Monday, April 20, 2020

Should a Libertarian Accept Government Lockdown Assistance?

In a recent column in The Spectator entitled I have herd immunity, author Lionel Shriver wrote about herself:
I am a type. I don’t like groups. I maintain few memberships. I question and resist authority, especially enforcement of rules for the rules’ sake. I’m leery of orthodoxy. I hold back from shared cultural enthusiasms.
The same is true of me. I believe in the sovereignty of the individual - that every human being has the rights to life and liberty and to pursue their own fulfilment to the fullest extent that is consistent with everyone else enjoying the same rights. I believe the legitimate role of the state is solely the protection of these limited rights.

The Covid-19 lockdown has provided a dilemma for people like me who don't believe in government welfare assistance. My business is suffering - my revenue this month will be significantly down - and it qualifies for the New Zealand Government's Covid-19 wage subsidy. I have never received a government welfare payment and never envisioned doing so, and therefore I was very reluctant to apply for the Covid-19 business assistance. There are two considerations I took into account in making the decision on whether to accept the Government's handout. 

The first is philosophical, and to address that I looked to Ayn Rand for guidance. Rand was categorically opposed to government welfare assistance on the basis that it was immoral to forcibly take the product of one individual's work and give it to another. She believed that the needs of one person, no matter how pressing, do not create a moral claim on the product of the life of another. Rand's critics claim that she was hypocritical because she accepted US Social Security later in life. Onkar Ghate at the Ayn Rand Institute confirms this but points to the fact that she saw no conflict between opposing state redistribution programmes in principle and accepting what she saw as restitution for the theft of one's wealth in the first place. She likened it to accepting compensation from the proceeds seized from a robber who had stolen from you.

The other consideration I took into account was that the Government ordered this lockdown and (as I have said in earlier posts) if it is necessary that is only because of the Government's earlier inactions. So in effect, I regard the wage subsidy as fair compensation for the negligent damage the Government did to my business.

One other factor that finally convinced me to accept the Government's financial assistance is that my company and its shareholder-employees have large tax bills due at this time, for which the Government isn't offering any grace (other than some vague suggestions they may waive "use of money interest" and penalties). Our cash flow has been significantly impacted by the lockdown order, affecting our ability to meet the tax demands, so in the end we had no qualms about taking the assistance and applying it to the Government's legalised theft.

It does stick in my craw that even the most self-reliant of us have all become dependent on the state. I can't help thinking that this is seen by those in power as a useful by-product of their Covid-19 response. The metaphysical basis of almost all political belief today is social, cultural and economic collectivism. We are all just part of one big, global village, and, as in any village, every person should be concerned with everyone else's business. Self-reliance is seen as selfishness and is not to be tolerated, and if you think you know what is best for your own life, you simply don't know what is good for you.

I am not an anarchist. I believe that governments are necessary to solve human problems such as defeating an invading enemy and stopping highly infectious diseases. But governments have a long history of turning reasonable and necessary collective actions into enduring tyrannies. I fear that accepting the government's largesse may make me complicit in doing exactly that.

Later on today we will learn the New Zealand Government's decision on whether we will be allowed some relief from the universal house arrest we have endured over the last four weeks. Perhaps a positive decision will provide some comfort.

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