“I continually find it necessary to guard against that natural love of wealth and grandeur which prompts us always, when we come to apply our general doctrine to our own case, to claim an exception.” – William Wilberforce
Who owns you?
Even if just in part, are you the property of another?
As rugged individualists, Americans will tend to reflexively answer “nobody” to the first question, and “no” to the second. I find that the definitiveness of such responses leaves very little wiggle room for logical progression toward public policy preferences. To answer “nobody” when asked “who owns you” is to greatly narrow the reasonable field of regard in understanding politics and governance.
The logical progression here isn’t that difficult. We are, all of us, alive. Whether you view that as a gift from God or happenstance of millions of random occurrences, you will not likely argue that we, as humans (reading this blog) are somehow not alive. Most all will also agree that this life will someday end – it is the way of all flesh. We die.
Whether the time from birth to death is preordained or determined along the way is of little consequence for our discussion. There is a time when it will end. In the interim, we as people do all manner of things. We grow, we think, we learn, we work, we build, we fix, we love, we cry, we fight, we dream, we hope, we despair … we do all the things that humans do, all the things that make life worth living.
Today we’ll focus mainly on the working and learning portions. We work to produce. We build houses to live in. We gather food from the ground. These are necessary things for life to continue – at least longer than it otherwise would. We also accrue skills and abilities along the way, so that we may work more efficiently and produce more in a given amount of time. All of these represent a trade of time for productivity. Time is a fixed quantity bounded by our lives. Ergo, we are trading a portion of our lives to perform these tasks that will allow the continuance of our lives. If somebody owns you, they may lay claim to your time and therefore your work and productivity (i.e., your money). This implication goes the other way too. If nobody owns you, how can they lay claim to your life and therefore your time, work, and productivity?
At this point you may claim that I’m speaking as a rebel, suggesting that all forms of taxation are illegitimate. I am not. When people freely choose to participate in a collective body, then surely the collective has claims. But, if that participation is not chosen, then that same somebody is in some sense owned – and most likely against their will.
We must therefore conclude that policies which take from one to give to another are an expression of ownership. It is a statement that the collective society owns the individuals and may take of their life, even if just a portion.
At this point I’d like to convince both my liberal and Christian friends (and liberal Christians if there be any out there reading this) that such a society, such a state of governance, is contradictory to your fundamental beliefs.
We start with the liberals, and I am assuming secular liberals. There is no limit on the right of ownership when it comes to property. I own my car. I actually own it. I can do whatever I want to with it and it dare not talk back. (Now, it’s just a Hyundai, so I can’t get too much out of it, but it is still mine.) If the government owns a right to your time and energy, your work and productivity, then it owns a right over your behaviors as well. If the government can take from you to give to another in the name of “the greater good” (it’s really a protection racket, but we’ll talk about that some other time), then the government can surely dictate your personal behaviors for the same greater good. So I encourage you to be consistent in argumentation. If you will argue for gay marriage, or legalization of drugs, or lowering the drinking age; based on “freedom” and “self determination” – then you must also argue against “tax and spend” or “tax and give” policies aimed at “wealth redistribution”. If you will be owned, you will be owned entirely. If you will be free, you must be free entirely.
Now, one might reasonably claim that the “car ownership” analogy is a bit of sophistry. Surely there are “partial ownership” frameworks in place. So be it. Could someone own my productivity (which is some sort of passive ownership since they can only take after-the-fact) but not own my behaviors (which is an active ownership allowing proactive direction and dictates)? Probably. But this is a very narrow distinction to draw. If someone could explain the nature of the inherent authority that allows my neighbors, or random folks in South Dakota, or the government to indirectly own my time; then I we will all better understand the limitations based on that natural ownership. This speaks to the very nature of collectivist governance, so it is a rather important question. I suspect that no such clear inherent authority exists – at least not in a way that allows passive but not active ownership.
(This is a major conundrum for the collective forms of government. Removing the feedback between time and prosperity is unsustainable. People aren’t stupid. Once they realize that there is no benefit to working, they will cease to do so. Productivity falls dramatically leaving the whole system ready for collapse. So, collective governments may well start with simple “wealth redistribution” but they always end up demanding action. Sooner or later you will end up working for the state whether you like it or not. There is no viable stopping-off point. Our current system understands this and allows you to keep some of your labor, just not all – hoping partial feedback is enough to spur you on. They never want less though, always more.)
Now, for the Christian, we may get a different answer (and rightly so). The Christian may here say “yes, I am owned by God”. Of course we will say something more like “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19,20). We will say “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). So then, are we to conclude that we are owned? YES – by God. Does He have claim on our work, time, efforts, energy, productivity, and life? Yes.
Does this lead to a conclusion in favor of progressive tax policies and wealth redistribution? Hardly. To the extent that we see a Biblical model of communal living it appears to be always within the confines of the believers (see Acts 2:44,45). This does not readily translate to a secular society. Either we are to set up a theocracy in this country, mandate that all accept Christianity, and then hold all things in common – or we must defend the life of free men as free. I prefer the latter.
To subjugate the Christian to ownership of life, time, and productivity by a secular government is the most awkward of policy decisions. How can brothers in Christ conclude that it is the will of Christ that we be owned by the unbelieving when freedom is at hand?
So on both hands, to my Christian friends and to my secular liberal friends, I say let us be consistent in our thinking and argumentation. Let us not claim collectivism for all, while claiming a freedom exception for ourselves. If you would be free, then let me be free as well. And if I will be free, I must allow you freedom too. Otherwise I am claiming ownership, a claim that is not mine to make.