Becker: The ostensible conundrum of hypocrisy
Rick Becker is the founder and leader of the Bastiat Caucus of the North Dakota Republican Party and a member of the North Dakota legislature. He joins The Dickinson Press' opinion page as a guest columnist.
What a “catch 22” we conservatives purportedly have. We believe in limited government, free markets and personal responsibility. We believe the government should limit spending and taxing such that it funds only those things that are within its necessary and proper function. We strongly advocate for all of those things, and when possible, we vote accordingly. Yet we live in a society that has much more taxing and spending than we think necessary. The government intrudes in all manner where we believe it should not. It takes our money in taxes, and redistributes it in a manner we would not, if it were up to us.
It is difficult to even imagine being able to avoid being part of this. It’s everywhere, yet when we conservatives conduct ourselves in society as it is - not as we wish it to be - in such a manner as to be most advantageous to our welfare, we are called hypocrites.
What prompted this column were the strident attacks on me for taking PPP loans for my businesses.
This column is not specifically intended for my defense, because politically speaking, it would be much more savvy to simply let the attacks fade away. Publicly defending oneself is a common mistake politicos make, as it merely continues to needlessly direct attention to the issue. Instead, I want to make conservatives aware of this ostensible conundrum, and point out they have nothing to fear, and can righteously stand against accusations of hypocrisy.
Why is it not hypocritical for someone who advocates for limited government to participate in a government program or policy to their financial advantage? First, I want to clarify that it would certainly be hypocritical to say you are for limited government, but lobby for greater parochial spending, subsidies, or tax breaks. It would also be hypocritical to proclaim that people should not participate in a program, but then go off and participate oneself. What is not hypocritical is advocating for limited government, and also advocating that people use policies and programs in the manner that is best for the success of their business, and the security of their families. In other words, hate the game, not the player.
There are myriad examples of this. If you were in Congress, you might vote to eliminate certain tax deductions, to privatize social security, and to end all energy subsidies. You would advocate for limited government. But that’s not the world you and I live in. Despite being in favor of ending such policies, we would be foolish not to take every single income tax deduction we could. We would be equally foolish not to accept social security payments, since the government forced us to hand over our money to fund such a foolish pyramid scheme. And we would be foolish to send extra money in for utility bills, knowing that the bill would have been higher without government subsidies. Imagine feeling compelled to leave an extra dollar at the gas pump, because you are opposed to ethanol subsidies. Silliness!
I don’t believe property taxes should be the funding mechanism of public school, yet I didn’t give several hundred dollars to my neighbors to compensate them for the program in which they helped pay for my children’s very overpriced public education.
I don’t believe that property tax abatements for businesses are the proper way to encourage economic development. Yet, if that is how local government is going to run things, it would be a very poor business decision to only have my competitors receive the benefit of the policy.
A great example I have personally is from the flood of 2011. My house was severely damaged, so I took out a $100,000 Rebuilder Loan to fund the necessary repairs. Two years later, a bill came up in the legislature that would have had the state “forgive” all of these loans. That would have been a $100,000 bonus for me alone! I stood on the floor of the house of representatives, and said that the forgiveness program bill, while well-intentioned, was misguided and unfair. It subsequently did not pass. I actively advocated for the conservative principle, but had it passed, I can tell you that I would have allowed the state to forgive my loan. If the government creates a circumstance, however unfriendly to my principles, I will work within that circumstance to the best benefit for my family and me.
Advice to my fellow conservatives; be not apologetic. It is not only acceptable, but it is imperative that we strive to improve the system, but to also thrive within the system as it exists. Hate the game, as they say. Try to change the game. Regardless though, you are in the game, so play it well and kick some butt.