Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

Morality of accepting government handouts

rated by 0 users
This post has 2 Replies | 1 Follower

Not Ranked
Posts 24
Points 605
champthom Posted: Tue, Feb 2 2010 7:25 PM

I've re-read Walter Block's paper on libertarian punishment theory and I believe he gave a talk which I don't recall what it was called but it's somewhere in the archive, so I am basing my question around the discussion there. Block's approach to the sort of ethics of liberty - specifically, how moral it is for a libertarian to participate in the state apparatus - has me thinking about a sort of dilemma.

Here's the dilemma - let's say I have a debilitating medical condition, which prevents me from enjoying a quality of life I find agreeable. I lack the financial resources, despite working and therefore contributing to society, to treat for this medical condition and because of various government intervention in the medical market (patent laws, licensing, etc.), I'm unable to get adequate professional care. Of course in an ideal world, where I did have money, I would gladly just pay out of my pocket and forgo other things but alas, this isn't the case. What private options I have would be sub par treatments - like seeing a New Age healer or medicine man to treat cancer as opposed to seeing an actual doctor. Private charity is insufficient since the government has crowded out money, so private charity would be limited to people who are worst off than I all. However, I could receive a government handout, i.e. free healthcare for my condition. At the same time though, I consider myself an anarcho-capitalist, strictly subscribing to the non-aggression axiom and realizing that this free healthcare comes from the government stealing money away from other people. At the same time though, if I was to accept such a handout, I could possibly get well enough so I can further the cause of liberty by having more energy, focus, etc. So, would it be immoral to accept such a handout given these circumstances?

Block, I believe in the audio talk, discusses that there are some things we have to participate in - we have to use government money, we have to use government roads, etc. With very, very rare exceptions there's no private roads so I'm coerced by the state into using government roads. I am coerced by the state to use fiat money as opposed to a private currency. However, I am not strictly coerced into getting the government handout - in a way, it could be perceived nobler I take the inferior treatment paid by private transactions than the superior treatment funded by government coercion. However, I would still have a lesser quality of life.

Block also seems to suggest a sort of utilitarianism in his paper, that is he seems to suggest that as long as one uses the statism to pursue the cause of liberty, that is justified. For instance, many Austrians teach at public universities and many, either directly through government grants or indirectly from federal student loans and grants, are paid through government coercion. However, since they're being able to spread the ideas of liberty to students, accepting a post at a public university even if being paid for by the state and accepting stolen money is more acceptable than holding out for a completely private university (which few that are left). However, would that make it right if I decided to go on welfare and donate the money to the Mises Institute? What if I was to do what some left wing "anarchists" do by "sticking it to the man" by leeching off the state, except in the cause of liberty by using my idle time to research, get papers published, etc.? These activities would allow me to further the cause of liberty on the state's dime, and assuming I did not commit any sort of fraud and legally could claim such funds, would it be moral to accept it by this standard? Yet in the case of the medication condition, one could argue that if I have a higher quality of life as a result, I would be more able to devote time to researching, writing, etc. as opposed to suffering from my condition.

Ultimately, what I'm asking is - is it moral for an anarcho-capitalist to accept a government handout? Obviously it's not ideal but given the mentioned circumstances, is it totally wrong? Is it more noble to accept a sub par solution that is based on private contributions or would it be more noble to accept government aid provided that the improve health would allow one to turn against the state? Is it hypocritical for an anarchist to accept such government aid, or would it be justified?




"What meanest thou by seizing the whole earth; because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost the same with a great fleet art styled emperor?"- the Pirate's response to Alexander the Great on his charges of terrorism, from St. Augustine's "City of God"
Top 100 Contributor
Posts 985
Points 17,110
Stephen replied on Tue, Feb 2 2010 10:47 PM

Personally, I think Block is wrong. Public property rightfully belongs to net taxpayers, not liberty promoters or people in need, regardless of consequences. The only way I think you can justify it is if you are a net taxpayer yourself, or if you have the permission of some net taxpayers, up to the proportion that they rightfully have a claim to.

Block follows the old Rothbardian line that property held by government is unowned and open to homesteading by anyone not in the government.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 200 Contributor
Posts 377
Points 7,180
Ansury replied on Wed, Feb 3 2010 6:28 PM

I think it's a fuzzy topic, and you're going to get different answers depending on who you talk to and what their personal strategies are for making their world "more free".  Personally in most cases I don't have a big problem with this kind of thing, but that's because I'm part of the crowd who subscribes to the idea of redirecting government resources to hopefully more productive ends when possible.  Anyway, with the way government budgets work, often times that money is going to be pissed away somehow anyway (re-allocated to some other quite possibly very wasteful use).  It's not like you're cutting back on government spending by refusing a tax rebate (which politicians would also consider a "cost"), to use another comparison.

  • | Post Points: 5
Page 1 of 1 (3 items) | RSS