Think Tanks Wrap-up

Dec. 10, 2001 at 11:46 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.

Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON--Stimulus or War Profiteering?

*Micah Sifry, senior analyst with Public Campaign.

"It's obscene that some of corporate America thinks this is the moment to cash in on all their access and influence in Congress with unwarranted tax rebates and unnecessary bailouts. By a margin of 56 to 32 percent, the public chooses increased government spending over new tax cuts, according to a Gallup Poll. But Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says not to worry. The $100 billion House bill will provide 300,000 new jobs, he told the Sunday TV talk shows. That works out to $333,333 in corporate welfare for every new job. Rather than using the word 'stimulus,' the bill should be called the Campaign Contributors War Profiteering Act of 2001."

*William Hartung, senior research fellow at the World Policy Institute and author of "The New

Business of War."

"U.S. military spending will increase by more than $50 billion over last year's total, creating a windfall for U.S. weapons manufacturers. Despite the evidence of Sept. 11 that the U.S. is more vulnerable to low-tech terrorist attacks than to ballistic missiles, President Bush's Star Wars scheme was authorized for more than $8 billion, an increase of nearly 57 percent. The vast majority of the funds authorized have little or nothing to do with protecting the country from future terrorist attacks. The money the Democrats tried to add is a real mixed bag. There is a danger that homeland security could become another pork barrel project -- or worse, an excuse to cut back on civil liberties and the right of dissent.... I don't think you can organize a country simply under the rhetoric of war on terrorism. There are other priorities that need to be respected."

*Holly Sklar, co-author of the new book "Raise The Floor: Wages and Policies That Work

For All Of Us."

"We have crucial choices to make as we work to revive the economy in the wake of Sept. 11 and recession: We can rebuild the economy in a way that brings us closer together -- or drives us apart. During the boom, we grew further apart. Average workers have still

not caught up to the wages of their counterparts in 1973, adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent has as much after-tax income as the 100 million Americans with the lowest incomes. Tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations would be as irresponsible as taking your paychecks, health insurance, retirement savings and children's college funds and blowing them on a gambling spree. We need economic stimulus, not greed stimulus."

*Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

"While virtually everyone in the country saw Sept. 11 as an immense tragedy, many special interests saw it as a rich opportunity. They promptly sent hoards of lobbyists to swarm Capitol Hill to line up for all kinds of goodies. The airline industry was the first in line and got a $15 billion bailout package with no strings attached. It didn't even have to share the money with its workers. Other industries have followed suit. The insurance

industry is pressing for the government to bail it out in future attacks..."

Ludwig von Mises Institute

(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism --often known as libertarianism -- and the Austrian School of economics. Grounded in the work of economists Ludwig VON Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, LVMI seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate by advancing the Austrian School of economics and by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive.)

AUBURN, Ala.--Who Owes What To Whom?

by Lawrence W. Reed

For a society that has fed, clothed, housed, cared for, informed, entertained, and otherwise

enriched more people at higher levels than any in the history of the planet, there sure is a lot of

groundless guilt in America.

Manifestations of that guilt abound. The example that peeves me the most is the one we often

hear from well-meaning philanthropists who adorn their charitable giving with this little chestnut: "I want to give something back."

It always sounds like they're apologizing for having been successful.

Translated, that statement means something like this: "I've accumulated some wealth over the years. Never mind how I did it, I just feel guilty for having done it. There's something wrong with my having more than somebody else, but don't ask me to explain how or why because it's

just a fuzzy, uneasy feeling on my part. Because I have something, I feel obligated to have less of it. It makes me feel good to give it away because doing so expunges me of the sin of having it in the first place. Now I'm a good guy, am I not?"

It was apparent to me how deeply ingrained this mindset has become when I visited the gravesite of John D. Rockefeller at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple years ago. The wording on a nearby plaque commemorating the life of this remarkable entrepreneur implied that giving much of his fortune away was as worthy an achievement as building the great international enterprise, Standard Oil, that produced the wealth in the first place.

