Opposing ALL forced wealth transfers is key to achieving societal peace

Matt Cockerill
Jan 15, 2010 at 8:19 AM

Though President Obama will almost certainly carry out a large-scale human rights intervention in Haiti, I still hope the US government decides to play no role whatsoever in response to the tragic earthquake that ravaged that country.

It is immoral to redistribute wealth by force en masse, even if one calls it "foreign aid" or "disaster relief." As Mary Ruwart points out, and the miserable record of foreign aid to develop 3rd world countries confirms, utilizing immoral means leads to a bad ends.

Human beings can do so much better than this sort of thing. In a prosperous society without institutionalized aggression, imagine how much more willing people would be to give money and help others. Instead of lazily concluding that the government would take care of the poor, and that they had already done their part by paying taxes, responsible, decent people would, upon achieving success, feel an obligation to directly help poor countrymen AND foreigners.

Incidentally, though the liberty movement is one of individualism, a more unified, tolerant society would undoubtedly result from our victory. By getting people to realize that the entire regime is illegitimate, we can uphold the non-aggression principle and destroy politics as we know it. In a society bereft of divisive political debates and legal coercion, think about how much more creative energy would be avaliable to move forward objectively good causes like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and lending a hand when disaster's strike poor countries like Haiti.

Promoting the libertarian vision would also do well to bridge cultural gaps in America. Most people are not busybodies, and the only reason why a counterculture gay dude in San Francisco and a homeschooling evangelical in Little Rock fear each other is because they are worried that the state will coercively transpose the "different" person's set of values on themselves. Denounce any legislation of morality, along with all violations of the NonAggression Principle, and watch society flourish to new levels of tolerance, productivity, morality, and generosity.

Ayn Rand summed it up best: "I am interested in politics so that one day I will not have to be interested in politics."


As I noted in reply to your comment on the other post about Haiti, many (if not most) emergency relief organizations actually have their own transportation, including planes, helicopters, etc.  Those that don't -- the very small ones -- typically cooperate with larger groups to share their superior transport resources.  Many refuse any and all government assistance -- even from the military -- and do a great job as a result.  This bold stance tends to increase donations, and they are able to reach those the government will not assist for political reasons.  In fact, one of the first things many such organizations do is get their own transportation. 

So it's simply inaccurate to say that private relief organizations have to rely on the military to get their work done.  They do it without the military's involvement, and they do great things. 

Many of these groups operate with yearly budgets in the hundreds of millions.  Decent transport to make sure the relief gets where it needs to go is hardly out of reach. 

There is absolutely no need to involve the military in this process.

Bonnie Kristian's picture

Wal-Mart is the most logistically sophisticated entity in the world.  They were the first responders during Katrina.  The military is logistically slow.  If you were ever in the military you'd know that their slogan is "hurry up and wait."  When lives hang in the balance I believe it is better for individuals to not rely on government to help.

George Edwards's picture

As I noted in the other thread, private charities have to compete for donations, and donors pay for results.  A charity which couldn't get its relief to those in need would be put out of business pretty quickly because it wouldn't be getting anything done.  Donors would wisely give their money to other, more effective groups.

Why does the military need to be involved?  These organizations, even the small ones, usually have their own transportation or cooperate with larger groups that do.  They often have annual budgets in the hundreds of millions; they don't need the government's help.  They can -- and do -- get their own helicopters, etc. because they know they won't 1. do any good, which is their purpose or 2. get any donations, which are necessary for their function, if they aren't actually getting the aid where it needs to go.

You're completely right that some private charities engage in politics of their own regardless of military involvement.  However, I don't think this is necessarily unethical.  Imagine, for instance, that instead of helping women but not men, they were helping children but not adults.  This is a very common type of charitable discrimination -- many charities focus exclusively on children. It's a more common distinction which seems more reasonable, but it's really the same sort of thing.  So while I personally would never donate to a charity which only wants to help women, their behavior (assuming they've been clear to donors, etc.) is not unethical.  After all, they've told their donors that they want to help women only.  That's what the donors have paid for, and that's what's happening.

Now government involvement will affect the political stance of a charity.  Groups like the one you mentioned, if using government resources, might not be able to discriminate against men as they wish.  After all, while private groups can discriminate, all are equal before the law.  So government involvement can limit those groups which desire to take a political stance.

Conversely, some groups wish to help everyone and anyone they can.  If they rely on the government for transport and other assistance, they too will be hampered.  For instance, as I think I've mentioned here before, a very small organization called Operation USA went into Vietnam in 1979 to provide relief at a time when the US government wouldn't touch the place.  The first thing they did was buy their own plane because they knew they had to get there themselves.

Currently, all disaster relief from the federal government is coordinated under one agency, USAID.  This agency reports to the State Department; it is part of our foreign policy.  Because of this, there is little reason for the government to provide aid which does not enhance our foreign policy interests in some identifiable way.  So if charities are relying on the government for transport, there will be plenty of cases when they are left up the creek without a paddle, so to speak.   

