Sunday, July 10, 2011

Buying Weapons and Weapon Stocks

“The Right to Buy Weapons is the Right to be Free” –“The Weapon
Shops of Isher,” A.E. van Vogt, 1954

Some years ago I was talking with a woman I know who told me that while she was for people owning weapons she could not invest in weapons stocks. Since she said she could not buy weapons stocks for religious reasons I let the matter drop.

I didn’t want to upset her by telling her she was already investing in weapons stocks. When the U.S. government takes people’s money though taxation, it uses that money to design and manufacture weapons. The taxpayers have no say in the matter. My friend’s tax money was being used to produce weapons of war whether or not she wanted it.

Weapons are neither moral nor immoral. They are amoral. A weapon will lie harmless and inert until the end of time unless someone uses it.

Weapons, like all machines, are examples of Cooper’s Law: “All machines are amplifiers.” All machines amplify our natural abilities, for good or bad. All machines are amoral – there is no good or bad inherent in them, no morality or immorality. The terms “good” or “bad” cannot be applied to any machine. “Goodness” or “badness” is only in the use to which people put machines.

Weapons can be used for good or bad -- to defend or to murder. It depends, as always, on the characters of the people wielding them. There are some countries, such as Switzerland, that buy American military weapons but have avoided war for hundreds of year (the Nazis did not invade Switzerland because they knew they’d be slaughtered). Then there are countries whose governments use American weapons for immoral purposes -- against their own people or against people in other countries.

To say it is moral to not invest your money in weapons stocks while ignoring the fact your tax money is, in my opinion, is a distinction that will not bear much scrutiny. A person who is totally consistent about not letting their tax money used to buy weapons would refuse to pay taxes. The only way to do that is to live in a cabin in the woods, be completely off the grid, and be totally self-supporting.

You can of course make the argument that by not buying weapons stocks voluntarily you at least have some say over where your money goes. I think that really is the point: having some control over your life.

But the amount of money that anyone invests in weapons stocks has no effect on the amount of weapons produced. Even if no one invested in weapons stocks the government would still produce whatever weapons it wanted. So what the argument is about is not effectiveness, but having some control over your life and property (and your money is your property) and feeling good. And I understand that.

John Locke, the British philosopher, came up with the concept that the purpose of government was to protect your “life, liberty and property.” That phrase made it into the Constitution as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I find it enlightening that some people, even if they cannot articulate it, are almost instinctively offended the government is violating their life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness by taking their money and spending on things those people despise, be it abortion, war weapons, or support for other countries. (If Americans today had the understanding of their ancestors, they realize what Thomas Paine meant when he wrote in Common Sense, “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”)

There is something else to consider: people who do not make as much money as possible can do little or nothing. But the more money people make the more ability they have to do good things. Even if they make that money from weapons stocks.

I think what my friend was arguing, vaguely and intuitively, is what Franz Oppenheimer in The State and Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy the State called “the Political Means” and “the Economic Means.”

As Nock wrote, “There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.”

The Political Means is stealing – it’s what all States do (only they call it “taxes”). In fact, without it, they’d all collapse. The Economic Means is the free exchange and trade of the free market. My friend didn’t want her money stolen by the State; she wanted to choose what she did with it. She was frustrated the State was spending her money on things she despised and not what she approved. It outraged her.

One of the problems, as always, is the growth of the State. The Founding Fathers did not believe in standing armies. And they would be appalled to find the federal behemoth about 50 times bigger than they ever envisioned it.

One definition of maturity I’ve read to accept things you cannot change. I cannot change what the State does with my money. No one can. I can, however, do good things with profits, no matter from where I get them.

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