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A Moral Dilemma Regarding "Found" Money

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If you're not interested in general examples as tools to examine a real one, then the actual dilemma is explained in the bottom half. Putting down all of my thoughts took much more space than I had anticipated.

Case 1: You are in the queue for rations in a communist society. You receive more than your allotment of meat, perhaps because the official mistakenly thought you are married when you are single, or for any other reason. Assume that you are able to leave with it and be sure that you won't be discovered or punished. Is it an immoral fraud to passively accept this mistake, or are you obligated by honesty to report it?

Case 2: You receive an overpayment in the mail from the government in America, in payment for a legitimate function of the government, as an American citizen. Assume that if you passively accept the mistake it won't be discovered (it's not a tax refund). Is it an immoral fraud to passively accept this mistake, or are you obligated by honesty to report it?

Case 3: You purchase a soda from a vending machine, but two are accidentally dispensed. What, if anything, do you do with the extra soda?

I think the moral behavior of case 3 is to treat it similarly to a salvage situation. It's clearly between two private parties (you and the vending machine operator), but the other party has made a mistake that you cannot reasonably rectify. The vending machine operator presumably knows his machine will occasionally make mechanical errors and has proceeded to establish his machines anyway. The expense to correct the mistake would exceed the value of the mistake, both to you and to the vending machine operator. It makes the most sense to treat the extra soda like abandoned property and claim it.

In case 1, moral relationships between men have broken down because of the interposition of the state in the economy making it impossible to act morally. Although an individual somewhere in that communist country produced the meat, you are not able to pay him for his productivity. It is fraudulent to accept more than your meat ration, however the premises of the situation make defining it as a fraud nonsense. The "fraud" and the ration itself are purely artificial constructs of the state meddling in the economy. In this case I think it makes sense to treat it as a survival situation that cannot be handled by normal rules and to take anything you can get.

It's case 2 that bothers me. My emotional, instinctual reaction is to treat it similarly to case 1 because the state's involvement in my everyday life is ubiquitous and tends to distort the situation closer and closer to case 1. The state pays me to go to a state school, I get there on a state bus driven on a state road, etc. In an Objectivist society, in my situation only the state paying for my education would be legitimate and only as a special case that I will explain.

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I am going to school by using the GI Bill, after serving four years in the military. I consider it to be legitimate compensation for working in a legitimate function of the government because it's something that is codified in law just like military basic pay rates, housing allowances, uniform allowances, etc, are. It was a primary reason for deciding to enlist in the first place. I think it's as legitimate as getting a pension or any other benefit above a salary from a private company. I did have to think about it for a while though because receiving a check when I'm not actually working anymore bothered me a healthy amount, and that's a good thing.

These are the facts to the situation. The amount that the government overpaid is over $1,100. I am in my first year of college (at 23). The school I am attending initially charged my tuition to the government as out-of-state instead of as a resident (there are lower rates for residents). I am actually a resident of the particular US state that I live in, so after discovering they were charging me as out-of-state by default, I brought the paperwork to prove my residency to the school. Now at the end of the semester, it seems the paperwork has caught up because not only did they change my residency status, they retroactively refunded the difference between resident and non-resident tuition. However, instead of refunding the government, they wrote a check personally to me.

It's a case of the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. For clarity, keep in mind the government's budget and the schools budget are very much independent entities, even if that doesn't make sense at first.

This money was produced and taxed by an individual in this country (technically a very small fraction of the sum of all the productivity and taxation), and it's immoral to accept their money in excess of the legal compensation for my own services to them while I was in the military. That much is clear to me. However, there are two things that are inclining me to do so anyway.

