Cause and Effect: Most Significant Effect

One often unseen effect (especially by Republicans) of an increase in the reach and scope of government is the net effect on liberty. When considering increased government involvement in health care, education, the housing market, or even food regulation few raise the question of liberty.

The problem is that with an increase in government comes a decrease in liberty. Hence, Benjamin Franklin warned that those who seek security at the expense of liberty will find they have neither.

Isn’t government the safeguard of liberty, you ask? Consider a couple of quotations: here and here. We also must consider the definition of liberty or freedom. Are we free to have a good or service, or are we only free when we have some barrier removed (i.e. poverty, racism)? If freedom is really of the second sort, then wealth redistribution schemes such as those found on the left are more representative of liberty.

From an LDS perspective, we are “Free to choose liberty and eternal life.” Lehi even tells us that there is a need for opposition, a need to be able to choose between two or more options. Only when multiple options are available is agency possible. We came to earth see if we would do all things the Lord commanded us. Agency is a critical aspect of our lives here.

D&C 134:2 tells us that “No government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” Thus is laid a foundational idea, that the government exists for three purposes:

1. Secure each individual the free exercise of conscience

2. Secure the right and control of property

3. Secure the protection of life

Of course, reasonable minds may disagree as to interpretation, but it appears that according to this scripture, eliminating poverty or pollution is not a legitimate governmental function. One can also observe that government exists to secure property rights, the right and control of property. What does this refer to?

Most agree this refers to land legally owned. But what about other assets, like a tractor or an insurance policy? Or a retirement account? Aren’t these fruits of one’s labors also considered as someone’s property? Certainly I alone have claim to my paycheck, and not someone else, unless I voluntarily give it to someone else. But it someone confiscates an asset of mine and declares that it is their property now, has it become their property?

Again, the government exists to secure the right and control of property. To me, this means that the role of government is to secure my property (including my assets), not to take from them.

But when a new government program is proposed, who ends up paying for it? Do I keep more or less of my paycheck as a result? Do I have more or less control over what I use my property (including assets) for? As we recall, government economic intervention (such as subsidies) has the effect of increasing prices, effectively taking more money out of my paycheck.

As prices rise due to government economic intervention, my paycheck buys less and less, decreasing my liberty and freedom. One can consider my economic freedom to be compromised as a result of such policies. Economic intervention also drives some products and services out of business which I might otherwise consider purchasing, thus further decreasing my liberty by decreasing the available choices. Fewer choices, for me, translates to less liberty.

Then there are laws regulating behavior which do not significantly harm the protection of life. I am not referring to clear cases of aggression, like assault and murder. I am talking of the more intrusive kind of morality-based legislation. Are we not entitled to a “Free exercise of conscience?” What effect do these type of laws (Patriot Act, HR 1955) have on our free exercise of conscience? Can we be legislated to be better beings? The great covenant societies of Alma, the Nephites, and the city of Enoch were great because individuals exercised their agency to accept and keep certain covenants. They chose to be great: they were not forced to be great.

For many well meaning Americans, it is easy to find a social issue that needs to be resolved, a wrong that needs to be made right, even a mistake that needs to be fixed. There are many that need to be fixed. But is the fair and just solution to take (by force) from one person and give to another? Yes, we do have a mandate to take care of the poor. But this is the mandate of individuals, not that of the government. Let me use my own money to take care of the poor, for that is the commandment. We should be wary of the slippery-slope we are probably already on. When do we say we have enough government intervention? How much is enough? If government intervention perpetuates the problems it has caused, then there is no such thing as enough intervention. With increasing government involvement, the problems get worse and worse. Perhaps even more troubling is that the more power and inertia government has, the less power we have to stop it.

History is not on the side of liberty. As governments grow in reach and influence, they rarely give up their powers. We can see this in The Book of Mormon, or from extrapolation, in the D&C. They rarely shrink without a violent act such as a revolution or war. And so our liberty decreases little by little, as we march in an increasingly constricted pathway to the future. If the way to wickedness is great and wide, and the path to righteousness strait and narrow, what are the odds we are headed in the right direction? Historical precedents are not favorable to liberty (or salvation) in this pattern.

In summary, for me, the fundamental role of government is to protect and preserve my liberty, not to decrease it. It should be the champion of my liberty and my rights, not the offender of them. This is the biggest reason I have a problem with the current increasing pattern of government involvement and intrusion into our lives. I would rather empower the individual and not the government.

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10 Comments

Filed under Austrian Economics, Book of Mormon, Libertarian, Mormonism, Personal, politics, role of government

10 responses to “Cause and Effect: Most Significant Effect

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. ed42

    Amen, Brother. I am excited to find out that there exist other Mormons who believe that government has been prostituted (no longer limited to protecting rights). Now, how do we wake up the herd?

