Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spreading the Guilt Around: National Debt III

When I was a kid, my second grade teacher had a way of punishing trangressions that even to this day sticks in my craw. If someone in the class acted up, we all had to stay after school and put our heads down on the desk for fifteen minutes. Looking back, I've guessed the object of group punishment was to put pressure on the offending party so he wouldn't act up again. The "good" kids were supposed to convince the "bad" kid to get in line.

Of course, it didn't work. One reason it didn't work was because no one was going to confront the class cutup because he was usually the class bully. Who wanted to get beat up in some dark corner during recess?

But the main reason group punishment didn't work was that it merely created deep resentment toward the teacher. All of us knew she was the one who was supposed to keep order by doling out punishment to the guilty one. Every kid, head down on the desk, simmered with resentment at the injustice of being punished for someone else's misdemeanor. Why should all of us suffer for the sin of one person?

In Parts I and II concerning the national debt, the issue of collective and trangenerational obligations were discussed, with the emphasis on the injustice of enslaving our own and future generations with debt unpayable. It is, as Thomas Jefferson noted time and again, unfair to burden generations no even yet living with another generation's debt.

But as the illustration from my third grade class illustrates, there's even more to the bascially unjust theory and practice of collective guilt. Were the theory confined to a third grade class room, perhaps the damage would not be irreparable.

But the truth of the matter is that within American society, assuming society as a whole is guilty because of the transgression of others is now a staple of the legislative, judicial and executive branch. That is because the leftist view of justice now prevails; namely, that group guilt is the cause of injustice; that society as a whole is responsible for the behavior of each member of society; that we Americans are all responsible for everybody's behavior and welfare. The view is illustrated by such slogans as:

"If there's even one child in America who is hungry, we are guilty as a society."

"As long as a single person is on death row, we in society have failed him."

"As long as one homeless person is on the streets, no one who has a bed should rest until the homeless are housed and fed."

The above is not to say that charity and compassion should not voluntarily be extended to individuals who are in need of aid. What is being said is that the idea that if there is a problem within society, we are collectively responsible and should be punished for our collective failures is unjust. To put it another way, the idea that we should all stay after school and keep our heads down in remorse and repentance for behavior we did not commit; that we, too, are automatically guilty because of someone else's transgressions is just plain wrong. There are a number of terms for group guilt, one of which is "guilt by association;" but no matter what one terms it, the fact remains that group guilt is unjust. [And as pointed out in Part I and II, group guilt overturns a chief principle of Western jurisprudence; namely, that the individual is responsible for his own transgressions, including his own debt.]

But let's take this overturning of individual responsibility and the establishment of group guilt in the place of individual responsibility for one's actions a step further.

Collective guilt vitiates another principle of Western justice; namely the Rule of Law.

Rule of Law Explained

Americans love sports, and one reason they love sports is that the Rule of Law, which should pertain to society as a macrocosm, is followed in sports in microcosm. Any given sport has set rules for the game. Within the rules, players are free to strategize and outhink and outplay the other team. Referees are appointed to make sure the rules are followed and penalties are exacted for transgressions. Everyone knows what fair play is, and the rules are rarely changed. If someone trashes the rules, he/she is the one who is benched, not the whole team.

Ideally, the Rule of Law which applies to team sports should also extend to society at large. There should be a set of minimal rules for the operation of society. Everyone should know what the rules are and should also know what penalites are exacted if the rules are broken.

The concept of the Rule of Law is particularly pertinent to the discussion on national debt and the taxes necessary to pay the debt off. Citizen should know just what the debt is, what their share of taxes will be to pay off the debt within their lifetime; and they should also know the consequences of not paying those taxes. Everything should be known in order that a just solution prevail.

Suspension of Rule of Law

But exorbitant and runaway national debt shatters the concept and practice of the Rule of Law, for debt establishes universal, collective guilt. Because everybody owes, everybody is automatically guilty. All are benched; all have their heads on the desk.

Because all are guilty, no one knows who will be punished next. A given citizen doesn't know what the rules are concerning an unpayable debt and thus doesn't know what constantly changing schemes, regulations and measures the government will take to collect the monies necessary to collect the debt. Rules will be arbitrarily made up as the government sees fit. Society is collectively in debt and collectively guilty; each citizen mortgaged to its own government. The inevitable result is suspension of the Rule of Law and the establishment of arbitrary law and persecution of those who "owe." That persecution usually begins with excessive and arbitrary taxation.

In brief, if justice concerning debt is not established for and within the present generation, if the Rule of Law does not extend to the living as well as to future generations, then arbitrary and dictatorrial measures against a collectively guilty populace will inevitably be enacted. Government will make up the rules as it goes along; its arbitrariness will put it at war with its own citizens, particularly those perceived to be "wealthy."

Americans have been warned about and fought against the dangers of the dictatorial and arbitrary suspension of the Rule of Law, especially as it concerns national debt. The issue has arisen time and again within our Republic. It is good to heed once again the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, who while recognizing the need for public credit, warned strongly against the two chief dangers of national debt outlined in Parts I, II and III.

He wrote:

I sincerely believe...that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

--Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816

[With the decline of society] begins, indeed, the 'bellum omium in omnia [war against all], which some pholosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression."

--Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816

Since future generations cannot rise up and voice their objections to the oppression and arbitrariness of our government, we must be their voice against the albatross of national debt our current government is fastening around our and their necks.

Add to that duty to defend future generations the responsibility to refuse to accuse any class or sub-population as being collectively guilty, and Americans may be on their way to governmental reform in which the Rule of Law applies to all without exception.

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