparison to other government expenditures but these efforts still come at an expense of other people’s money.

There is also the continual designation of a day, week, month or other period of time to recognize some organization or cause.  Regardless of the intention, the cost to the taxpayer in this goodwill effort results in far too few taxpayers even being aware that such a designation has been made.

These seem like such little things when you are talking about budgets in the billions but those budgets are developed by spending a little here and little there until we are spending quite a bit…and regardless of the goodwill intent, the burden of taxation in these allegedly charitable endeavors adds up without ever questioning if Charitable intentions can be forced.

I argue that they can’t.

Legislators certainly have the right to dispose of their own income however they see fit in the pursuit of their own happiness.  Its a different matter entirely when the Legislators decide, no matter how good the cause, to make use of taxpayer money to pursue these goodwill endeavors as though it is the governments role to be our moral rule book in charitable giving.

We should be free to support whatever organizations we choose to support.  We can’t do that as readily if government is determining these good-will intentions by taking money from us to provide for those good will endeavors that we, as individuals, may not agree with.  By taking that money they prevent us from exercising our own determination through our own free-will to give to the good-will intention of our hearts desire.

In essence, we become enslaved to the obligation of the good-will intent of our Legislators preventing us the freedom of exercising our own true spirit of Charity.   It’s a case where good intentions generates bad policy.  It’s one of those times through Legislative authority when acting on those good intentions has consequences that violate the real nature of just governments.











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