The Reasonableness of Gradual Reforms

When I tell people that taxation is theft and that government mandates and prohibitions violate our natural rights, they sometimes ask whether I favor immediate abolition of these invasions or whether I advocate gradual reforms. The concerns underlying this question are that immediate abolition would hurt the feelings of government agents, dash the expectations of those who rely on government programs, and disrupt the economy.

To decide whether it would be reasonable to suddenly stop these practices without giving government agents and their beneficiaries a chance to gradually reform their behavior and modify their plans, consider what would be the reasonable way to treat other people who use similar means outside the government.

On a smaller scale, the Unabomber could be likened to a bombardier in the Air Force. A pickpocket could be likened to a tax collector, and the pickpocket's family could be likened to those who are financed by government programs. Would it be reasonable to ask a pickpocket to immediately abandon his trade without giving him a chance to learn another one? How would he support himself? Why should his poor family be deprived?

Should the Unabomber have been forced to give up the greatest pleasure and the central focus of his life immediately, simply because it conflicted with our ideology? Should he have been made to feel unappreciated and insulted by accusations of insanity or immorality? Wouldn't it have been more reasonable to ask him to gradually phase out his bombing program and phase in a more socially acceptable avocation rather than to impose our preferences on him helter-skelter?

If a person does not have feasible plans for implementing reforms in his life, or if these reforms would inconvenience him too much, then, of course, it would be unreasonable to ask him to sacrifice his own welfare by giving up his old habits all at once. Gradualism is necessary and reasonable in reforming individuals so that their feelings don't get hurt and no one is inconvenienced too much. It is just as unreasonable to demand that the government end its bad habits all at once as it would be for God to ask us to stop sinning immediately without a backup plan.

We should all try to take God's advise and be reasonable. So, if you get a chance, remember that God would appreciate it if you didn't steal so much, and He would like it if you stopped telling lies about your neighbors, cheating on your spouse, and killing small children. And it would really make Him smile if you could find it in your heart to comply with the rest of the Ten Suggestions that He delivered to Moses.

In the mean time, so that no one will be made to fell pressured, unappreciated, or inconvenienced, let the child molester work on a plan to take up a new hobby, while libertarians try to figure out a nondisruptive way to phase out wars and privatize Social Security. What could be more reasonable than this gradual approach to reform?

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