Seizing Money from Criminals
If someone has income, we must initially assume that it was earned legally. If proven otherwise, then there are a multitude of laws which can be applied and a sentence imposed which may include the confiscation of part of his wealth.
Taking Money from Non-Criminals
If no crime has been committed, but those in power still wish to take away part of the person’s earnings, then it’s done in the interest of “fairness” or to support “social justice” programs. These actions arise from a sense of “morality.”1 Those in favor of this say that, while the wealth was obtained legitimately, in their opinion the individual needs to share more with others than what he has already donated to good causes.
Thus, legal ways of taking some of this person’s income are created. This is usually done in the form of “taxes.” Sometimes the money is used for very good causes which go beyond the routine funding of the government’s operation and for infrastructure projects. These funds are collected and sent to agencies which redistribute the money to designated recipients. These agencies may or may not be strictly governmental in origin.
Redistributing income to others deemed to be in need is “morality in action.”2 It must be noted that these programs are “prudential” issues – or as Wikipedia describes, they are “often associated with wisdom, insight and knowledge. In this case, the virtue is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place.” The words “at a given time and place” are critical because this means that these tax laws are not inherently “virtuous” or “vicious.” There are degrees of goodness and badness.
Non-Prudential (Intrinsically Evil or Good) Issues
On the other hand, there are other moral issues which are not prudential because they are intrinsically evil or good. These are the “black and white” (no racial connotation) issues which require the enactment of complete legal abolishment or protection.
Intrinsically evils include murder, slavery and abortion. There can be no degree of murder, slavery or abortion which is acceptable in a just society.
Intrinsically good actions include the protection of voting rights for all persons of legal age, freedom of speech and religion, etc. Any amount of infringement must not be tolerated in a just society.
A stumbling block for many is the religious institution of marriage between one man and one woman. It is essential for a civilized society and; therefore, it is also a non-prudential issue. No earthly entity (religious or secular) has the authority to change its definition for any reason.
In a civilized society, morality influences laws/rules. The intrinsically good or evil issues must be “set in stone.” They are the foundational basics which separate human societies from merely becoming a group of intelligent animals.
Proponents of “Morality in Action” Sometimes Contradict Themselves
Income redistribution is a prudential issue because it is not inherently good or evil. A society can function well with it in varying degrees or without it altogether. Its proponents tend to be found among the “progressives”, and most reside in the Democratic Party. They are driven by a sense of what they believe is fair or just; thus, they use a moral basis for discussion and implementation.
However, they somehow have difficulty with the foundational aspects of society (the non-prudential) which are really the easiest to recognize and to put into law. These are the issues which a civilized society cannot compromise and still survive. When it is suggested to protect the unborn or to respect the timeless institution of marriage, they are quick to recoil and say, “You can’t legislate morality! — even though that is where they get the inspiration for their social projects. Yes, contradiction in action.
1 – “beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior, the degree to which something is right and good, from www.merriam-webster.com
2 — “Morality in action” does not mean legislating church practices into public law. Recognizing that morality impacts decisions on legislation does not mean that specific church practices are being enacted.