  3. Very interesting. I am curious how the United Order fits into all this. As I understand it, we’re supposed to turn over everything to the church (i.e. a theocratic government), and then it will be re-distributed as needed. Then there would be no poor among us. In this case, eliminating poverty would be a role of government.

    Doesn’t this take away our liberty? Is the United Order a good thing? How do you reconcile with 1830’s and 1840’s revelations on the subject?

    It is interesting to note that many of the early church members/apostates derisively called Joseph Smith a “pope”, and others despised Brigham Young for his isolationist tendencies. Young really wanted the saints to be isolated, creating a money system, and some would say he severely limited agency (he is known to excommunicate those you disagreed with him on many occasions.) A theocracy definitely takes away liberty. So, as good citizens, is the Law of Consecration a good thing, or a bad thing? As a citizen, it would be very scary to put that much trust in government. On the other hand, if the government were like King Arthur, or King Benjamin, that might not be a bad thing…. Of course, we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely, so it seems a Utopian society is a bad thing.

  4. plato04

    Great questions.

    You asked if the United Order takes away our liberty. As I see it, the United Order is entered into by covenant voluntarily, and would therefore not take away our liberty. It was also administered peacefully. No police would come to confiscate your goods by force. Instead, if you held back something (as in Ananias in the Book of Acts) then you were responsible and you paid the price. You choose to enter into the covenant, you choose to keep living it. Should you refuse to live it, the contract is broken and you would no longer belong in the United Order, and would be cast out.

    But of course the United Order requires righteous individuals to live and administer within it. As we saw, many individuals who entered into it were not sufficiently prepared in the early days of the Church. And so the venture was suspended by the Lord. So there must be some moral standard met before this can be realistically realized. But it is possible, as the scriptures attest.

    For us fallen and sinful mortals, however, which form of government is best? The Book of Mormon has examples of good kings and wicked kings, and interestingly enough, the righteous Nephites before Christ’s coming move toward a “freer” society where judges were the chief civic officers, replacing kings. There are a couple of significant conflicts on this subject in the Book of Alma. This was on purpose: they wanted to avoid the dangers of iniquitous influence in government. And so should it be with us, I think. We should give individuals more power to sink or swim, and government less power, recognizing the weakness of the flesh, that powers corrupts, and the high likelihood of electing morally objectionable rulers (i.e. Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, etc.). The less power government has over our lives, the better, in my opinion.

    That government is best which governs least is a good maxim, I think, for Latter-day Saints, as this maximizes liberty and freedom to choose, resting responsibility of societal failings upon individuals (for instance, succoring the poor or the widows) instead of an unclear aggregate (i.e. government, society).

  5. Platoo4,

    I don’t think it matters whether or not someone joins a United Order voluntarily. It still takes away liberty. Freedom to choose and liberty are 2 different things. The 12 tribes of Israel voluntarily chose a king instead of judges to rule over them. The result was a loss of liberty. The King-men of the BOM chose to have a king, resulting in a loss of liberty. Righteous Limhi was followed by wicked Noah. All the people voluntarily followed Limhi, but weren’t given much of a choice to follow Noah.

    Let’s look at your examples. Ananias chose not to live the law of consecration. I’m sorry, but a death penalty is not what I would call liberty. Being “cast out” of society is the opposite of liberty. Yes, you are right that one has the choice of choosing to be killed or cast out, but to me this is called “duress”. By that definition, the Jews were free under Nazi Germany, because they chose to live there, and were killed or cast out. That doesn’t seem to be liberty to me.

    Don’t get me wrong–I think it would be great to live the Law of Consecration. The success would depend entirely upon having righteous leaders and citizens. If somehow the leaders turned bad, what recourse would a citizen have? Ostracism and death–seems the opposite of liberty to me. The early saints chose capitalism to united order–I guess at least it was a valid choice, but if it was Utopia or wilderness/death, does one really have the freedom to choose, or is the decision under duress?

  6. plato04

    Hmm…Sounds like you have a much different conception of liberty than I do. I view liberty as the freedom to choose. Not sure what you view liberty as. Perhaps I have not been clear enough. Let me try to remedy that.

    By the way, I am entirely in agreement that the United Order will only work when there are righteous leaders and citizens. Even if that were the case, it would only work with the Lord’s blessing (i.e. revelation). Building such a lasting economic structure without divine guidance and support would be impossible.

    But on to liberty. Liberty involves the freedom of association, including the freedom to voluntarily engage in contractual agreements. Once entered into, a contractual agreement is binding. There are consequences for breaking the contract.

