"As a (local, national, global) society, what should be our short and long term goals? Ultimately, these questions can only be resolved by considering the deeply philosophical issue of the meaning of life itself. As individuals, families, communities, and nations (as well as all other forms of social organization), we cannot make any sound decisions without first rooting ourselves firmly in a philosophical basis, which itself is derived from differing interpretations on the meaning of life (the "ultimate aims of man")."
As individuals and families we can set our own goals and ultimate aims. This way the economy fulfills each individual's needs. To move beyond the individual and set goals or aims beyond the basic protection of each individual's rights, you will exclude some members of society, that is some people will be denied their natural rights. To tax me to pay for the education of others, health care of others, or income security of others denies me full access to my efforts, my property, and my pursuit of happiness. It abridges my life and my liberty. It denies me access to my basic rights. To tax me to support police or military is just, because it protects me and my rights; and it is the sole justification of our government. To tax me a percentage of my income and force me to pay more dollars for the police or military is wrong. Just because I have the ability to earn more money than others, is no justification to treat me differently under the law. The cost of police and military costs a certain amount of money for each individual, and each individual should pay an equal share. To tax me according to my ability, and then use the money to provide for each according to their need, is a system that is against everything our organic law is meant to protect.
"It is an inescapable fact that we need to make decisions on a higher stratum than that of the individual."
Why? By doing so, you will restrict or limit the rights of some members of society. That denies the basic rights of some individuals.
"You claim that the Declaration of Independence is the “absolute basis of our government and our system of law”. That is not true. The U.S. Constitution holds that distinction."
The organic law of the United States does not include the Constitution. The Constitution only has two purposes. The first is to LIMIT the federal government, by constructing the three branches and explaining how the government will be set up using a system of checks and balances. It is very explicit in how it works, and was NOT designed to be a living document open to interpretation. Changes to how it works require an amendment. The second purpose was to enumerate some rights that the government cannot limit (e.g., The Bill of Rights). Some of our founding fathers were against including the Bill of Rights, because the rights of man had already been defined in the Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights was designed to communicate that these 10 rights are PART of those rights that the Declaration put forth; they were designed to ensure that these rights were not limited by government, not meant to be the definition of our basic rights. The basic rights were already spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
"Also, even if you were to adopt “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as your basis for the powers that government should and should not have, are such vague ideas that you could justify very nearly anything based on that. For instance, you said that we have a right to life that should be protected by the government, but then in the next breath say that we do not have the right to health care. Perhaps not, but if the government is supposed to protect our right to life as you say, it is consistent that we allow many people within our country to die because they cannot afford life-saving medical treatments? Is it right that pollution from power plants, predominately coal-fired plants, are estimated to cause 13,000 premature deaths per year (by the American Lung Association, these aren’t numbers from Greenpeace or something), as well as cardiovascular disease, asthma, strokes, lung disease/cancer, birth defects, etc.? Should the government not have the power to stop this if, as you say, it should protect peoples’ right to life? What I’m driving at is that these rights, by themselves, aren’t a very good basis for decision making or government power. Important, yes. But they need to be defined more clearly to be useful at all."
Our founding fathers already adopted “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and they are not vague ideas… they are the reason our government was formed, to protect those rights. And the intent was to limit government, so it could not limit those rights in any way. They ARE the only moral decision making basis for our government. The government does not protect our right to life, it protects our basic natural rights... life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness. It is up to each individual to determine how they will live their life. Pursuit of happiness does not guarantee happiness; it only allows you to pursue it in your own way and definition. Since each individual is guaranteed these rights, no individual can restrict the natural rights of another individual. No individual can initiate force against another or abridge their right to life, liberty, property, or pursuit of happiness. Should any right of an individual be restricted or abridged (as your example of pollution), the Constitution set up a judicial system to adjudicate such crimes against others. The right to life means that as human beings we have a right to live our life, that is, we have the right not to be killed by another human being. It does not mean we have the right to demand someone to save our life if we are ill, or get lost in the wilderness when backpacking, or demand that the government protect us from wild animals. I do not see any right to health care, guaranteed income security, or a mandate for the military to enjoin world peace or intervene in the matters of any country that has not invaded our country in our organic law. We do not allow people to die, by denying free health care. They die due to natural causes. Just because someone has invested the money to invent a life saving device or the skills to save life, does not mean that everyone has a claim or demand to obtaining those medical advances. They would have died without them. The General Welfare clause appears twice in the Constitution. By General it is meant that the government will act in the best interest of ALL. To gain a better understanding of what this means, we need to look at the General Welfare clause of the Articles of Confederation (another piece of our organic law), "the States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever."
"I’m not trying to downplay the importance of individual choice and liberty, nor am I trying to characterize governments as infallible or even remotely efficient or even effective at what they should do. The purpose of these economic theories (many of which, again, I disagree with—I can elaborate later) is to serve as a tool for helping to solve some of these problems that we know exist within our society, problems that certainly won’t solve themselves (even given zero government involvement, as an Austrian economist may offer as a solution). As I stated earlier, these theories also need ethical context to guide them."
We cannot downplay the importance of individual choice and liberty. It is the reason the United States was formed. It was/is the only government ever created, whose sole purpose was to protect the individual from government. Based on this purpose, there is only one economic system that permits each individual to chart their own purpose in life and allow the pursuit of happiness, while protecting their life, their liberty, and their PROPERTY. We can use the study of economics to understand how things work, but we cannot adopt any economic system that abridges our basic natural rights. If we look at the major political parties today, they all want to abridge our rights in some manner. Democrats, Republicans, and the Tea Party all want to enforce something that restricts our basic human rights. The Libertarians have other issues and move away from the purpose of our government with some anarchist theories.
Two very important reads are the "The Discovery of Freedom," by Rose Wilder Lane (she was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder) and ghost writer of "Little House on the Prairie"; and the "The God of the Machine," by Isabel Paterson. Two very brilliant women.
Brendan, excellent discourse and conversation!