Is it right to give what one person earns to another?

Thursday, April 17, 2003 at 12:00am

There's considerable confusion on public policy issues that would be more intelligently discussed if we would say what is actually meant rather than use euphemistic disguises.

The Grutter vs. Bollinger and Gratz vs. Bollinger cases before the U.S. Supreme Court challenge the University of Michigan's use of racial preferences for undergraduate and law school admissions. The university, along with its supporters who've filed amicus curie briefs, gives all manner of euphemistic justification for its racial practices.

But instead of using terms such as "diversity" and "multiculturalism," the debate should make what is actually being practiced more explicit. That would enable us to ask what standard of morality justifies a publicly financed institution creating an advantage for one person, at the disadvantage of another person, based on the race of the individuals involved.

Is race a suitable criterion for deciding who gets what in our society? That's a simple question with a yes or no answer. How about all the government programs that account for at least two-thirds of federal spending, such as: aid to higher education, Medicare, food stamps, welfare or farm subsidies? Are they moral?

To get at the answer, we must first ask where Congress gets the resources to finance these programs. All except the most naive would recognize that neither the Tooth Fairy nor Santa Claus supplies Congress with the money. That means Congress can give one American a dollar only by first taking it away from another American.

Now we can ask the moral question: Is it right to take, through threats, intimidation and coercion, what one American has earned and give it to another American who has not earned it? Or put another way: Is it right for one person to be forcibly compelled to serve the purposes of another person?

That question can be asked at two levels

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