It's also important to note that, as much as I'm not happy about it, our years of unfortunate foreign policy have left both our government and our military pretty unpopular in many parts of the world.  In these situations, private groups are actually disadvantaged if they have the military's assistance.  Any image of disinterested charity is ruined as their association with the government poisons their reputation in the mind of the local people.

Finally, military assistance can be a hindrance when dealing with disasters in countries which have hostile /failed governments and/or civil wars.  The hostile government may not let in a relief agency assisted by the military, especially if our government has condemned or sanctioned them or taken sides in their civil war. 

Relief agencies which wish to serve a particular segment of the population will be limited by their association with the government, but so will those which do not want to discriminate at all and remain completely apolitical. 

I don't understand why the fact that some charities have limited missions to help certain sorts of people means that involving the government is ok.  I also don't understand why we would want to involve the government if they private groups (clearly) can do the job themselves.  And even if the charities needed to contract out their transport, why give the contract to the military?  Why not go straight to the maker of the transport vehicles?  It's just unnecessary to involve the government, and, as I've noted above, doing so brings with it many potential negative effects.

Bonnie Kristian's picture

If you spend half your aid money on hiring transportation when the military's bulk status can give you a better rate, you're doing a disservice to the people you are trying to help.

If the military is cheaper, I'd arue that it's because it's being subsidized by taxpayers, not because it's inherently better at providing this service for a lower price.

Your argument that women are to be a protected class along the same lines as children could easily be seen as justification to strip women of their rights as adults.

"Protected class" is a term which concerns a government's treatment of a class of people, not their treatment by a private group.   There is no such thing as a protected class in private life.  Moreover, I never argued for the existence of any protective class, rights-stripping or otherwise.  I simply said that if a private charity wishes to focus its aid on one set of people over another, that's their business, not mine.  If I -- or anyone -- disagrees with their focus, we can donate elsewhere.

Or, perhaps their politics didn't allow for them to seek government transportation at all. In either case it was a choice, or a choice from necessity. Neither eliminates the ability or possibility of getting state assistance for transportation.

Yes, it was a voluntary choice to avoid government involvement -- or should I say -- the government chose to refuse to help.  But even if the government had been willing to help, why would you want to get the government involved if other options were available?  My question here is not if it's possible, but if it's a good thing -- I'm not making a positive query, but a normative one.

Sure, some of the largest orgs probably have these things, but if donors don't like their politics, I would love to see smaller firms have the ability to send aid without bowing to a central authority. Many of the larger charities have insane politics, that as I have shown would violate even the U.S. government's definition of discriminatory behavior.

Yes, many larger groups do have these resources, and they gladly share them.  But a "central authority"?  How is a large charitable group more of a central authority than what is, in fact, the wealthiest, most powerful, and most political central authority in the world, namely the US government?  Moreover, from a libertarian perspective, there is no reason why private groups cannot discriminate as they like.  It's their money, so it's their business.  Only governments should be limited by strict anti-iscrimination policies.  And no one is forcing people to donate to these charities with "insane politics."  So how are their politics a problem for non-donors?

This is a completely American point of view, and you're projecting it onto other people....The idea that America's politics would cause Haitians to refuse aid is absurd, and even if they rebuke us later for using military assistance, our saving face is NOT the goal of humanitarian missions. The goal is HELPING people, EVEN if they hate us for it later.

No, it's an American idea that our government is internationally beloved.  Haiti may not refuse aid from us, but I'm not just talking about Haiti.  Do you think Iran, for instance, would like it if our army marched in with relief?  As far as them hating us for our help later, read Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson.  Also consider that before the early parts of the 20th century, relief was conducted nearly exclusively by private charity.  We don't need government to take care of us.

Arguing against military aid in extramilitary operations only really makes sense if you hold some kind of supposed principled belief that all military intervention regardless of intention or outcome is unethical, because the existence of the military itself is unethical.

I do think that all military intervention is unethical, but that does not logically lead to my thinking that the existence of the military is unethical.  We need a military, but its purpose (from both a constitutional and a libertarian standpoint) is defense of our own country and our own people -- and intervention is not defense. 

Compulsion to pay taxes could be argued, but is that argument any stronger than an organizations feeling compelled to use military transportation in order to deliver their aid packages to needy people that wouldn't receive it otherwise?

They may "feel compelled" but that's not the same at all as actually being compelled.  I don't pay taxes; I go to jail.  Charities don't use military transport; they...find other options.  They definitely don't go to jail.  That's not compulsion; that's feeling.  (Just for the record:  I refuse to take loans or assistance from the government for any purpose, educational or otherwise.) 

And finally, to quote you slightly out of order:

I never stated that we need to RELY on the military for aid efforts and transportation, I simply argue that it's a legitimate resource.

If this is your firm opinion, then I think we'll simply have to agree to disagree for the time being.  I am concerned not only with the ends (saving lives in disastrous situations), but also with the means (doing it justly).  And I don't think that using the military for nondefensive purposes is doing it justly.  So if we disagree on the proper role of the military, then we're at a dead end.  Thanks for the thoughtful discussion though; I'm out.

Bonnie Kristian's picture