A basic fact of human nature is that there are only two ways we can deal with one another, by reason or by force, and these are mutually exclusive. If you choose reason, you rely on persuasion and facts to convince another person. If you reject reason, you rely on the threat, or actual use, of physical force to achieve your goal. You ask a friend to give you a ride to work because your car broke down or you steal a car. You work hard to learn a skill and get a good job to make a living or you knock over a liquor store.
When an individual initiates force against another, regardless of their goal, we call them a bully or a criminal and it is the government’s job to use retaliatory force, the initiation of force by government is properly prohibited, to protect us from them. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson referred to this as government securing our inalienable rights. This is the government’s sole proper function: to use retaliatory force solely against, and to protect us from, those who initiate force against the innocent.
But what happens when the government chooses force over reason? What term do we use for a government that initiates force against people who have not used force against others? When a government abandons reason in favor of force, regardless of the ends they hope to achieve, they are on the road to statism and, ultimately, tyranny, with all the horrors that entails. (The last 100 years are full of examples.) As Ayn Rand pointed out in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, once it is accepted that the government may initiate the use of force:
How often force is to be used, against whom, to what extent, for what purpose and for whose benefit, are irrelevant questions. The basic principle and the ultimate results of all statist doctrines are the same: dictatorship and destruction. The rest is only a matter of time.
It is for this reason that I include Dr. Barbara Frankowski with Hitler and Stalin in my “Faces of Tyranny.” While she does not advocate for war and mass slaughter as Hitler and Stalin did, she does support the idea that the government may initiate force against the innocent to achieve its goals and it is this idea that makes such tyrannical rulers, and the destruction they wrought, possible.
Her support of this idea was made apparent in a segment on the WCAX Evening News last week on the proposed 2 cent per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages. Proponents of this tax claim that such a tax will reduce consumption of such beverages, it likely will, and thereby reduce obesity rates, it likely won’t. The interesting part of the report was the section on the argument being put forward these proponents, including Dr. Frankowski, in support of the tax.
(voice of Kyle Midura, WCAX) Proponents argue that a 2 cent per ounce tax on the drinks will reduce consumption and contend public education is not effective enough on its own.
Dr. Barbara Frankowski, Professor of Pediatrics, UVM Medical School: Just say no to drugs, that worked really well. Um, smoking is bad for you, that worked really well. Um, so it’s just not, it’s not enough.
Tyranny for your own good!
Some may argue that in this case, the use of force is for our own good and that makes a difference. To answer that I offer the following quotation:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock.
In other words, proponents of this measure don’t feel that reasoned arguments, education, are sufficient to change the behavior of consumers, get them to drink fewer sugar sweetened beverages, and so it is acceptable to resort to force, taxation, in an attempt to do so. (I should point out that she is hardly alone in this belief.) This means that all their “arguments” boil down to “Believe me and do what I say. Or else!” (For those who feel that taxes aren’t really force, I ask that you think about what happens if you don’t pay your taxes. You can read my post on the matter here.)
Having accepted the idea that the government can initiate force to attempt to change people’s behavior, what would happen if the 2 cent tax is insufficient to achieve their goal or, even more likely, it achieves the goal of reduced consumption of the taxed beverages but this does not affect obesity rates? What would the proponents try next? Even higher taxes? Taxes on other types of food? Pass a law that compels people to join a gym and exercise? Impose a “fat tax” on people who are overweight? Jail those who fail to keep their BMI within a certain range?
These things may seem unlikely, but once you accept the principle that government can initiate force against the innocent, on what grounds could you fight such measures? Reason has already been explicitly rejected, so giving the facts of why these measures would be ineffective or of how they violate rights carries no weight. It might be the case that the group controlling the government might choose not to take such measure, for a time, but in a world where saturated fat has been wrongly demonized and taxed and where some claim that “climate deniers” should be tried for crimes against humanity or face the death penalty it is very easy to imagine measures such as those listed above would be enacted sooner or later.
As Ayn Rand pointed out in the quotation above, once the principle of government initiation of force is accepted, it is only a matter of time before dictatorship and destruction are the result.