Representative Matt Wingard: Individualism v. Community

Individualism v. Community
By State Representative Matt Wingard

Who should reign supreme in our society, the community or the individual? This is the crucial question behind most public policy debates today.

First, it should be said, that we are all individuals and members of a community at the same time. Whether we consider ourselves “Americans,” or “Oregonians,” or “citizens of the world,” or members of a political party or of a certain church or organization, we are all members of communities and most of us are members of more than one community. The key question is, “Do we get to choose which communities we want to belong to, or can a community force us to join them?”

This is where the role of government is crucial. Outside of government we are free individuals who only join communities voluntarily, but the government can use force to compel us to be a part of communities against our will. This is Democracy.
When the community holds a vote to raise taxes, for instance, the requirement to pay is mandatory if the majority supports the tax increase-even if you did not support it.

In this way, through majority rule, individuals are forced to support things they would not voluntarily support of their own free will. Some individuals would not voluntarily give financial support to the U.S. Armed Forces, others would not support people on welfare, and so on.

The list of things that government funds is long, and for each item, there is at least one individual who is forced to pay for it against their will.
Our country was founded on the principle that individuals have rights that the community cannot take away from them. Most of us understand these rights as those related to thought, expression, self-defense and property.

But isn’t our income our property? Are we entitled to decide for ourselves how to spend the money we earn, or can the majority force us to pay for things we do not support? In other words, can we be compelled to support communities we don’t wish to belong to? Where does the will of the individual end and give way to the will of the community?

As the country has aged, the balance has been shifting in one direction-the preference for community over individualism has grown with each passing decade.

This is a troubling trend for those who believe that individual freedom is the core of American exceptionalism and the engine of our progress.

Communities are stronger when free individuals join them voluntarily, rather than when we are drafted into service against our will.

The more our society looks and feels like indentured servitude, the more it begins to resemble every other society that has existed throughout mankind’s history. And the American Dream fades.

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Posted by at 07:10 | Posted in Measure 37 | 14 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • spam i am

    “Who” should reign supreme? I think you mean “what,” but either way a good answer is neither.

    Try to not view the question as a zero sum. View it as an eternal tug of war that probably dates back to our tribal and clan roots. Humans are social creatures. We don’t do all that well living all by ourselves, away from others, where we can be completly free. Even fictional Jeremiah Johnson used a gun made by a gunsmith from metal forged by others that shot bullets made by still others. And he had to buy all this with money….a social invention that has no meaning outside of a society. An individual absent a society will have a very short life span after much discomfort.

    Yes…you get to choose your comunity. If taxes are too high in Portland you can move to Gresham or Pendleton. And if they are still too high you can move to Idaho, Mississippi or even the Caymen Islands. Your choice.

    Majority rule…great idea except when it becomes super majority rule as applied only to raising taxes, like in the Oregon House, California, and the US Senate. A simple majority is able to pass a rule requiring a super majority. How fair is that Matt?

    Sure…your income is yours. But a portion of it can be taxed. Yes, you can be forced to contribute to causes you don’t personally support. That is true for all of us. We work it out through politics.

    I don’t agree that the balance has shifted in one direction. It has waxed and waned. The top marginal tax rate on income was 90% for decades, then lowered to 70%, and then lowered again to 28%. It has gone up just a bit from that point to today. Rich people and corporations pay far less as a proportion of their income today than they did 3 decades ago.

    Individual freedom is one aspect of our success as a society. Working together for common causes is another, Its a yin and yan relationship and we ened both, not just one or just the other.

  • Bob Clark

    I wouldn’t mind having a new bill of rights convention(s) to add to existing bill of rights, or to revitalize the existing ones against new government encroachments. In Oregon this should include getting the legislature and secretary of (union) state away from infringing on the initiative petition process. Look at what’s happened with measures 49 and 57. They were the legislatures version of “you can trust me” (to subvert the people’s immediate wishes).

  • John Fairplay

    All compulsion is evil by definition. The problem spans well beyond just what government programs people are forced to pay for against their will. Groups are also beginning to use the power of government to try and establish minority rule. Gay rights is a perfect example of this – the majority in Oregon made it quite clear that a legally recognized relationship between individuals of the same gender was not wanted – in any form. Note the efforts since then to force the majority to accept what they rejected. Rather super-majority rule then minority rule.

