Friday, December 15, 1995

Part 4: Government - Prohibited Activites

(this is the text of a letter I wrote in December of 1995 but never finished.)

 This letter will begin the discusion of things governments should not be involved in by covering the topic of welfare.  Welfare is used in a broad sense to include government providing money, food, shelter, health care, or retirment programs to the citezens.  There are moral and practical asspects to this issue. I will start by explaing the moral reasons why government should not provide welfare and then cover the practical reasons.


 Ezra Taft Benson affirms that the proper role of government excludes socaial programs with this statment:

  No one has the authority to grant such power as welfare programs, schemes for redistributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning.  There is one simple test.  Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal?  If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf.  If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me.  To be sure, there are times when this principle of the proper role of government is most annoying and inconvenient.  If I could only force the ignorant to provide for themselves, or the selfish to be generous with their wealth! (An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 135.)
 Forcing people to be charitable is not possible.  When people are forced to perform charitable acts they are not really being charitable.

 We have lived with a system where government provides so much for the poor that it is easy to assume that government is the only institution that can help these people.  This is not true.  Most people have compasion for those in need, but now they think they don't need to do anything, because the government is taking care of all the problems.  We must not lose our compasion and begin to think that only legislators and burecrats are able to help the poor.  Helping needy people should be left to individuals and voluntary orginiations.  I beleive the private sector can and will take care of peoples needs!

 David Bergland sumarized the moral argument this way: "If you see someone you thing needs help, you have three basic options.  You can do the helping yourself;  you can work to persuade others to help; or you can force others to help.  ...[T]he first two options are morally commendable.  The third is morally reprehensible." (Libertarianism in One Lesson, p. 70.)


 Government does not and cannot take care of peoples needs effectively.

 When government provides the basic needs of life, many people will choose not to work.  Especially people that do not have the ability to make significantly more than government provides.  For example an individual earning $5 per hours working 40 hours per week earns $200 dollars.  Then the federal government will take $7.50 for social security leaving $192.50.  If government welfare will provide a life style that is equivalent to $120 per week, the difference between working and not working is only $72.50.  This means the effective hourly wage is only $1.81/hour.

 Government programs are run by written rules and regulations that leave very little room for judgment. To recive welfare requires filling out forms.  If you meet the requirments, then you become "entitled" to receive benefits.  No government employee "knows" the recipient personaly.

 The government employyes that hand out welfare are not spending their own money, so they are not concerned with limiting the amount spent.  They may actualy want to increase the amount spent because then their jobs become more important.

 Through social security goverment has attempted to create a program to provide for the needs of retired people.  This program takes money from current workers and gives it to current retirees.  Any money that is collected in excess of current needs is spent on other government programs.  No money is saved.  This program is like a pyramid scam, where the people that get in early benefit at the expense of those that get in later.  It its present form it cannot survive and may leave many people unprepared for retierment.

Friday, October 20, 1995

Part 3: Government - The Constitution

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

The last letter presented the idea that the legitimate function of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.  To perform this protective function a government must be give a certain amount of power.  The difficulty lies in controlling and limiting the use of that power.  Here is what Ezra Taft Benson had to say about the use of government power "I believe it a violation of the Constitution for government to deprive the individual of either life, liberty, or property except for these purposes: (a) Punish crime and provide for the administration of justice; (b) Protect the right and control of property; (c) Wage defensive war and provide for the nation's defense; (d) Compel each one who enjoys the protection of government to bear his fair share of the burden of performing these functions."


 The constitution was inspired by God.  In D&C 101:80 the Lord states "... I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose."

Control of Government Power

 The founders of the constitution knew the principle that would later be taught in D&C 121:39, "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."  However, they also knew that a government must be given power so that it can carry out it's duty to protect life, liberty, and property.  They had fought the war of independence, with great difficulty, under the Articles of Confederation, because it gave the federal government almost no authority.  So as they set up the constitution, they knew the government need to have controlled authority.  To control the power, the Constitution created a government that was limited, distributed, and representative.

 Limited:  The powers granted to the federal government are written specifically into the Constitution.  Whenever the federal government acts constitutionally it is possible to state which article, section, and paragraph of the constitution gives it the authority to act. Because many people were rightfully concerned that the government would get out of control, the Bill of Rights was added.  The Bill of Rights does not actually grant rights to the people.  It presupposes the existence of these rights and prohibits the government from infringing upon them.  Amendment nine then says "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  In other words, just because the constitution does not list a right of the people, this does not mean it does not exist.  And just in case any one misunderstood that the federal government is supposed to be limited Amendment ten was added that says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

 Distributed:  The power of the government is supposed to be distributed in two ways.  First, as we learned in school, there are three branches of government with checks and balances between them.  The second way that government is distributed is between the federal, state, and local levels.  Thomas Jefferson said "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the functions he is competent to.  Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the state governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties; and each ward direct the interest within itself.  It is by dividing and subdividing theses republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself, by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.  What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun?  The generalization and concentration of all cares and power into one body."

