Sean Parr
Soak the rich! Share the wealth! Slay the rule of law!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Sean Parr
September 9, 2012

In January of 2009, when Barack Obama proclaimed that the rule of law would be the touchstone of his presidency, did the president have some flawed conception of what it means for a government to adhere to this principle? It would seem not. He did, after all, acknowledge that a nation is most apt to be successful when "everyone plays by the same rules."

And this is precisely what the rule of law is. It is, simply, "the absence of legal privileges of particular people designated by authority," [1] or — as it pertains to the way in which citizens are to be treated by their government — a state of evenhandedness. It involves the "rules of the game" being laid down beforehand and applicable, equally, to every citizen. For this reason the actions taken by governments that are adherent to the rule of law are absolutely and in all ways foreseeable. Citizens in a society protected by such a government would — according to one fine article — "find solace in the fact that there would be, in the very foundation of their system of laws, no favoritism among the people; no privileged classes." In such a society, every attempt made by any citizen to improve his condition would be fostered by the protection of an objective legal arrangement.

Sounds good. But, the question arises, if the president is so keenly attuned to what the rule of law entails, if he understands the notion so well, why would he, on the one hand, promise an administration directed by it and, on the other, so flippantly disregard it?

The soak the rich and share the wealth policies espoused not simply by the president, but, it seems, by democrats of the day produce a political atmosphere of arbitrariness in which the rule of law, by definition, cannot exist. Because the government, under such conditions, would be required to regard supposedly equal individuals or entire classes of citizens in a different manner than it regards others, the law would have to be inconsistently applied. When the president required that the rich "pay their fair share," or when Joe Biden (God rest his soul) stated that he views the redistribution of incomes as "just being fair," these public officials implicitly recognized that the ideal of fairness — so requisite of any government said to offer equality before the law — holds no sway over their promoted policies.

So why exactly is it anathema to the rule of law for the state to require certain citizens to contribute as taxes a higher percentage (not amount) of their income than other citizens? And why does fairness die when the government confiscates the private property of one and grant it to another?

F.A. Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom, [2] answered these questions. That author stated:

Formal equality before the law is in conflict, and in fact incompatible, with any activity of the government deliberately aiming at material or substantive equality of different people and... any policy aiming directly at a substantive ideal of distributive justice must lead to the destruction of the rule of law.

Hayek continued that a political system that guarantees to different people the same results is one that necessitates that these people be treated differently from one another. It is one that "allows one man to do what another must be prevented from doing." [3] This is not evenhandedness. Evenhandedness forbids such arbitrariness; it demands that people be uniformly treated.

If President Obama succeeds in selling his policies of class warfare, it will be because he has duped the American people into accepting as Gospel his definition of fairness; a definition in which successful talented or intrepid citizens [4] — maybe even those who are just plumb lucky — who happen to belong to a higher tax bracket cannot be assured that their government any longer views them as equal to their lower tax bracket counterparts. Leaving unanswered the question of how secure they ought to feel in their property rights, and if they, in fact, still have any.

It seems, then, that the president must make a decision.

Is his to be an administration the touchstone of which is the rule of law?

Or will he continue to soak the rich? Will he continue to share the wealth? Will he continue to cripple any chance possessed by the ordinary man to foresee the actions of his government that would keep him ordinary forever?

NOTES:

[1]  Hayek, F.A. (2005). The Road to Serfdom with the Intellectuals and Socialism. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs. (p. 58).

[2]  Hayek, F.A. (2007). The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents — the Definitive Edition. Routledge, London: The University of Chicago Press. (p. 117).

[3]  Hayek, F.A. (2005). The Road to Serfdom with the Intellectuals and Socialism. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs. (p. 58).

[4]  Those successful citizens who became such as a result of fraudulent or illegal dealings ought not to be thought of as being propped up by a system of formal law, rather, under such a system, these criminals are to be punished, not celebrated, and, thanks to the very nature of the system, in a way that is dissuadingly foreseeable to them beforehand.

© Sean Parr

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)