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Subsidies

THE bill bissett AFFAIR
by Marco den Ouden

Originally published in The Libertarian - October 1978

One of the hotly debated items these days is the issue of bill bissett and the Canada Council. Some parties, such as MP Bob Wenman and columnist Doug Collins, oppose Canada Council grants to bissett. Others, such as columnists Christopher Dafoe and Allan Fotheringham, support such grants and denounce the detractors as Yahoos, Woolhats and Neanderthals. Neither side, though, seems to understand the issue at stake, although the Woolhats are closer to the mark than the so-called Intellectuals, or "funknickels" as Doug Collins calls them.

The issue at stake is whether bissett or Talonbooks or indeed, any group or individual, should be subsidized by the taxpayer. The Funknickels enthusiastically say "yes". The Woolhats, unfortunately, say "yes but". They say, to quote Collins, "Don't mistake my meaning. Symphony orchestras, the ballet and the theatre do warrant help. Maybe some genuine writers need help". So the Woolhats and the Funknickels agree on the basic idea that subsidies are justified. They merely disagree on who should get the handouts. They differ in details but they agree on the fundamentals.

This is where libertarians and Woolhats part company. Libertarians maintain that subsidies are wrong in principle. All subsidies, whether to bissett, the VSO or corporations.

Ed Murphy, who unwittingly started this bissett controversy by reprinting some of bissett's poetry in his book "Legacy of Spending", understands the issue quite well. What he points out in his book has been misunderstood by Fotheringham and like detractors. If they'll look at the book again I ask them to note that not only does Murphy criticize the grant to bissett, he criticizes grants to numerous other individuals and organizations. He criticizes $119,299,279 worth of grants to such diverse companies as Noranda Metal Industries, Burroughs Business Machines and Weldwood. He criticizes LIP grants and DREE grants. And he lists ten pages of grants by the Canada Council to others than bissett. The bissett question has been blown up out of proportion and has served to obscure the issue.

And that issue is the question of whether subsidies of any sort are justified.

Libertarians maintain that all subsidies are wrong, evil, immoral in principle. Subsidies are based on the idea that some individuals have the right to live off others; on the idea that individuals do not have a right to the fruits of their labour, to decide for themselves how to spend their money. Subsidies are based on the idea that some people (government bureaucrats) are better able to decide how you should spend your money than you are.

Libertarians emphatically reject these notions. Individuals have the right to their lives, liberty and property. They have a right to pursue their own goals (whatever they may be) in peaceful voluntary cooperation and interaction with their fellow men. They have a right to be free, unfettered by the tastes and idiosyncrasies of fellow men who would force them into a mould. They have a right to support activities, individuals and organizations they enjoy and approve of and an equal right to withhold support from activities, individuals and organizations they don't enjoy or don't approve of.

It is these freedoms that both Fotheringham (who supports subsidies to just about anyone) and Collins (who supports subsidies to only the "finer" accepted arts) deny. What each of them is saying, in effect, is that you, the citizen, must support their favourite cultural activities or else armed men will come beating on your door to extract money from you, or incarcerate you, or even to shoot you down mercilessly if you have the gall to resist.

Neither Fotheringham nor Collins would be so crude as to personally knock on your door, point a gun at you and say "Donate $10.00 to bissett" or "Donate $10.00 to this 'genuine writer' who needs help". But they have no qualms about someone else (the government) doing the dirty work for them, doing things they would not dare to take upon themselves to do.

Fotheringham called Talonbooks a gutsy little company. There is nothing gutsy about dipping your hand in someone else's pocket. It is immoral. And it's even worse when you get a third party to do it for you. It is a cowardly evasion, not a gutsy act, to endorse theft masked in the cloak of legality.

It is interesting that Fotheringham calls opponents of subsidies "Yahoos" and Dafoe calls them "Neanderthals". Yahoos and Neanderthals are wild savage men, men to whom brute force and violence are a way of life. Libertarians, who oppose subsidies, do so because we oppose violence. We oppose coercion as a principle of social interaction. Coercion is wrong when undertaken by individuals and equally wrong when undertaken by a collectivity of men. Might does not make right and the fact that a group may be the majority does not place it above the moral laws governing human interaction. It is those who advocate and support subsidies who are the Yahoos and Neanderthals for it is they who support the principle of coercion and violence.

I recommend that Collins check his premises and recognize the inconsistency in opposing subsidies to bissett but not to certain other groups. He merely wants to substitute his choices for the choices of the bureaucrats presently making the decision. But he is, in principle, no different than Fotheringham.

And I would suggest that Fotheringham and Dafoe both check their premises and ask themselves how they can, in good conscience, support activities by the government which they would consider immoral if undertaken by individuals. Isn't this hypocrisy?

The notion that we need subsidies is a sacred cow that must be quickly slaughtered and buried. It is the notion of shortsighted men who have insufficient imagination to see beyond the present to a world without subsidy. Projects, enterprises and endeavours have to be paid for regardless of whether they are subsidized or not. Libertarians advocate a world in which currently subsidized endeavours will be paid for directly; a world where you, the individual, have the choice of whether to support such endeavours or not. It is the only moral course for society to take.

Copyright 1978 The Libertarian

 

Contents copyright Marco den Ouden       All Rights reserved
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