 Representative:  By voting the People of this country are given the ability to select who they want to run the government.  This allows the people to direct and control the government.  However, the will of the people can not be allowed to override the proper limited functions of government.  Even if a majority of the people desire the government to implement an unconstitutional program, it can not legitimately be done.  The constitution created a democratic republic; not a pure democracy.  The right to vote carries with it the responsibility to make wise choices.  A second form of representation is contained in the right to a trial by jury.  If the government creates an unconstitutional law, then each time it attempts to enforce the law, it must convince 12 jurors that the law should be valid.  Thephilus Parsons, a early chief justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts explained it this way: "The people themselves have it in their power effectually to resist usurpation without being driven to an appeal to arms.  An act of usurpation is not obligatory; it is no law; and any man may be justified in his resistance.  Let him be considered as a criminal by the general government, yet only his own fellow citizen can convict him; they are his jury, and if the pronounce him  innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of usurpation."


 Our federal government currently performs many functions that are beyond the bounds of the authority listed in the constitution.  There are many factors that have contributed to this situation.  The Supreme Court has often interpreted the constitution in ways that were never intended.  The states gave up their check on federal power when they ratified the 17th amendment.  They continue to give up their autonomy when they accept federal funds.  Judges tell juries that they can not judge the law; they must convict if the law was violated, even if the law is immoral.  The people of this country no longer understand or care about a limited constitutional government.  We elect whomever promises to give us the biggest piece of the pie.  Most of us either have not read or do not understand the constitution.  I have include a copy of the constitution so that you can read it.  In the next letter I will discus in detail areas where our government has overstepped its constitutional limits.

Sunday, October 01, 1995

Part 2: Government

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

In This letter I will begin the section on government.  This letter will cover the basic principles of government.  These principles are general and apply to all governments.  In following letters I will continue the section on government by discussing the Constitutional implementation of the principles of government, and things that governments should not do.

Government Should Be Based on Principles

In regard to questions about government proposals Ezra Taft Benson said "Decisions of this nature should be based upon and measured against certain basic principles regarding the proper role of government.  If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence" (An Enemy Hath Done This. p. 126).  Government like everything else can be proper or improper.  There are valid and invalid uses of government power.  We cannot justify government action based on results alone.  We must consider whether it is right or wrong on a more fundamental, or moral, basis.  The idea that the ends can justify the means is false.
Government is Force

Before we consider the principles that we should base government on we must consider what government is.  When an individual breaks a law, force in some way will be applied.  The individual will usually be jailed of fined.  We say the law is enforced.  If government laws and regulations did not have penalties associated with them, they would just be suggestions.  George Washington said: "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence -- it is force!  Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."  Government is the institutionalization of force.

Government Gets Authority from the People

Now we come to the question of the source of government authority.  As members of the church we understand the concept of a line of authority.  We do not accept the idea that someone or some group can get authority unless it is given to them by someone that already has authority.  So, as we consider government authority we have two choices, either a government is given authority or governments are in some way special and they just have authority.  Although, many people use phrases like "eminent domain" to try to say that governments do not need to be given authority, I cannot think of any reason why we should accept this idea.

So, if we accept the premise that government must be given authority, we must consider the question of who or what can give government authority.  People create governments, so the only available source of legitimate authority is the people.  Because government gets is legitimate authority from the people, the only powers that the government can have are the same powers that individuals have.

President Benson said "Government is nothing more or less that a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge responsibilities which have been authorized.  It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or privilege to do anything.  Its only source of authority and power is from the people who have created it." (The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner, p. 7)

Proper Role of Government

Individuals can only use force to defensively protect life, liberty and property (see previous letter).  Government is force. Legitimate government authority is derived from individual authority.  Therefore, we conclude, the only legitimate role of government is to defensively protect life, liberty, and property.

Ezra Taft Benson said "I hold that the Constitution denies government the power to take from the individual either his life, liberty or property except in accordance with moral law; that the same moral law which governs the actions of men when acting alone is also applicable when they act in concert with others; that no citizen or group of citizens has any right to direct their agent, the government, to perform an act which would be evil or offensive to the conscience if that citizen were performing the act himself outside the framework of government" (An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 144 emphasis original)

Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a declaration of our beliefs with regard to earthly governments and laws in general.  Each of the twelve verses begins, like the Articles of Faith, with the phrase "We believe."  I recommend reading and studying the entire section.  I will conclude this letter by quoting verses 2 and 5.  Notice how the proper role of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of individuals.

We believe 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.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

Monday, September 18, 1995

Part 1. Moral case for individual liberty

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

This section is about the way liberty relates to individuals dealing with each other. It does not consider the relationship between government and individuals. Governments will be considered in section two.