The history books most kids learn from these days go a step further. They routinely criticize people like Rockefeller for the wealth they created and for the profit or self-interest motive that played a part in their creating it, while lauding them for relieving themselves of it.

More than once, philanthropists have bestowed contributions upon my organization and explained to me that by doing so they were "giving something back." They didn't mean that they were giving my group something they had first taken from us at an earlier date; they meant that

by giving to us, they were paying some debt to society at large. None of the checks were ever made out to "society." They were written to "Mackinac Center for Public Policy."

But I couldn't help but wonder, "If these people are giving this money out of some sense of guilt and obligation, they must have done something wrong. If they did, doesn't it make me an accomplice to be sharing in the loot?"

It turns out that, with few exceptions, these philanthropists really had not done anything wrong. They made money in their lives, to be sure, but they didn't steal it. They took risks they didn't have to. They invested their own funds, or what they first borrowed and later paid back with

interest. They created jobs, paid market wages to willing workers, and thereby generated livelihoods for thousands of families. They invented things that didn't exist before, some of which saved lives and made us healthier. They manufactured products and provided services, for which they asked and received market prices. They had willing and eager customers who came back for more again and again. They had stockholders to whom they had to offer favorable returns.

They also had competitors, and had to stay on top of things or lose out to them. They didn't use force to get where they got; they relied on free exchange and voluntary contract. They paid their bills and debts in full. And every year they donated some of their profits to lots of community charities no law required them to support. Not a one of them that I know ever did any jail

time for anything.

So how is it that anybody can add all that up and still feel guilty? I suspect that if they are genuinely guilty of anything, it's allowing themselves to be intimidated by the losers and the envious of the world-the people who are in the redistribution business either because they

don't know how to create anything or they simply choose the easy way out of life. They just take what they want, or hire politicians to take it for them.

Or like a few in the clergy who think that wealth is not made but simply "collected," they lay a guilt trip on people until they disgorge their lucre-notwithstanding the Tenth Commandment against coveting. Certainly, people of faith have a scriptural obligation to tithe to their church,

mosque, or synagogue, but that's another matter and not at issue here.

A person who breaches a contract owes something, but it's to the specific party on the other side of the deal. Steal someone else's property and you owe it to the person you stole it from, not society, to give it back. Those obligations are real, and they stem from a voluntary agreement in the first instance, or from an immoral act of theft in the second.

This business of "giving something back" simply because you earned it amounts to manufacturing mystical obligations where none exist in reality. It turns the whole concept of "debt" on its head. To give it "back" means it wasn't yours in the first place, but the creation of wealth through private initiative and voluntary exchange does not involve the expropriation of anyone's rightful property.

How can it possibly be otherwise? By what rational measure does a successful person in a free market, who has made good on all his debts and obligations in the traditional sense, owe something further to a nebulous entity called society? If Entrepreneur X earns a billion dollars and Entrepreneur Y earns two billion, would it make sense to say that Y should "give back" twice as much as X? And if so, who should decide to whom he owes it? Clearly, the whole notion of "giving something back" just because you have it is built on intellectual quicksand.

Successful people who earn their wealth through free and peaceful exchange may choose to give some of it away, but they'd be no less moral and no less debt-free if they gave away nothing. It cheapens the powerful charitable impulse that all but a few people possess to suggest that

charity is equivalent to debt service or that it should be motivated by any degree of guilt or self-flagellation.

A partial list of those who honestly do have an obligation to give something back would include bank robbers, shoplifters, scam artists, deadbeats, and politicians who "bring home the bacon." They have good reason to feel guilt, because they're guilty.

But if you are an exemplar of the free and entrepreneurial society, one who has truly earned and husbanded what you have and have done nothing to injure the lives, property, or rights of others, you are a different breed altogether. When you "give," you should do so because of the personal satisfaction you derive from supporting worthy causes, not because you need to salve a guilty conscience.

(Lawrence W. Reed, an adjunct scholar with the von Mises Institute, is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.)

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