    For instance, suppose I sign a contract upon entering a store that I will not shoplift. Seems reasonable. I have entered into this freely. The contract mentions that if I am caught shoplifting, the punishment will be at the shopkeeper’s discretion. If I am caught shoplifting, does that mean my liberty is violated or that I am no longer free because I must suffer consequences I have agreed to? This seems like a consequence of violating a freely entered into agreement. I see no compromise of liberty. On the other hand, liberty is compromised if I re-make the contract post facto without the consent of the shopkeeper. If he agrees to change it, fine. But if not, then I am trying to change the terms of the agreement single-handedly. This compromises liberty, as the entire contractual process becomes one of anarchy rather than order. This sounds like the attempt to free one’s actions from consequences.

    There are theological parallels. Consider our pre-mortal existence, where we “signed up,” essentially, for the plan of salvation, knowing full well the consequences involved. We agreed to come to earth and live by certain laws, as revealed in scripture. If we violate these laws, negative consequences are inevitable. Does this mean we were not free to make the agreement in the first place? Absolutely not. Nor does it mean we are held captive by the existence of such laws. The necessity of having negative consequences for negative actions is revealed in the teachings of Father Lehi that there must needs be an opposition in all things. And yet, he says that we are free to choose liberty and eternal life, or captivity and death. We are free to choose. This is what is meant by liberty: the freedom to choose the action, but not the consequence. These are tied together. Or put another way, the freedom to choose the consequence by selecting the right action to achieve the desired ends.

    Notice I cannot choose wickedness and receive blessings associated with righteous living (i.e. liberty, the freedom to choose). This is akin to a serious contractual breach. Jesus said that those who commit sin are the servant of sin. Nephi talks of the adversary binding people down with strong cords. Lehi talks of chains holding his sons captive. There is nothing free or liberating about this imagery. Contractual breaches are sinful, and thus inevitably tied with captivity.

    I say this because it sounds almost as if you are associating liberty with the ability to break contracts or covenants with God. Or perhaps you would say that once we have entered into a covenant relationship, we are bound and therefore no longer free. This is not what the Gospel teaches. We are free as a result of the Atonement, and we receive the ultimate blessings of freedom when we choose to follow the Savior. Following the adversary by necessity leads us to captivity of one sort or another.

    Regarding the actions of king-men vs. the United Order. The king-men essentially wanted a cede all power of government to a king to rule and reign according to his discretion. If they so choose to compromise their liberty, in my opinion, they are free to do so. However, they are not free to compromise the liberty of others who would not have such an arrangement (the freemen). For instance, if the king men really wanted a king for the right reasons, and not to exercise control and dominion unrighteously, they could have relocated somewhere and set up a society with a king. That would have been a peaceful way to achieve their desired goal. The problem comes with their children. Have they signed up for a kingdom? Not as their parents did. And yet they are in a kingdom not necessarily of their own choosing. This could be considered a breach of liberty, for a contractual agreement is assumed when, in fact, one never took place. (It would be far better for children to be raised in freedom, and choose a king if they so desired. But freedom makes a better default.)

    In the United Order, however, individuals enter through covenant. Children are brought up in the United Order, but would not be admitted until a series of ordinances were completed (i.e. baptism, confirmation, Priesthood ordinations, etc.), signifying their commitment to the societal ideal, but also signaling their complete willingness to enter into this type of contractual agreement. If the terms of this contract are violated, then the consequences inevitably follow. Being cast out is really the last straw, but would almost certainly be a punishment at some point. It would be ridiculous for such a closed society to keep anyone who consistently and/or egregious violated their contract. It would be like the shopkeeper refusing to kick me out of his store for shoplifting, or even welcoming me back a second or third time. That would be entirely destructive to the community. Many would suffer as a result of the actions of one.

    Being “cast out” is a theological punishment. After the resurrection and judgment, for instance, the wicked are cast out of God’s presence. Many parables talk of this: sheep and goats, wheat and tares, parable of the fishes, etc. It is harsh because violations to covenants and against laws of God are harsh. Contractual breaches are also harsh, and so deserve a penalty comparable to the breach. Being “cast out” (or “shunned” as the Amish may say) is an ancient technique and one of the best punishments to preserve a closed, sacred society.

    Is the Church, for instance, wrong for excommunicating or disfellowshipping members? This is certainly a form of being “cast out.” Would the shopkeeper be justified in “casting out” a shoplifter? Absolutely.

    If you are to say that children being brought up in the United Order are raised “under duress,” (not sure if this is your perspective or not) then how are families to rear children? How are children to be taught and educated? What is the role of the family?

    To bring Nazi Germany’s tyrannical treatment of Jews into this discussion seems a little odd. I have a hard time seeing how that fits. The Jews entered into no contractual arrangement to have their businesses ransacked, property confiscated, windows broken, etc., in the 1930s, and most certainly did not agree to be carried away to a terribly brutal form of captivity and death. This was a contractual breach because no such contract ever existed. One party never signed on.