Source of Liberty

Some of the books I have read have attempted to explain where the rights of man come from. There are a number of different ideas. Some say men have natural rights because they are human. Others say men have rights because, from a utilitarian point of view, they feel there are benefits. Many say governments grant rights. However, as members of the church, we believe our rights come from God. Specifically God granted to those of us that chose the correct side in the war in heaven, life and free agency. President Benson said "Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government" (emphasis added). Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence "We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness" (emphasis added).

Range of Liberty

There are legitimate limits to our freedoms, but before considering the limits it is important to understand that the range of agency should be as great as possible. First, agency should not be limited because it is a gift from God. God allows us great latitude in the use of our agency. As it says in one of our hymns "God will force no man to heaven." There is lots of wickedness in the world that God could stop if the principle of agency was not so crucial. Another reason we must be left free to choose is that, if righteousness was forced, we would not learn nor would we be rewarded for the acts we perform. Satan presented a plan to take away our agency; we rejected his plan. He continues to pursue his goal. Therefore, we must think very carefully about the limits we desire to place on other individuals.

Legitimate Limits on Liberty

We should be free to do whatever we choose, as long as we do not infringe on another individual’s freedoms. Therefore, the only time an individual can justifiably take life or limit liberty is to protect life or liberty. In other words individuals can only use force defensively. The only other case where force may be appropriate is in teaching and raising children, but we cannot use force on adults except to protect ourselves.

There are many examples where the use of force by one individual to limit the liberty of another individual is clearly immoral. We do not go into our neighbors' homes and attempt to compel them to act in ways we desire even if the actions we desire would benefit them or others. We cannot coerce others to give money, goods, or service to us even for righteous causes. It would be wrong to control where our friends shop, what they buy or how much they pay. If we are with a friend when we see someone asking for money, we can reach into our pocket and give willingly but we can't reach into our friend’s pocket to help him give. We believe that alcohol and tobacco are bad, but we do not try to force others to stop using them. We would not want our neighbor to control the shows we watch, the books we read, or the people we associate with. We don't want him to select the church we go to or the things we believe. As individuals we generally should not try to control each other.

The Relationship between Property Ownership and Liberty

As free individuals there are numerous ways we can use our liberties to acquire property. We can trade our labor for property, we can trade things we already own for other goods, we can give or receive gifts from others. Liberty gives us the right to own things, all types of things, land, cars, houses, clothes, food, etc. To be clear I would like to offer a definition of ownership: The owner of an object is the individual that can decide what to do with the thing that is owned. The owner can sell, trade, destroy, improve, save, or do anything else desired with his property.

Because liberty allows us to own property, using force to protect property is equivalent to protecting liberty. If someone attempts to steal our property or take control of it, we have the right to use force to keep it.

Additionally, property ownership draws a line when there are conflicts between individuals using their liberties. Because the owner of an object has the right to control it, we can not claim that liberty allows us to do what we want wherever we want. In our own homes we have almost no limits placed on our liberty. When we invite others into our home, they must abide by our standards or we can make them leave. When we are in another person’s home our liberties our significantly restricted.


Because I have said we can use force to protect life, liberty and property, does not mean I advocate, a system where each of us individually must constantly resort to force for protection. The point I am trying to make is that we will always have the right to use force defensively. Nothing can take away our right to protect our families, our friends, and our property.

To summarize, Liberty is a gift from God. We should place the minimum limits necessary on liberty. The only legitimate use of force is to protect life, liberty, and property. Property ownership draws a line when there are conflicts between individuals exercising their liberties.

In my next letter I will try to show how these principles of individual liberty relate to the proper role of government.

Part 0: Introduction

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

As all of you know, I have recently been spending considerable time studying about the role of government and its relationship to the governed. About a week ago I watched a tape of a talk given by President Benson on September 16, 1987 at a BYU devotional. The titled of the talk was "The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner.” The next day I went down to Deseret Book and purchased a pamphlet that contained this talk. I also found a book by Ezra Taft Benson entitled "An Enemy Hath Done This." I have just finished reading this book. I strongly recommend it to all.

In the general priesthood session of conference on April 9, 1966 President David O. McKay stated:

We therefore commend and encourage every person and every group who is sincerely seeking to study Constitutional principles and awaken a sleeping and apathetic people to the alarming conditions that are rapidly advancing about us. We wish all of our citizens throughout the land were participating in some type of organized self-education in order that they could better appreciate what is happening and know what they can do about it.

With this recommendation from President McKay I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned. This will be the first in a series of letters that will explain my opinions about government and attempt to back them up. I will likely quote from President Benson extensively. It's likely there are items that I am wrong about. If my beliefs are in any way out of harmony with the teachings of the church, I will change my beliefs. Obviously there will be cases where you disagree with me. When you do, let me know why so we can discuss it. I am continually trying to increase my understanding. Feel free to share these letters with your family and friends.

I have organized the material I would like to share into the following four sections: 1) Moral case for individual liberty, 2) Government, 3) Pragmatic case for liberty, and 4) Actions we can take to improve our government.