Welfare and Borderline Cases

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The city of Houston is both taking a cue from the Obama administration and attempting to make its own proposed intrusion into the economy sound palatable to Texans, who generally favor private property and capitalism.

Houston taxpayers could start footing the bill to help first-time homebuyers pay off debts and improve their credit scores, under a proposal before City Council this week.

The "Credit Score Enhancement Program" will give up to $3,000 in grants to individuals who are trying to qualify for mortgages through the city's homebuyers assistance program. City officials say some applicants fall short of eligibility by only 10 or 20 points on their credit scores, and paying off some debt balances can quickly improve their numbers.
First off, credit the Houston Chronicle for actually cutting to the chase with the injustice of this proposal, which mirrors the philosophy of the Obama Administration. Although it is still not the principled opposition to all government intrusion into the economy that I think Americans must ultimately discover before things will fundamentally improve, it is a start.

The lede is also an indication of how the Obama Administration and its emboldened imitators across America may ultimately benefit America: by proposing and enacting policies that make it crystal clear what is wrong with such government intervention. All forms of redistribution of wealth, being violations of property rights, are ipso facto, unjust. Clear examples like this can only make the heavy lifting of principled advocates of individual rights easier.

What is interesting to me here is how the proposal is being sold to the public as fiscally "conservative" by virtue of the fact that only people who just barely fail to qualify for mortgages will have some credit card debt wiped out. After all, we can probably all see ourselves in such a situation. This tactic has been the stock in trade of altruists and collectivists since time immemorial: Draw attention to the common humanity of donor and proposed recipient long enough to distract the donor from the issue at hand, and then take advantage of his good will.

Certainly, if I had the resources to help, a loved one was a few thousand short of qualifying for a mortgage, and this was not because of poor judgement or character, I'd consider helping. But this is not the same thing. We're talking about strangers. I am not privy to why they have fallen short. And, most importantly in a political context, the money being used to help has been stolen from its rightful owners. The fact that this proposal entails the passing around of loot makes it wrong no matter who is on the receiving end.

Thus we see a borderline case in the realm of lending standards -- which exist for a reason and are being subverted, by the way -- being used to obliterate a black-and-white moral objection to a government policy of theft and passing out stolen goods.

The icing on the cake is invisible, though, just as Frederic Bastiat pointed out over a century and a half ago. That icing is the fact that, for all this feel-gooding about potentially helping borderline cases -- presumably people who are otherwise upstanding and responsible -- it would actually do exactly the opposite of what its supporters claim to intend.

What of all the taxpayers who could afford to pay off their expenses, like credit card bills, but for the fact that they have had their money stolen from them? How many of them have had to put off buying a home, forgo a vacation or a new car, or simply do without something because of the high cost of the welfare state?

They go completely unmentioned, even by officials nominally opposed to this idea. The problem with this idea is not that it is "well intentioned but ... would go too far." The problem is that stealing even one cent from someone else, no matter what the purpose, is immoral.

The backers of this proposal favor government theft, pure and simple. I'll be damned if I'm going to cast a smile their way and pretend that giving the loot to someone I might, conceivably consider helping on my own somehow absolves them of that fact. When the city collected the taxes of the people who would foot the bill for this -- regardless, by the way, of whether it made them unable to buy a home -- it "went too far."

-- CAV


Darren said...

Gus, good points.

What you said reminds me of a problem that's been on my mind for a couple months: I'm honestly scared about how all of these recent government actions are going to affect my family. Left alone, I'm fine. I work hard, I take my career seriously, I pay my bills, I stay out of debt, I take relatively good care of myself... basically, I do my best with my situation, and I see the results. But what if proposals like this $3,000 mini-bailout continue, how long am I going to be able to continue on this path?

I wish more "well-intentioned" people realized that when they take from Jim to give to Bob, Jim gets hurt. I'm starting to see more people angry about what's going on, and it's great, but I'm not very optimistic that that anger will stay around past another week's cycle of new tv episodes. These are scary times.

Darren said...

It's funny, as I wrote my last comment, the host of the radio show I was listening to brought up this same situation. His response: "Can you believe this folks?"

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Darren.

Your concern about the short memories that seem so common gets to the crux of the matter.

Obama and his ilk may have another "advantage": They won't be content to let people forget for long.

The real question is this: Is the American sense of life well enough that people get permanently angry after enough of this, or will people get used to being pushed around?

If the latter is true, we're cooked.

Andrew Dalton said...

I'm definitely worried about how I'll be affected by this mess. My company is going through a planned layoff at the beginning of April, and I'm searching for a new job.

I would prefer to leave California--partially because of the expense and the dysfunctional government (related phenomena, actually), but also because I'm worried what will happen to this state if things get really ugly, considering the problems with crowding, gangs, water shortages, and so on that we already have.

I have quite a bit of money saved up, but is the federal government going to wipe that out by printing cash to pay off the national debt?

Over the decades, too many people have complacently accepted that "the rich" would be taxed to pay for the welfare state. Now, with the runaway cycle of bailouts, people need to realize who will actually be stung. If you earn an honest living, you're "rich." If you run a business that makes a profit rather than taking government subsidies, you're "rich." If you saved for the future rather than running up reckless amounts of debt, you're "rich."

Gus Van Horn said...

That's the really sickening thing about this mess: You can't really count on anything but the government making power grabs.

Brian Phillips said...

Mayor White has pulled the proposal. Apparently this story really got some press across the nation, and it wasn't favorable. Score one for the good guys--at least temporarily.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the update.

And can we say, "trial balloon?"

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for participating in the Objectivist Round Up! I appreciate it very much!

Gus Van Horn said...

You're quite welcome!

It's nice to know that my participation is appreciated, and makes me more motivated to fix the "hole" in my GTD system that has allowed me to forget to do so so often lately.