There are days I find myself wondering, “Would the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war be any worse than this?” It can take me a while to dispel such a mood. It was brought on this morning by the realization that Frederic Bastiat, though he was right, lacked imagination enough to envision the horrors that would one day come:
Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it....Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim—when he defends himself—as a criminal....
But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it? It’s a test any halfwit can apply. Its answer would be unequivocal, impossible to “reinterpret.” Nevertheless, it overlooks a sheaf of important cases.
There’s a species of legal plunder in which the stolen goods have no recipient.
The American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue is a longstanding tradition for community members of Kansas City, Missouri. Since 1899, the event has attracted the most talented barbecue chefs from all corners of the state, who gather annually to show off their skills. With so many BBQ experts in one place, there tends to be a fair amount of leftover food once the festivities come to a close.
Hating to waste such a vast amount of quality barbecue, some of the event’s BBQ gurus got together and founded the charitable group, Kookers Kare. Partnering with the Harvesters Community Food Network, Kookers Kare has made a tradition of donating the leftover food to local homeless shelters at the end of each annual event.
This year, the two groups collected over 3,000 pounds of meat and 1,200 pounds of sides, all bound for a local nonprofit organization called Hope City, where it was to be served to over 3,000 homeless citizens in need.
That sounds extra-tasty good, doesn’t it? Not only would this private, wholly voluntary organization feed the needy, it would feed them first-class barbecue! That’s not quite enough to make me wish I were one of the intended beneficiaries, but reading it did give me a warm glow. However, we’re not quite done with the story:
However, the Kansas City Health Department put the kibosh on Kookers Kare’s attempts to feed the homeless before anyone was even able to enjoy the food.
Claiming they had no fore knowledge of this charitable tradition, the health department forbid the food from being served to the needy. Suspiciously, the inspectors just happened to be doing a random inspection of Hope City the day the BBQ arrived.
“All of that food was uninspected, so that makes it from an unapproved source, it cannot be served to the public,” Kansas City Health Department Operations Manager Joe Williamson said in response to the department’s decision to stop the food from being consumed.
The health department did not stop at simply forbidding the food from being served, they demanded that it be destroyed immediately. Those who had worked diligently to collect the food were forced to douse over 3,000 pounds of award-winning barbecue food with bleach, in order to ensure its destruction and appease the local health department. Meanwhile, 3,000 homeless individuals went without a meal that day.
If that doesn’t enrage you to the threshold of violence, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.
I once encountered a young man who claimed that “government is for doing the things we can’t do for ourselves.” I have no idea where he got that notion, though I have my suspicions. I wonder what he would think of the actions of the Kansas City Health Department as chronicled above.
The original rationale for involving government agencies in charity was that private action is insufficient: i.e., that only government could guarantee that all needy persons would receive the assistance they require. We were entertained with imagery of the most macabre sort: streets filled with the corpses of beggars who’d starved to death, because the private charities that had always filled needy bellies had run out of food, or had otherwise “missed them.” Complementary to the horror images were images of clean, efficient government offices to which everyone could go for sustenance at need. Somehow these organs of the State would succeed in discriminating between the importunate idler and the genuinely deserving sufferer, such that none of the former would be served yet none of the latter would be turned away.
It’s quite possible that those who proposed government involvement in charitable action were moved entirely by wholesome motives. It’s even more likely that, like Bastiat, they lacked enough imagination to foresee what would follow. For the State is ruled by a particular dynamic: to grow without limit. When it enters into an enterprise already occupied by private individuals and organizations, its natural tendency is to expel them by force.
In commenting on the antitrust laws, Isabel Paterson made the plainest case imaginable:
Government cannot "restore competition" or "ensure" it. Government is monopoly; and all it can do is to impose restrictions which may issue in monopoly, when they go so far as to require permission for the individual to engage in production. This is the essence of the Society-of-Status.
Governments view a monopoly over charitable action as no less desirable than a monopoly over the use of coercive force. Indeed, such a monopoly is exceedingly valuable to a government, for it furthers every government’s fondest dream: to insert itself into every variety of human interaction, such that private citizens are unable to communicate or trade without State mediation.
If generosity itself is a subject for government “regulation,” what aspect of human life is omitted from its scope?
I’ve cited more than once the efforts of government worshippers to take over all retirement funds. The rationale proffered for such a move differs little from that for a government takeover of all soup kitchens: “You can’t trust private actors. You can only trust the State.” That after six thousand years of recorded history there are still persons who accept that statement is striking counterevidence to the claims of the Darwinists. Yet such persons do exist; I’ve met them.
“Redistribution of the wealth” has been a rallying cry of the government worshippers for a century and more. Did those of Marx’s time envision a point at which, rather than “redistributing” extra food, governments would command its destruction rather than allow the penurious to have it? For no more than fifty years after Marx’s death, our federal government did exactly that...under the pretense of “price support” for agricultural products.
What a government once did supposedly to “help the farmers,” it now does to “protect the public” from the danger of award-winning barbecue. One rationale will serve quite as well as the other. What really matters is that the State possess a monopoly undreamed of by any corporate titan: unbounded and irresistible power over all things. Not even charitable action will it permit to escape its aegis.
Perhaps it’s time for me to lie down and close my eyes for a bit.