Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who should pay for the helicopter?

A group of friends are climbing a mountain in the Alps. There is an accident, a fall, and one man breaks his leg. The emergency services are contacted; the injured man is airlifted out; he heals; all is well.

Who should pay for the helicopter?

I would have thought that some form of insurance or tax on the people who walk in the mountains, which pays for the helicopter, would be a workable and sensible arrangement.

What I don't think is sensible is a tax on the general population to pay for the helicopter - not only are the general population not involved in the Alpen pursuits, but a general tax is something extorted by force.

[And the reason I don't think extorting things by force is any good is because it destroys the moral fabric. This is why I'm a conservative on general principles.]

The difficulty comes with, eg, a single mum in poverty. Should there be a general tax to help her? Is it a fair analogy to compare an Alpen walker who breaks his leg with a single mum?

What I would not dispute is that there are circumstances where it is not just morally right but morally imperative to offer support to a single mum. What I question is whether that support should come from a central government relying on enforced taxation.

So the real question is: how far should people be expected to bear the consequences of their actions? In the case of Karen Matthews, for example, it's not clear to me that government support was helping. Put crudely, central government is too remote and coarse grained to help in a situation where the wider culture (especially the moral or ethical culture) has broken down. In such cases it is more important to establish a moral framework than to give out cash.

I do believe that a Christian approach is one based on grace rather than merit, so there isn't just a bias to the poor, there is a bias towards mercy rather than condemnation. What I don't believe is that this mercy should be distributed via the state (as opposed to, eg, the local church).

In other words, I would agree that despatching the helicopter is a Christian act. What I don't agree with is a general assumption that the best way to provide the helicopter is by a centralised state.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right." (2 Thess 3)

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