It’s a question of principle

Over winter break, there was one story that I knew I just had to reflect upon in my first column of the new semester, especially in light of the recent tsunami.

The Tampa Tribune reported Christmas Eve that a Florida man received a check for $1.69 in the mail from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as payment for a claim he sought “for using three generators for three days during Hurricane Jeanne.”

The paper also reported, “FEMA, in at least two other cases, gave property owners $1.69 fuel reimbursements for running generators while their electricity was off.”

Upon reading this, I couldn’t help but have a little chuckle. It’s as though the government income-redistribution gods are finally saying, “Enough already!”

Interestingly, the article also noted that “published reports say Miami-Dade County residents have received more than $29 million in federal aid for Hurricane Frances, a storm that hit 100 miles north. Residents told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel they saw neighbors pouring water over their furniture and damaging their cars and belongings to obtain ‘free money’ from FEMA.”

The story added, “Another report says FEMA paid Mobile, Ala. residents $29.5 million for flooding (in 2003) even though local officials told the agency they had no damage.”

If nothing else, these cases provide more evidence of governmental incompetence when it comes to doling out taxpayer money in a fair and responsible manner.

But there’s a bigger problem here.

FEMA spokeswoman Lisa Pierce said of the money, “If you’re entitled to it, you should get it.” The obvious question that popped into my mind when I read this was, “Why should any person be entitled to another taxpayer’s money to compensate him or her for gas money?”

Some might say that the man in the story should be entitled to it because people should be aided when they have costs resulting from natural disasters. To that sentiment I have no disagreement. Even still, especially when comparing this to the needs of the tsunami victims, why should taxpayers be forced to pay him for fuel?

Some would say that such reimbursement is acceptable under the “general welfare” clause in the U.S. Constitution. But it was James Madison who said, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.”

Some big government-loving types may like that type of indefinite power, but that doesn’t mean it’s justified.

As I’ve written before, this type of forced charity isn’t charity at all; it’s essentially government-approved theft because it takes money people are forced to pay to the government and then hands it out to another person who is deemed by the government as being “in need.”

One has to wonder why the gentleman in the story couldn’t simply shoulder the responsibility of paying for his own fuel. Years ago, such an action would be considered the only proper way of doing things. It used to be that people were expected to pay for their own bills. This didn’t rule out the possibility of individuals freely giving money toward others who they viewed as being in need, but it did rule out the possibility of the collective whole (through government action) using taxpayer money to do so.

What caused the change from this past view to the current view, which sees such actions as an entitlement? The answer is fairly simple: People gradually found out over the years that they could use the power of government to get special favors and handouts.

Benjamin Franklin addressed the problem with this mindset when he commented, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

The Tribune story noted that the man who received the $1.69 check decided to keep it on display at his family-owned general store. He said, “I’ll never cash it.” For the sake of the republic, that’s probably a good thing. If only more people would do the same.

Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science.