When looters took advantage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — or any other disaster, for that matter — everyone seemed to have in mind only the people ransacking stores and robbing them in plain sight.
These were the looters who were widely condemned, against whom the police and military took direct action, and who, if caught, will probably pay for their deeds.
Yet in some ways these looters were at least honest and up front. There are many other looters who go about it in more circumspect fashion. They do not admit outright that they are looting but hide behind the facade of government-sponsored wealth transfer or redistribution, which has the appearance of legitimacy.
All those who insist on getting the government to bail them out by getting funds out of the various treasuries supported from taxes are looters, only less honest than those doing it in broad daylight.
The essence of looting is to take advantage of a confusion caused by some natural disaster by taking other people’s resources so as to shore up one’s own.
It doesn’t really matter that one fills out some forms and, instead of directly robbing others, has politicians and bureaucrats do the dirty work. And it doesn’t matter if the goals to be supported are themselves decent.
Of course, there is this myth about how when one goes through the political process as one takes from others who have not been asked to give, one is simply following the democratic process. As some people see this, such an approach to “wealth transfer” is one that “we have decided to use.”
Yet, this is a farce.
No one has decided, apart from the people with political clout, and that clout is far from justly obtained. It isn’t at all one of the just powers of government but quite the contrary.
The only just power of government is the very opposite of embarking upon all this looting. Just powers must be acquired by means of the consent of the governed.
However, in fact, the governed give their consent to very few powers of the government. They do consent to having government secure their rights, including their right to private property. That is the tacit consent everyone gives who lives among others, namely to respect and protect everyone’s basic rights.
Which is to say governments may only be justly empowered to protect all persons from looters, including looters who dishonestly go through government to accomplish their looting.
Of course, some will cry, “But this is an emergency.” That is disingenuous. The looting I am talking about goes on all the time, not only in emergencies.
Governments have nearly always been part of the problem for which the American Founders had believed they might be turned around and made part of the solution.
They had believed that governments could be restrained, limited, to protective powers, to securing our rights instead as they have done for centuries and centuries, being their most persistent and consistent violators.
Sadly, they failed to set up things so as to achieve this goal.
It is a reasonable goal, after all, since the one area where force is justified is in self-defense. And one would hope that one could limit government to using only such force that defends people instead of attacking them.
Alas, that reasonable hope seems to have been a pipe dream.
No one disputes that some of the looting goes for ends that are unobjectionable. One may be sure that this is so even with honest looters — many of them steal and rob so as to feed themselves, to stock up on resources so they can survive. Yet that doesn’t justify the looting, not a bit.
In a civilized society, even in emergencies, people seek voluntary help, and don’t force others to provide them with aid. And in a civilized legal system the same would hold.
However urgent the need, however great the goal, support for it must be gained without resort to murder, assault, robbery, extortion and other rights violation.
Just because the need is great, it doesn’t follow at all, in morality, law or politics, that someone may coerce another to alleviate it.
Sadly, we are far from such a civilized society.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com