Is it Really My Money?
By Steve Gillman
I like to think that as long as I do nothing dishonest in
making it, my money is my own. I do give to several charitable
causes, but this is entirely voluntary, and I don't necessarily
believe that other people have the "right" to my money
unless I have agreed to some contractual arrangement that specifies
what I owe. I haven't ever agreed to most of the things our government
takes my money for, by the way, but I pay my taxes because of
the threat of prison.
My Money Is Stolen From the Poor?
It is easy to have a belief like this, until new information
challenges the premises and logic behind it. In this case, a
book i read, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, made
me rethink the concept of "my money." In that book
the author explained - as I briefly outlined on the page GDP Growth - Is it Always a Good Thing?
- how various interested groups ranging from bankers to governments
and corporations use fraud to effectively steal the resources
of poor countries and make the poor of those countries pay for
the whole process for generations to come.
Now, if you get my newsletter, Money Matters, you know
I believe in free markets and in freedom in general. But these
ideas - at least as I understand them - imply fair markets and
fairness in general. If money is made in fraudulent ways it doesn't
really belong to those who profit, as far as I'm concerned. This
seems simple enough, but then it raises another question.
What if the scale of the robbery is large enough, and the
profits benefit the whole people of the United States by way
of a better economy and the spreading of the wealth that happens
(to some extent) in a capitalist society? Doesn't this suggest
that perhaps all, or at least many of us, have received stolen
loot? And if so, is all of my money really mine?
Normally when something is stolen, it returned to the rightful
owners even if it has since been sold or given to someone else
who knows nothing of the original crime. This is complicated,
of course, when that something stolen is a fungible item like
money. If a man robs a another man of a million dollars and goes
on a shopping spree, we generally don't go to every store he
visited and take the money back to return to the man who was
But really that's only a matter of practicality. If he happened
to buy a house for a wife or friend with the money he stole,
the house would likely be taken and sold to recompense the victim.
So really the issue of whether the money should be found, or
the things it bought used to replace it is not the issue if there
is a way to do it. We generally try to right a wrong if possible
in a civilized society.
What about the case of large thefts of billions of dollars?
What if a government plunders the citizens of another country
and this is used for the benefit of its own citizens? What if
corporations fraudulently profit at the expense of poor people
in other countries, and the result is that we all get to pay
less for some of the things we buy, as well as collect dividends
from these corporations in our millions of retirement accounts?
It seems impractical to determine how much was obtained in fraudulent
ways, and which of us should return how much of the booty we
Justice is impractical, perhaps, but knowing what I know now
does make me feel that perhaps I have more money than I would
have were it not for these crimes - which continue to this day,
by the way (a subject for another time). So I guess I really
don't mind if some of my money is used for foreign aid to poor
countries, which at the moment only adds up to a little over
a dollar weekly for each of us.
I understand that this is greatly complicated by a number
of factors. I really don't know the scale of these things, although
the more I read the more discouraging it seems. And to the extent
that unfair practices and fraud have enriched our economy in
general, most of us benefit, just like the peasants of a kingdom
who don't have to work as hard once the King plunders a neighboring
land to fill his coffers.
My Money - Other Qualifiers
There are some other potential arguments for why my money
may not all be rightfully mine to keep or spend how I like. One
is the simple fact of public services which benefit me and make
it possible to have the level of income that I have. In other
words, there may be some justice in forcing me to pay taxes that
support the roads I use, the police that protect me, and the
courts that keep me safe from fraud.
Some anarchist libertarians will argue that unless we freely
choose to use these services, we cannot be obligated to pay for
them. Nice theory, but it is not really possible to avoid going
down those highways if I want to get somewhere, and the practical
alternatives are not here yet. So I owe something.
On the other hand, I really haven;t agreed to anything that
directly obligates me, so I don;t feel that it is right for others
to take my money for any "services" I don't value nor
ask for. I don;t particularly like paying for wars I think are
unnecessary, for example (nor do I believe that there is some
secret knowledge I don't have proving how necessary they are).
I also think it is theft to take money from me or other middle-class
and poor people to pay for public schools for children of millionaires.
And I think they'll manage to find a way to pay for their own
How much of my money is mine if I make it as honestly as I
can? It's a good question...