    To tie this with our political situation, such is the case with governments that get too big, including our own. I never signed up for the New Deal, or the Great Society, or the innumerable regulations, laws, and statutes that are legally binding upon me, though I am oblivious to most. I never signed up for the Patriot Act, or HR 1955. I never signed up for a 9 trillion dollar national debt and a pattern of deficit spending. I never signed up for unconstitutional wars and a superpower foreign policy.

    The best I can do as a citizen is to vote for someone that will either fund these programs completely (Republicans), or vote for someone that will fund these completely plus a little extra (Democrats). Hence, my political frustration. I, like the author above, feel that the government’s growth is compromising our liberty.

  7. mormonpaleo

    I think a lot of the questions related to the United Order and governments administered by men can be resolved when the United Order is not placed in the same category as governments of men. God’s ways are not man’s ways. We place our trust and faith in God and not in the flesh. I do not have the same faith in the United States government as I do in God’s kingdom and economy on this earth.

    The Law of Consecration is a good thing. If one says that this law takes away liberty couldn’t one therefore say that covenanting to live any divine law or commandment takes away liberty? Man will always be free if they keep all the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

    Let us also realize that the United Order and the Law of Consecration are not the same thing. The United Order is built upon the law of consecration. In our day members covenant to live this law but they do not live in the United Order.

  8. Platoo4,

    I agree that this comes down to how one defines liberty, and apparently we do have different definitions.

    I would say that if someone is convicted of stealing, his liberty is taken away. (This is not a bad thing.) He no longer has liberty, because he freely chose not to abide by the laws of the land.

    To me, nobody can ever take away freedom of choice. As it says on the NH license plates, “Live free or die”, or as Patrick Henry says, “Give me liberty or give me death.” So one can always choose death in the face of other consequences.

    When one breaks laws, one goes to jail, and many liberties (voting, moving, working, choosing meals) are taken away by society/government.

    If one decides to enter a covenant to a United Order, the liberty to retain one’s possessions is limited. For example, we can currently spend our money any way we choose–on cars, tithing, charity, entertainment, etc. We have a choice to pay tithing. However, the liberty of attending the temple is only given to those who pay tithing. We are not at liberty to go to the temple, unless we pay our tithing. Yes everyone has the choice. However, if one wants to attend the temple without paying tithing, it could seem very heavy-handed to require payment of tithes. One is not at liberty to attend the temple unless he has previously payed tithing.

    You would call this liberty and consequence. However, if you were on the other side of this argument, it could easily be seen as tyranny, and extortion.

    Thankfully, I have the liberty to attend the temple, and plan to keep that liberty. If I later choose to quit paying tithing, that liberty will be taken from me. Yes, there is a consequence of my decision–that I will no longer be at liberty to go to the temple. In that sense, I am in bondage to my decision.

    I guess it’s all about semantics….Overall, we basically agree, but define the terms differently.

    MP, sorry to steer this so far off-topic from what you probably intended…I think many people confuse Law of Consecration with the United Order. Until you pointed it out, I considered them the same thing. They are very closely related.

    In answer to your question, “couldn’t one therefore say that covenanting to live any divine law or commandment takes away liberty?” Yes, and many people do, because they want to re-write the covenant to suit them…..

    Even if God himself administered the United Order, there would still be people who would complain he was a tyrant. After all, 1/3 of the Hosts of Heaven chose to follow someone else….. Then again, I guess they wouldn’t have the opportunity to live it since they already made their choice….

    Sorry for playing Devil’s advocate, but it was kinda fun….. 🙂

  9. plato04

    Mormon Heretic,

    I think you well state a commonly held viewpoint: the fact that specific consequences are tied to certain actions amounts to an affront on liberty. As you know, I view this differently. I have a hard time understanding the perspective (though admittedly it may be popular today) that liberty is the independence of consequences from actions. I see this as an impossible chaotic state at odds with eternal law (both timeless and God-like) rather than a condition of liberty. Consequences are of necessity tied to certain actions.

    Agreed that many may disagree, and of course liberty can be relative and subjective in the eyes of some, but I think the Gospel gives a pretty objective definition of liberty as the freedom to choose one’s actions. This is also consistent with liberty as the ability to enter into mutually beneficial contractual agreements, a commonly held libertarian perspective.

    But as I said, you do sum up a very commonly held view, that commandments and restrictions (or even negative consequences) of any sort are tyrannical, totalitarian, manipulative, immoral, and unnecessary. Thus, the liberal welfare state (this includes Republicans) tries to divorce the economic maladies associated with economic interventionism by enacting more destructive interventionist policies. It’s a little like watching a man stabbing himself, and as he notices the blood spurting from his wounds (or maybe he just notices a general feeling of light-headedness), decides he better stab more vigorously.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion. It’s always good to bat these ideas around a bit.

  10. mormonpaleo

    Thanks for the lively discussion. I agree with my brother that it is “good to bat these ideas around a bit.” I find myself learning new ideas and solidifying ideas I already know. Thanks.

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