    Worse yet are government efforts to force personal associations with communities – to force individuals to accept and associate and approve of other individuals. The freedom of association is being slowly stripped from Americans, just as freedom of religion is being stripped away, the freedom of speech is being stripped away and so forth. The Bill of Rights may not survive another generation.

    The power of government is huge and growing now every day. Other nations that threw away personal freedom and individual rights in exchange for community and collectivism are on the ash heap of history…if we’re not very, very careful, America will be as well — and spam i am will cheer.

    • Vern

      If government were limited we would not have this debate or lose so much.

      • Reper

        I fear that will not be the elected officials first choice in this case.

  • NotYourDaddy

    What spam i am seems to be missing is that the gun made by a gunsmith was purchased (or bartered) from that gunsmith in a free market transaction, in which both parties freely engaged, and from which both parties benefited. Likewise with the bullets. Money is nothing but a convenient symbolic token to enable barter through indirection.

    It’s true that humans are a social animal. But, in the highest and best form of society yet devised by man, associations between individuals are entered into according to the free will of the participants. The fact that no individual is entirely self-sufficient presents no justification for collectivism.

    This country was founded on the principle of inalienable _individual_ rights, not collective rights. Unfortunately, that principle is being steadily eroded as the collectivist mentality creeps in and gradually takes over. To me, that’s the greatest shame of our genaration. Collectivism not only erodes individual rights, but undermines the notion of individual responsibility, both of which are essential to a free society.

    Free will. Free market. What’s so hard to understand about that?

    • spam i am

      I don’t think I missed it. I have no quarrel with free markets or relatively uninhibited transactions between consenting adults. (I have a problem when an unregulated market creates new financial instruments that blow up and drag us all down).

      I’m just making a case that it is not one (freedom) or the other (collectivism). It is and always will be some of each. This country was founded on a lot of ideas, the key ones (my opinion) being that people ought to be able to elect a government, and that there be a distribution of powers to prevent creeping autocracy. And that there be certain rights that no government could ever take away.

      Once you get past that, there is a lot of room for people to elect governments that favor the general welfare, and when those go too far dial it back by electing governments that favor individual autonomy. The balance that may have been right in 1787 or 1980 may not be the one we need in 2009.

      • NotYourDaddy

        Spam, you say “there’s a lot of room for people to elect governments that favor the general welfare, and when those go too far dial it back by electing governments that favor individual autonomy.” The fallacy there is that it’s not symmetrical. That’s like suggesting it’s as easy to earn money as it is to spend it.

        Our founding fathers fought a bloody war to secure our individual rights and freedoms. All we need do to lose them is to look the other way while those in power pass laws and regulations that quietly deprive us of the rights we take for granted. Once lost, it’s a hard fought battle to wrest them back, and there’s no guarantee of success.

        When we elect representatives who are eager to expand government to provide for the “general welfare,” it’s almost impossible to later dismantle the bureaucracies they establish. They get entrenched very quickly, and it’s not only the beneficiaries of entitlement programs who develop a sense of entitlement, but the government employees hired to staff the bloated bureaucracies who will battle every proposed reduction in government. We see government growing ever larger, year after year, but when was the last time government got smaller?

        Every time we feed the beast by expanding the scope of government, or the resources allocated to it, we make the government stronger, at the expense of the governed. Every time we give up our individual rights or freedoms, we make ourselves weaker. Yet you imagine that, after weakening ourselves and strengthening government, it is as easy as electing a new set of bureaucrats to turn the balance of power back in favor of the people. With all due respect, I think that is naive.

        • spam i am

          NYD…The federal government share of the GDP has held steady at about 21% since the 1960s, so it has not been ever growing. I agree it is not easy to roll back programs once they get established, but this is because these programs are wanted. Social security and Medicaid are good examples. They can’t be dismantled because they are wanted and needed. Yes…I suppose some economic freedom is exchanged for greater economic security, but political freedoms have not been eroded, except perhaps during recent years (Patriot Act).

