Aubrey King

Aubrey King

In his column of Oct. 23, “Attorney general is right: US is in moral decline,” Walter Williams simplistically distorts history and philosophy, as well as the current condition of our country.

Mr. Williams appears to suggest that the only truly moral government programs are those that are approved by every citizen and that are funded by taxes also approved by every citizen. He argues that “the only way that Congress can give one American a dollar is to first, through intimidation and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American.”

This ignores the historical reality that we have a government and a political system in which the citizens elect representatives to make decisions on taxes and expenditures. If those decisions are not acceptable to the citizens, they can and do replace those representatives

As Mr. Williams acknowledges, his “moral” philosophy would “slash the federal budget by no less than two-thirds to three-quarters” and would drastically reduce or deny “farm subsidies, business bailouts, aid to higher education, welfare and food stamps.” Does he mean to suggest that when, for example, questions arise regarding aid to “bailout” GM or a struggling coal company and save thousands of jobs, or deciding which research at which university is to receive support, or which recipients receive how many food stamps, individual citizens are to decide how much they are willing to pay and who gets the proceeds? And what about investments in space travel, medical research and construction and maintenance of highways where we are unlikely ever to travel, not to mention the national parks, foreign policy and a host of other programs? Merely asking the question surely suggests how absurd it would be in a complex, multifaceted society. Would we have endless referenda on thousands of issues and programs?

This does not even consider the difficulties in factoring in what economists call “externalities” where the impact or consequences of decisions have unintended impacts beyond those immediately affected, such as the downstream impact of air and water pollution. Neither is it likely to fully evaluate the future impact of investments made or rejected today, such as investments in education and health care, where the long-term value could be more knowledgeable, more skilled and healthier future generations.

Mr. Williams is surely correct in stating that “laws and regulations alone cannot produce a civilized society.” But surely it is also correct to state that without laws and regulations we would have anarchy in a Hobbesian society where life is “nasty, brutish and short.”

As to whether the U.S. today is in moral decline, it is indeed discouraging to witness the flagrant lies, deceit, conceit and dishonesty emanating from Mr. Trump and others, but perhaps we should take heart from the fact that so many recognize and deplore what is happening. Mr. Williams says that, “We no longer hold people accountable for their behavior and we accept excuses.” Could it be that he too is thinking about the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

As for the honorable attorney general, perhaps he should save his condemnation of unnamed “secularists and their allies” and devote more attention to those in high public office who would run roughshod over our constitution and our national security.

Aubrey King is retired in Huntington after a career in government affairs and university teaching in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Marshall University and The Johns Hopkins University.

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