This is the second post in which I am looking at the objections that Larry (a.k.a. The Barefoot Bum) made to my claim that much government debt constitutes theft from future generations.
In my previous post, I gave a description of what it takes for government spending to be permissible - that those who pay the debt must obtain a worthwhile benefit. However, much government debt does not fit this description. It fits a description that I described as theft.
In fact, unless you are in possession of a time machine, it is physically impossible to steal anything from our children. Asserting that a deficit now as stealing from our children is as utterly deluded as belief in God.
So, let's say that I want t buy a car for $20,000. I get access to your bank account, from which i take the money and buy the car. Even though we can imagine situations in which this would not be theft, we can fill in the details where we all would nearly all agree that it is.
Yet, i am to believe that if, instead, I were to give the seller the ability to take $21,000 from your account tomorrow that this would not be theft. It would, instead, be a legitimate transaction because no theft can take place across time.
One might want to claim that, consistent with the claim that theft cannot occur across time, no theft occurs until the car seller actually takes the money.
Of course, it is possible that some of our children could use a deficit to justify theft from others of our children, but that theft is not really dependent on our actions now it will be our children's choice whether or not to steal from each other.
The person who makes this move is simply playing language games. There's no substantive difference between this and what I wrote. There is only a difference in what words are to be used in describing it. One person wants to limit the term 'theft' to the single act of forced money transfer that occurs at the end of the deal, while another (me) uses the term for an expended set of actions across time that culminates in the forced transfer.
This dispute over how to define 'theft' is as void of substance as the dispute over how to define 'planet' - the latter having no relevance to what is true of Pluto.
For all practical purposes, an institution that allows buyers to empower sellers to take money without consent (or political representation) from third parties to cover the costs of their purchases - plus interest - is institutionalized theft. As practiced, it is an institution that requires this future theft. Without this future theft - or at least the expectation and demand that this future theft will occur - the institution itself would cease to exist?
So, what are we doing taking part, promoting, and codifying an institution, and passing laws granting people the legal authority to use violence in defense of this institution, when it is an institution that requires as a component this future theft?
Much of our government debt fits this description. We make purchases today by giving sellers - or giving people who have cash to give to sellers - certificates for the forceful (backed by violence) transfer of wealth from future taxpayers at a future date.
It us one thing for me to buy a home by signing a mortgage where I agree to make monthly payments over the next 30 years. It is quite another for me to buy a house authorizing the seller to garnish your wages for the next 30 years. And government debt is a transaction of the second type.
We can see how some might find this attractive. To the degree that we all carry around credit cards allowing us to spend money from somebody else's bank account with no regard as to its balance, a great many if us are going to feel tempted to overspend. It's not difficult to imagine all of us seeing our debts balloon - caused by out-of-control buyers, over whose spending we have no control, consuming whatever it is they desire because they can pass the costs onto us.
It is one thing for us to buy a house and agree to make a certain number of payments each month for the next 30 years. It is quite another to buy a house authorizing the seller to garnish somebody else's wages for the next 30 years to get the money.
That is what future generations are (metaphorically) seeing in us. For them, it is the moral equivalent of getting a credit card statement every month, with more and more charges added to each statement, made by out-of-control spenders, and having no ability or authority to refuse - waiting for the day when their minimum payment required on the debt exceeds their capacity to pay. Now, what is the person who scoffs that this is not theft trying to say?
Is he trying to tell us that, even though morally objectionable it is a violation of language to call this 'theft'?
Or is he trying to say that running up somebody else's debt without their consent is never morally objectionable as long as that person doesn't see the debt (or get the visit from the people with guns demanding payment) until some future date?
The first option is a trivial semantic claim that lacks substance. It a dispute over what something is to be named, not a dispute over what it is.
The second is absurdly false on its face.