          I get your point. But for me, economic freedom is not as important as political freedom. Over the years governments had added some things and dropped some things. But as a people we are far wealthier (until recently) than we have ever been. So I don;t see ceding some tasks to government (education, science research, social security, etc…) as weakening us at all. If anything it makes us stronger to do some things collectively, leaving other things to the individual, the family, and so forth.

          I don’t think I’m naive about this at all. Eyes wide open.

          Last point. I don’t think our founding fathers fought Primarily for “individual freedom.” I think they fought to get out from under the yoke of the King of England. They wanted a different form of government. But still a government nonetheless. Still a collective enterprise.

          • NotYourDaddy

            There is such a profusion of bureacuracies in government that neither you nor I are even aware of more than a tiny fraction of them, yet you confidently declare they are all necessary. How do you know this? As for social security, if I had been free to invest all the money extracted from my paychecks over the years for Social Security, it would be worth more (even today) than the sum of my contributions. Instead, there is no chance I will live long enough to get out what I put in. Yet you seem to point to Social Security as some kind of success story. If that’s the best government can do, we’d certainly be better of with less of it.

            You also seem to be unaware that individual rights _are_ being eroded, right here in Oregon. Look at the DLCD. Private property rights have historically included the right to control the use of one’s property and the right to the benefits that accrue from one’s property. SB 100 took away those fundamental rights for many property owners in Oregon. M37 restored them, but M49 snatched them away again.

            You may not be a personally affected by that usurpation of fundamental rights, but other people’s individual property rights have been taken away by our state government, in the name of the collective good. People who place higher value on collective “rights” than on individual rights seem to feel that’s OK, and even a good thing. To me, it is fundamentally unAmerican, and represents the erosion of one of the basic precepts upon which our nation was founded.

            Where in the U.S. Constituion does it grant the State the ability to establish “collective rights” over private property? Yet you say our freedoms are not being eroded.

          • spam i am

            There are lots of agencies and bureaus because we live in a modern, complex world…not the world of 1789. We adapted, and one of those adaptations was the creation of new agencies. We did not need highway departments before we ahd highways. We did not need energy commissions before we had electricity. We did not need the FDA before we had pahrmecuticals. Its a long list in part because we are an inventive species.

            Sure…you as an individual may have done better investing the same amount of money you paid into SSI…assuming you did not invest with Bernard Madoff or 100% in Lehman Brothers stock (or any stocks over the past 8 years). But SSI is not an investment program. It is social insurance…and it has worked for many decades at keeping geezers out of poverty. Try running on a platform of aboloshing it and you will see how sucessful it has been.

            I’m not a legal scholar, but governments have had the authority to limit what one can do with one’s property since the constitution was written. In other words, SB 100 did not take away any fundamental rights, because those rights were never fundamental. They were always what the government allowed, and nothing more. Property rights are temporal, not absolute. There were at least 4 attempts to have SB 100 overturned and the people voted to retain it every time, mostly by wide margins.

            M37 restored previous development rights for some property owners, it did not overturn the government’s ability to regulate. M49 scaled back M37, and I’m sure we have not heard the last of it.

            I could be personally affected by usurpation of fundamental rights, but I just don’t see that as the case here. I don’t place a higher value on collective or individual rights. I value both about equally.

            The Supreme Court ruled that the constitution allows a city, county or state to regulate land use, but it also limits the extent to which land use can be regulated before it becomes a takings. The “collective right” is the right to regulate in the public interest. Maybe you think this is un-American. I don’t.

            No…I don’t see our freedom s as having been eroded, at least not in the same way you do. Its true land use is much more restricted now than in the past, but that is a function of living in more crowded conditions. In states with very low population densities, land use restrictions are largely unecessary. Oregon is not very crowded, but the Willamette Valley is.

    • Bono

      I like your mention of free will as part of free market. You need both.

  • Sagano

    Right on! We have people saying my rights! my rights! my rights! and then when it comes to taking people’s income for another persons political wishes those same people say “Yeah, but it is for a good cause don’t ya know”.

  • Jerry

    Community is way over-rated. Everyone should be taxed at the exact same rate.
    This is simple stuff people.
    Awaken before it is too late.
    Sadly, though, you will not.

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