24 January 2011

Bryan Caplan on the moral incoherence of redistribution

The Stranger:

What are you morally forbidden to do to a stranger?  You may not murder him.  You may not attack him.  You may not enslave him.  Neither may you rob him.

What are you morally required to do for a stranger?  Not much.  Even if he seems hungry and asks you for food, you're probably within your rights to refuse.  If you've ever been in a large city, you've refused to help the homeless on more than one occasion.  And even if you think you broke your moral obligation to give, your moral obligation wasn't strong enough to let the beggar justifiably mug you. ...

One last question: What fraction of your "fellow citizens" have you actually met?  Virtually zero.  The vast majority of your countrymen are, in fact, utter strangers to you. ...

Even staunch anti-libertarians would be baffled if a homeless man announced, "Give me my money!" instead of asking "Spare change?"  After all, the beggar is a stranger.  All the libertarian is pointing out is that your other "fellow citizens" are strangers, too.  You're not cold and cruel when you refuse to help; they're being pushy and totalitarian when they refuse to take no for an answer.