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"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on rather than off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day." - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Myth: The Common Good

Here's a line that rulers and politicians love to drop: "the common good." Such-and-such act must be done for the common good, or to promote the general welfare! Taxes are paid, laws are passed, wars are fought, lives are lost, and our rights as individuals are abandoned - all for "the common good."

But has a great ring to it, doesn't it? The common good - it's, like, good and... common! So, like, it's all good for everyone, right?

No. **** no. Wrong.

When someone invokes "the common good" for justification, everyone listening/reading immediately thinks of their own individual "good," and applies it to whatever action is being justified.

But this overlooks the simple, obvious fact each and every person has different needs and wants and what I consider my "good" may not also be your "good." What if I'm a taxpayer and you work for the government? What if I'm a butcher and you're a vegan?


In fact, our ideas of "good" may even be incompatible with each other. Actually, most of our needs are mutually exclusive (though that doesn't mean we can't help each other get what we want). After all, that's why we work and produce and engage in economic activity - to get what we want and need because the things we want and need are scarce. They don't exist freely in infinite abundance.

So what are we left with? Now the "common good" simply becomes the will of the majority within some group. Therefore, the "common good," isn't really common at all because there is a minority, however its size, whose "good" is simply ignored or made subordinate to that of the majority. The "good" is not unanimous.

But even worse, as the scope of government expands, there are less and less unanimous decisions to be made. Most people can agree that things like murder, rape, or theft are wrong. But not all. Some people want to go to war, and some people have to fight the war. Some people want to the government to spend money here, others want to spend it there, and a few don't want the government spending anything. Some people need that next hit, and some support throwing them in jail for it.

How, then, could there be unanimous consent be achieved on issues like starting a war, regulating or bailing out this or that industry, cutting or supporting some government agency, or setting a tax rate? How is any law going to address the ever-shifting and always competing needs and desires of hundreds of millions of people in a way that will benefit everyone? The "common good" or "common interest" becomes less common with every new issue approached by the State.

At this point, due to the wide-range of issues and the even wider range of opinions on the issues themselves, the idea of "the common good" as a justification for government action evaporates completely, even past the previously mentioned majority. "The common good" is just empty rhetoric using our individual desires as a mask for the greed and ambition of those with the power to decide what is "good" for everyone: politicians, bureaucrats, and those feeding off of them.


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