Nation Needs Shared Liberty, Not Sacrifice

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published September 2 by Grand Junction Free Press.

President Obama calls for “shared sacrifice” to address the nation’s debt. But forcing individuals to sacrifice their present and future wealth to politicians’ whims caused the problem. To restore economic prosperity, we need to stop sharing sacrifices and start sharing a respect for liberty and people’s rights.

Obama’s appeal depends on a basic confusion about the nature of sacrifice. The term shares the same root as sacred. Historically, a sacrifice involves a religious rite of giving a gift, often a slaughtered animal, to some deity. That’s where we get the term sacrificial lamb. When viewed in this light, “shared sacrifice” presents an obvious problem: somebody plays the role of the lamb.

Over time sacrifice in popular usage came to mean giving up anything. But because so many things can be given up, and for so many different reasons, the term lost any clear meaning. Instead, often it functions to cloud people’s thinking.

Some use the term to mean giving up something minor to get something better. Chess players call surrendering a piece to get ahead in the game a sacrifice. In baseball, a player makes a sacrifice bunt to allow a teammate to advance a base, though the hitter returns to the bench. In these cases, making a “sacrifice” is good for you: the narrow or short-term loss increases your odds of winning in the end.

Consider the student who stays home to study, rather than going to the movies or the mall, to earn a good education and career. Or a mother who cuts her own budget to expand the opportunities for the children she dearly loves. Or a soldier who risks his safety to defend his liberty and home. Or a fundraiser who supports medical research in memory of a loved one. Should we call these “sacrifices,” even though the person achieves a greater value?

In other cases people use the term sacrifice to mean giving up something important for something trivial or even evil. Someone may sacrifice his career for a drinking binge, his marriage for a meaningless affair, or his savings account for a night of gambling. In extreme cases, various cultures murdered people for human sacrifices to appease some make-believe god, worship a ruler, or try to mystically gain the victim’s strength.

When people apply the same term to earning a good job through hard work and slitting somebody’s throat, that reveals a fundamental confusion.

So what does Obama mean by a “shared sacrifice?” He wants us to imagine that each of us needs to hit a sacrifice bunt so Team America can win the economic game. What he really means is that he wants to sacrifice the time, labor, and earnings of some people for the benefit or pleasure of his political supporters.

Obama clearly wants to raise taxes. From the left we hear envious snarls to further loot “the rich.” Proposals on the table include raising tax rates for some and eliminating tax breaks for things like mortgages and health insurance, for the purpose of raising net taxes. (We approve of dumping tax deductions for special groups, but only to lower rates generally.)

A tax involves forcibly seizing people’s wealth, usually for the benefit of some special interest. Ultimately, Obama threatens to send armed federal agents to your house to drag you off to prison to make you share in this sacrifice.

Other aspects of Obama’s “shared sacrifice” involve reducing sacrifice, not increasing it. CNN writes of a farmer “sympathetic to the president’s calls for shared sacrifice, even if that means cuts to ethanol subsidies.” But a subsidy entails forcibly looting other taxpayers. Eliminating the subsidy means halting the sacrifice of some Americans to others. We’re all for that!

If sacrifice means forcing some individuals to surrender their hard-earned wealth to others, then our goal should be to eliminate sacrifice entirely. A society that sacrifices some people to others relies on brute force and rampant injustice.

A civilized society does not demand sacrifices. Instead it protects people’s rights, including their right to control their own wealth and property as they see fit. In a civilized society, people interact by voluntary consent, not coercion.

“Shared sacrifice” — forcibly looting some for the benefit of others — caused the debt crisis. The solution is to phase out shared sacrifice, not expand it. We should dramatically cut federal spending to balance the budget and then start paying off the debt.

If we care about solving the debt crisis and restoring America’s economic strength, if we care about protecting the rights of each individual, then we must reject shared sacrifice and instead demand shared liberty.