Walter E. Williams bio photo

Walter E. Williams

Professor of Economics.
(703) 993-1148
D158 Mason Hall
Department of Economics
George Mason University

Related Sites:
The homepage of George Mason University.
Homepage of the Department of Economics at GMU.

Positive reader response to “Socialism Is Evil” was quite surprising.  That column argued that it was an immoral, not to mention unconstitutional, act for Congress, through the tax code, to confiscate the earnings of one American to give to another American in the forms of prescription drugs, Social Security, food stamps, farm subsidies or airline bailouts. It’s immoral because it forcibly uses one person to serve the purposes of another. Indeed, that’s one way to define slavery and other forms of servitude.

 Several letters of disagreement interpreted my argument as being against taxation. They used the sleight-of-hand approach saying that we need taxation for national defense, the courts and other constitutionally authorized purposes as if that observation meant that taxation for any other purpose was just as legitimate. Let me be explicit. Taxes to finance certain federal activities are indeed legitimate as well as constitutional.

 Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates just what federal functions Congress has taxing and spending authority. Among them are national defense, post offices and post roads, courts and a few other activities. Or, as James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, explained in Federalist Paper No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.

 ?Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.”

 Nowhere in our Constitution is there even a hint of authority for most of what Congress taxes and spends for today. Don’t be tricked by those who’d argue that Congress has such authority under the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause. James Madison explained, “With respect to the two words ?general welfare’, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them ?” Thomas Jefferson said, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” The “detail of powers” or those “specifically enumerated” refer to what’s actually laid out in the Constitution. The Framers had the foresight to see that these powers might need modification. That’s why they gave us Article V as a means to amend the Constitution.

 One reader criticized, “The essence of democracy is that the will of the majority conveys legitimacy to actions of the state.” That’s a sad commentary on both understanding and education. The Founders didn’t intend for us to be a democracy but instead a republic. But more importantly, majority rule often confers an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. Let’s look at it:

 Consider a few everyday decisions such as: whom we marry, what food we eat, where we live and what clothes we wear. How many of us would want majority rule to determine those decisions. For example, your family would like ham for Thanksgiving dinner and vacations in Mexico, but you’re prevented from doing so because the majority of Americans decided on turkey for Thanksgiving and vacations in Canada. Were decisions actually made this way, most of us would agree that we’d be living in a state of tyranny.

 Of course these particular decisions aren’t made through a majority rule political process, but they do illustrate that there’s nothing sacrosanct about majority rule; it can be just another form of tyranny. It’s just as tyrannical for majority rule to determine other choices such as: retirement (Social Security), prescription drugs, health care and other unconstitutional uses of a person’s earnings.

 When the democratic process reigns in matters of constitutionally enumerated federal government matters, we have the liberty that the Framers envisioned – anywhere else it most likely means tyranny.