What is our responsibility to the poor? Does the government have right to take my money?
The principles that Locke writes in his Second Treatise of Government had large influences on the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Founding Fathers established a government that promoted and believed in:
“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
But is this vision of freedom being deprived in contemporary American society? John Locke states in the Second Treatise of Government:
“For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” (chapter V)
This passage made me very curious because, who should judge if what is left is enough and as good, if there were an able judge of such things to what extent would the man be torn from his property and lastly is Locke right? Should an individual man be taken away from his property/earned labour. Does man not have a right to keep 100% of the benefits of his own work?
Today the US has an income tax and many welfare programs, both of which could be seen as conflicting ideas with John Locke’s Second Treatise of government.
It was not until 1913 that the US wrote the 16th Amendment granting Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes.” Locke believes that the end of government is to preserve an individuals property rights and that no man would choose to enter a commonwealth if he thought that his property could so easily be taken away (138). Does the government have a right to take from men what they have earned from their own labour?
I think we all would agree, and so would Locke, that the government has been granted a right to do so when the government uses this money to protect us e.g. national defence and police. But does the government have a right to give it to other citizens?
A contemporary comparison for Locke’s idea would be with social security, a program established in 1935 for the elderly, but now encompasses many different welfare payments e.g. unemployment benefits. In Chapter XV Locke talks about the relationship between parents and their child, Locke writes that the child, “having received life and education from his parents, obliges him to respect… and support…to both his father and mother.” Locke believes that the responsibility for caring for the aged is already upon the child. But do we as individual have a similar obligation to provide money for the elderly who aren’t our parents or relatives? And, even if this is true, should the government necessarily appropriate it for us?
The main question that stirs my curiosity is, how much of a responsibility do we have to our fellow man/the poor in society and if such a responsibility exists should it be enforced by the government?
I think it may be good to end with an opinion that is rarely heard, presented here by Milton Friedman. The first two minutes talks about the philosophical responsibility from then he talks about the economics of poverty, which I realize is not necessary for this blog post. (It is the first two minutes I wish to show you.)