General Principles

Establishing general scientific or moral principles saves a lot of guesswork and confusion. In math, for example, we know if the length of one of the legs of a right triangle is 2 inches, and the other is 2 inches, the hypotenuse (the longest side) is 2.8 inches. What if the legs were 5 inches and 12 inches, what's the hypotenuse? Fortunately, we don't have to figure out the hypotenuse for every right triangle in the universe. There's a general principle or theorem given to us by Pythagoras that says: "The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the legs." That's our general rule applicable to all triangles.

Is there general rule of morality applicable to all human behavior? Fortunately, there is one. It's a principle our Founders inherited from philosophers such as John Locke: each person owns himself. This principle was captured simply and eloquently 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. You might disagree and find the principle of self-ownership offensive and instead believe that we belong to the government and the President and Congress are our overseers. That being the case, what follows is wrong and irrelevant.

Let's apply the principle of self-ownership to the national debate on how to fix Social Security. Both Republican and Democrats plans to fix Social Security are misguided and evil. This is easily seen if we take self-ownership seriously and ask a question or two. What is the moral basis for Congress to force any person to set aside a specific portion of his earnings for retirement, whether it's Social Security or a private account? You say, "Williams, retirement is important!" So is housing, clothing and food. Should Congress force Americans be forced to set aside a certain portion of their earnings for housing, clothing and food?

You say, "Williams, your idea of self-ownership can only go so far. Many people are too short-sighted. If they're not forced to put aside money for retirement, they'll spend now and be a burden on the rest of us." Having to care for short-sighted people is a problem but not one caused by self-ownership. It's a problem caused by socialism. There is absolutely no moral basis for government to take one person's earnings to give to another for any reason, including his short-sightedness.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against people's preference for socialist ideology and programs. After all self-ownership implies that you have the right to be a socialist. My problem is that socialists use government intimidation, threats and coercion to force me to be a part of their agenda. If they went off and did their socialistic thing, without forcing others to join, I'd have no problem.

Based upon my unalienable right of self-ownership, I make the following declaration: I, Walter E. Williams, am an emancipated adult fully capable of tending to my own retirement needs. Should I fail to do so, I will make no claim, in any form, on any American to tend to my needs. Therefore, I demand that the U.S. Congress return all monies previously taken from me and release me from further Social Security payments.

How much respect do you think such a liberty-oriented declaration would win among Americans and Congress. I might be wrong but I think there's only one Congressman who'd vote in support of it - Ron Paul (R.Texas). That's a sad commentary for a nation that claims to love liberty.

Walter E. Williams
May 6, 1999
Return to Articles Page