Posts tagged taxation as extortion

Column on Extortion in the Name of Science

Extortion in the Name of Science

Tibor R. Machan

While the country is going into more and more debt by the seconds, and while some even in Washington are beginning to be concerned–after all, their share of the loot taken from citizens year round and culminating on April 15th each year could shrink just as will everyone’s who leaches off taxpayers–I admit I have heard nothing at all about cutting funding for science.

That science’s take is huge can be gleaned just from the fact that, according to Nature magazine, within a small segment of it, synthetic biology, the funding in America since 2005 came to about $430 million (compared to all of Europe’s $160 million). Why is there no discussion of this, not even on Fox TV? Is science the sacred cow of our time so when scientists get support from the government’s confiscation of our resources, it is left unscrutinized?

A most recent copy of a prominent science magazine–I subscribe to a few but all contain these tidbits and several go on record after every presidential election to insist that no reduction in what is spent on science should be on the agenda of the new administration–reports that one recent study showed the vital finding that “For pythons, indulging in a meal not only distorts physique, it also reshapes microbial communities living in the gut” (Nature, June 2010, p. 849). Dozens and more of such items are reported and I do not see how the majority of the research being funded and conducted bears in the slightest on what the job of government ought to be, protection of our rights. This job could require some scientific research, of course, in forensics, military hardware, etc., etc. But hardly any of the money being used to fund science goes for such expenses. The bulk goes to university science schools and their departments or to research labs, with all their theorists and researchers doing admittedly (at least sometimes) interesting–maybe even ultimately useful–work. None of it seems to me to justify taking it from others who haven’t chosen to make it their responsibility.

But that goes for me without saying. I am someone who considers extorting funds from innocent citizens for even the most noble purposes thoroughly immoral and not at all the function of a government of a free country. Am I, however, completely out of line with my stand here?

Well, judging by the deafening silence in the mainstream media it appears that I definitely am. (When I edited the book Liberty and R & D for the Hoover Institution Press, back in 2002, I had the hardest time finding just a few scientists who would join me in critically examining the practice of science funding by governments.) One reason, I suspect, is that most fields of science are so terribly esoteric, so crammed with the kind of jargon that no ordinary citizen can understand, that to take a look at the area with a critical eye, focused even just on its funding, is intimidating. And even among skeptics a blanket rejection of government funding of non-military, non-police related science work appears too radical–surely some work in the sciences is important enough to warrant the transfer of resource from the citizenry at large to the scientific community, even at the point of the gun!

Well, no it isn’t. But the governmental habit is very, very old. Since time immemorial governments (i.e., rulers) have wrested for themselves the task of doing a great deal of the work of a society–science, the arts, religion, education, transportation, etc., etc. Weening scientists from their traditional sources of funding, confiscated resources of the citizenry that used to be so natural under monarchies, would appear to be an impossible task, maybe comparable to supporting gay marriages! (But, hey, these are no longer taboo!)

It is time, I think, for knowledgeable folks, to follow the lead of the likes of Terrence Kealey (see his courageous book, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research [Macmillan, 1996]) and go on record with the case for science without government–without coercion, in other words. Criticisms from the likes of me are too easy to wave off since we are not among the initiated in this highly specialized area of human concern, namely, scientific research.

Column on Politicians’ Criminal Minds

Politicians’ Criminal Minds

Tibor R. Machan

It may have been either Will Rogers or Mark Twain, I cannot now recall which of the two great American humorists it was, who said all politicians are criminals. But it makes no difference because when something is true, its source is not the main issue. Fact is, politicians are extortionists at heart since their forte is that they will allow you and me to live and work provided we fork out nearly half of what we earn or otherwise obtain honestly so they can then dispose of it as they see fit.

In our time, not entirely unlike in others, the main appeal politicians hold out for millions is that they join them in their resentful bashing of the rich. This is a successful ploy because in the past, of course, most riches came from conquest, from governments and their favorite minions sending out thugs to confiscate whatever they desired from those who had some. As the saying has it, behind every great fortune lies a great crime, including extortion via taxation! This is why Robin Hood became a hero to so many: he went out and recovered what the tax takers took by force and returned it to the rightful owners. (No, Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor; he repossessed from the ruler and his vicious taxers!)

How can politicians live with the knowledge that they are what they are, confiscators, extortionists? Because they tell themselves the story so many tell themselves when they do the wrong thing–”The intended end justifies the means!” Nearly every criminal thinks this way and so do nearly all who perpetrate evil upon others. Some higher goal than what the victim seems to be pursuing motivates them. They are serving the public interest or God or the common good or the environment or science or culture–you name it, there are hundreds of candidates that make the politician feel at ease.

Criminals also have great goals that will be served by their loot and since their victims are well enough off, they have nothing to complain about. After all, isn’t it selfish to insist on trying to hold on to your own resources, your own time, indeed your own life? Prominent university professors spell this out for us–we are all selfish bastards if we hold on to our own and allocate it was we judge fit. No, they will determine to what end my and your life should be devoted and if we disagree, they will send the politician into the arena who will make laws that compel us all to comply with their noble vision. As Professor Peter Unger wrote in one of his “ethics” books, “On pain of living a life that’s seriously immoral, a typical well-off person, like you and me, must give away most of her financially valuable assets, and much of her income, directing the funds to lessen efficiently the serious suffering of others.”

I personally know numerous such apologists for actions and politics that involve taking from people what is theirs so as to devote it to objectives the takers have failed to convince their victims to contribute to voluntarily. Never mind that–just like criminals, who cares about the rights of these victims when my noble goals are at stake?! And because there are at least some whose wealth was acquired through some shady dealings, one can rest easy in one’s conscience by telling oneself, well they are all guilty of graft and theft, why shouldn’t we then go after them in the same vein? With the likes of the famous French poet Charles Baudelair, who said that “Commerce is satanic, because it is the basest and vilest form of egoism. The spirit of every businessman is completely depraved” providing them the clear conscience they crave as they rob and steal and extort from us, why would politicians think any differently from criminals? In our day the leader of the citizenry has no hesitation about bashing the wealthy, insisting that robbing them of their lives and resources and liberty to dispose of these as they judge proper is perfectly honorable.

Until this attitude about people and their wealth–reminiscent of the days of serfdom and involuntary servitude–seriously abates, the dream of a genuine free country will remain, well, but a dream. The idea that when one is successful, or even simply lucky so far as amassing resources is concerned, others become authorized to forcibly remove one’s wealth and use it without one’s permission for their however desirable ends, is plainly barbaric. It amounts to subjugating others, actually enslaving them. And that has no place in civilized societies.