An Open Letter to the Governor of Alabama

By Stephen Gordon
July 8, 2003

The Honorable Robert Riley
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36130

Dear Mr. Governor:

On May 19, 2003, you gave a speech pertaining to our alleged fiscal crisis. In it, you chose to use the quotations of others to help deliver your points. I would like to respond in the same manner, using the words of accomplished men to dispute your position on this most important of issues.

To begin, you stated that Alabama has been robbing Peter to pay Paul for some time. That is true, but perhaps we should take a look at why that occurs. George Bernard Shaw once observed, "A government which robs Peter to pay Paul, can always count on the support of Paul." Alexis de Tocqueville noted, "The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money." More recently, James Bovard added, "Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."

Alabamians are in this mess for two primary reasons. The first is that the citizens of the state, for years, have learned that they can take the money of others, by force of law, and use it for themselves. Therefore, they elect the politicians who will seize property from the minority to provide to the majority. Another reason is the flawed belief by the so-called enlightened politicians and the electorate alike that government is the solution to most of our problems. Spend more on the problem, increase the regulatory burden, take the process from the private sector and let government run it are examples of this delusional thought process. Let us see what some of those sage people had to say on this issue:

"Everyone wants to live at the expense of the State. They forget that the State lives at the expense of everyone."- Frédéric Bastiat

"The compelling issue to both conservatives and liberals is not whether it is legitimate for government to confiscate one's property to give to another, the debate is over the disposition of the pillage."-Walter Williams

"The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people's money away quietly, and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly."-Thomas Sowell

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."-Ronald Reagan

To begin, we should determine if there is indeed some form of crisis occurring within the state. On the national economy, Jonathan Hill of Citizens for a Sound Economy once stated: "We don't have a budget crisis. We have a spending crisis." Could the same thing be said of Alabama today? You state that we will be forced to lay off thousands of teachers, open prison doors, force thousands of seniors out of nursing homes and take away their prescription drugs. Let me pose a few questions for you. Have you considered laying off thousands of school and education department administrators as opposed to teachers? Perhaps getting rid of social workers in the prisons would reduce costs enough to maintain the guard staff. And how could any action of the state "take away their [seniors] prescription drugs," unless you plan on sending storm troopers into private homes to raid their medicine cabinets? You said "these are not scare tactics," but your choice of wording, when confronted with reality, suggests the contrary.

Before the questions above are answered, we should first determine if government involvement in such activities even works. Let us pick some of the issues you have used and see what learned men have to say about it.

On Education:

"In 1940, teachers were asked what they regarded as the three major problems in American schools. They identified the three major problems as: Littering, noise, and chewing gum. Teachers last year were asked what the three major problems in American schools were, and they defined them as: Rape, assault, and suicide."-William Bennett

"If politicians were serious about day care for children, instead of just sloganizing about it, nothing they could do would improve the quality of child care more than by lifting the heavy burden of taxation that forces so many families to have both parents working."-Thomas Sowell

"Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to ensure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery."-Benjamin Disraeli

On Healthcare:

"If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free."-P.J. O'Rourke

"As you increase the cost of the license to practice medicine, you increase the price at which the medical service must be sold and you correspondingly decrease the number of people who can afford to buy the service. "-William Pusey, then president of the American Medical Association

"They have universal health care in Cuba. So why do they want to come here?"-Paul Harvey

In General:

"Government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way."-Henry David Thoreau

"One of the things the government can't do is run anything. The only things our government runs are the post office and the railroads, and both of them are bankrupt."-Lee Iacocca

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."-Groucho Marx

"Everything government touches turns to crap."-Ringo Starr

"The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare."-Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer." -Ludwig von Mises

"Government is not the solution, but rather the cause of our problems."-Ronald Reagan

Apparently, quite a few accomplished people disagree with your assertion that government solves problems. More importantly though, is it right for government to even attempt to do so? Voltaire observed, "In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other." Let us look at the fundamental question: What right does government have to take money from one person, and redistribute it to another?

On the taking of money:

"Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labor of his body and the work of his hands are properly his."-John Locke

"Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery."-Calvin Coolidge

"One who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence. Coercion is inhuman."-Mohandas Gandhi

"I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men's rights."-Abraham Lincoln

"The power to tax is the power to destroy."-John Marshall

"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."-Mark Twain

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."-George Washington

On social programs:

"Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently to build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence."-Abraham Lincoln

"Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow citizens."-Adam Smith

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."-Thomas Jefferson

But what of charity, and of the need of the people, you might ask. We are supposed to give to those who are less fortunate. This issue has been commented upon for generations:

"We have rights, as individuals, to give as much of our own money as we please to charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of public money."-David (Davey) Crockett

"You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."-Abraham Lincoln

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.-Thomas Jefferson

"If we have learned anything in the past quarter century, it is that we cannot federalize virtue."-George Bush

"Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs."-P.J. O'Rourke

"There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him."-Robert Heinlein

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."-C. S. Lewis

These people do seem to agree on this issue: It is not charity if it is at the point of a gun.

As illustrated previously, government cannot fix our schools, healthcare system, or any other issue; save the provision of justice and protection of its citizens. To expound on that concept, I would like to add that your general theme of raising taxes to fix problems is equally flawed. Churchill may have said it best with, "We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle." Karl Marx realized this as well, in stating, "There is only one way to kill capitalism -- by taxes, taxes, and more taxes." Would you prefer to follow in the great footsteps of Churchill, or govern the State of Alabama according to the grand plan of Marx and Engels?

Mr. Governor, we Alabamians wish to be free. We wish to live in a capitalistic society. What you propose is a very large increase in the level of socialism in our wonderful state. Based upon the quotations you used in your speech, you seem to respect Winston Churchill. Please listen to his words now: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."

Edward Gibbon wrote of ancient Athens, "In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all -- security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again." History has a habit of repeating itself. Please don't allow what happened in Athens to destroy my beloved state.

In liberty,

Stephen P. Gordon
Hartselle, Alabama

A footnote to any Alabamian who may read this letter:

Governor Riley quoted Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill in his speech. However, as evidenced by the multiple quotations of these three distinguished gentlemen, they would be quite appalled at how Riley used them. Perhaps Riley forgot about another statement attributed to Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

The attempt at fooling goes on. The wording of the proposed Alabama Excellence Initiative Fund Constitutional Amendment does not even include the wording "tax increase". Please ensure that all Alabamians know this is a major tax increase by passing the word around, as neither our legislature nor governor are honest enough to do so. Please educate them that a "yes" vote is a vote for higher taxes, despite the confusing wording of the amendment.

Please make sure that you go out to vote "no" in this special election on September 9, 2003. And remember these words of Benjamin Franklin on the way to your polling place: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

This material may be reproduced, placed in print publications, broadcast, posted on the internet, placed in silly e-mail chains, or even pasted on bathroom walls on the condition that the contents are not modified and credit is given to the author of the letter.

Stephen Gordon writes from Hartselle, Alabama.
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