The Economy of Virtue

“All the gold which is under or upon the earth

is not enough to give in exchange for virtue.”

 – Plato

I abhor entitlement programs. From welfare, housing programs and minimum wage to Medicare and Medicaid, they all must go. I don’t say this because I despise the less fortunate or minorities or because I don’t believe that every person has a moral obligation to help those in need. I say this because, no matter how good the intentions might be, these government interventions meant to redistribute wealth and establish economic equality have grave, unintended consequences that specifically harm minorities and the poor.

However, in addition to robbing taxpayers only to set up the less fortunate for failure such government programs rob you of, not just dollars, but occasions of virtue. What do I mean by that? Well, contrary to the assertion that we need government-mandated universal healthcare or welfare in order to meet our moral obligations I believe that such programs in fact rob us of our very ability to meet said obligations. Charity, mercy, compassion, these are virtues and for a person to practice virtue requires an act of free will. The height of virtue is when a man or woman chooses to be virtuous fully of their own volition, without prompting, even at their own expense.

Contrast this with welfare in which you, as an American taxpayer, are forced to pay substantial taxes or face severe penalties, essentially robbed, so that the government can take from you, who are presumably well enough off to do without, and give your money to the designated poor. You are coerced to practice virtue. Except its not virtue because you had no choice; you were a static source of income that faceless government bureaucracies utilized in order to subsidize faceless masses that you’ve never met.

How sterile. Sure, some people will not aid the poor unless coerced but that is the danger of virtue. If you can choose to practice virtue then you can choose to refrain from practicing virtue. But instead of letting us make our own choices, allowing those of us who readily recognize and embrace our moral obligations to our brothers and sisters in Christ to “produce” virtue, the government eliminates vast opportunities for virtue by robbing us of any choice in the use of our finite incomes, instead effectively lowering us all to the level of the petty scrooge who does not freely share his wealth. Production of virtue is stunted and consumption swells. Virtue is rationed. The soul of America suffers.

Legislating the corporal works of mercy ensures that society will be less inclined to perform them. After all, why should I leave the comfort of my home to feed the poor when food stamps do that? I pay my taxes and my taxes pay for welfare; the entire “work” part is done for me! As a nursing student about to graduate I’m lucky to be part of a profession so conducive to performing corporal works of mercy but as a whole our society faces a severe drought when it comes to exercising social justice with, not just solidarity, but subsidarity.

While virtue will always be with us, as will the poor, is it the government’s place to limit the opportunities for virtue? Is that a cost worth paying in order to redistribute wealth (even if it did work)? This only serves to bring society down, to stifle generosity and create a juvenile sense of entitlement among the citizenry. If our government is to truly fulfill its role of promoting the common good then it must allow for the conditions necessary to create an environment that encourages the practice of virtue among its citizens – not rob them of personal responsibility and mandate virtue, as if such a thing were even possible.

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