First, the level of the state's intervention in the economy has grown to the point that there may not even be a tangible relationship between accepting/not accepting the money, and taking/not taking money from those individuals. Take for example the actions of Congress after realizing TARP would "only" lose $141b instead of $341b and fighting over how to reallocate the extra $200b windfall of money in another way instead of reducing spending in the first place. To the taxed individual, does it matter anymore where his money goes if his tax burden will be the same no matter what? It's slowly becoming a shade of accepting extra meat rations like in case 1. Of course this is what's wrong with our society today; "the government takes my money anyway so I'm going to get as big a piece of the pie as possible." I am not about to go apply for welfare or vote for it, but it's how many other people justify it when they don't have a moral framework that can identify that kind of limit. This is all also made slightly more complicated because this is a state school, because the situation becomes ever less clear with the more state actors involved. The situation may have been different in a private school.

The second and more practical problem is that there may not even be a way to return this money to the state in the first place. The state, as far as it is concerned, has not overpaid. It received a bill, I successfully completed all of the classes, and it paid the bill. To the government I won't become a resident of that state until the next semester. To the school, I was a resident at the beginning of the first semester. Take my word for it that the government will get its money every time if it believes it is owed anything or has made a mistake in payment. However in this case their computers do not calculate that, even though they obviously have. Anyone I ask at the school or the Department of Veterans Affairs will most likely have no idea how to return this money. They will most likely tell me I am crazy for trying to give the government an extra $1,100 of what is now "my" money. This problem makes the situation similar to case 3, except with the government operating the machine. There is an extra $1,100 that is floating around with no one to return it to. Even if I could return it though, I don't think it would even matter and I would just be throwing it away without a good reason to.

What do I do? What can I do, anyway? It may not even be possible to refund it, but if I don't cash it, it sits in the school's account, and they have the least claim to it. Do I accept this as a fortunate and rare windfall resulting from a difference in how two government entities perceived a bill? Am I responsible for trying to reconcile two different interpretations of the same bill between two government entities? If the situation were the other way around and the school charged me that extra $1,100 and the government only compensated them for in-state tuition, I would simply be screwed out of that money without a recourse.

What do you think?

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If you're not interested in general examples as tools to examine a real one, then the actual dilemma is explained in the bottom half. Putting down all of my thoughts took much more space than I had anticipated.

Case 1: You are in the queue for rations in a communist society. You receive more than your allotment of meat, perhaps because the official mistakenly thought you are married when you are single, or for any other reason. Assume that you are able to leave with it and be sure that you won't be discovered or punished. Is it an immoral fraud to passively accept this mistake, or are you obligated by honesty to report it?

Case 2: You receive an overpayment in the mail from the government in America, in payment for a legitimate function of the government, as an American citizen. Assume that if you passively accept the mistake it won't be discovered (it's not a tax refund). Is it an immoral fraud to passively accept this mistake, or are you obligated by honesty to report it?

Case 3: You purchase a soda from a vending machine, but two are accidentally dispensed. What, if anything, do you do with the extra soda?

I think the moral behavior of case 3 is to treat it similarly to a salvage situation. It's clearly between two private parties (you and the vending machine operator), but the other party has made a mistake that you cannot reasonably rectify. The vending machine operator presumably knows his machine will occasionally make mechanical errors and has proceeded to establish his machines anyway. The expense to correct the mistake would exceed the value of the mistake, both to you and to the vending machine operator. It makes the most sense to treat the extra soda like abandoned property and claim it.

In case 1, moral relationships between men have broken down because of the interposition of the state in the economy making it impossible to act morally. Although an individual somewhere in that communist country produced the meat, you are not able to pay him for his productivity. It is fraudulent to accept more than your meat ration, however the premises of the situation make defining it as a fraud nonsense. The "fraud" and the ration itself are purely artificial constructs of the state meddling in the economy. In this case I think it makes sense to treat it as a survival situation that cannot be handled by normal rules and to take anything you can get.

It's case 2 that bothers me. My emotional, instinctual reaction is to treat it similarly to case 1 because the state's involvement in my everyday life is ubiquitous and tends to distort the situation closer and closer to case 1. The state pays me to go to a state school, I get there on a state bus driven on a state road, etc. In an Objectivist society, in my situation only the state paying for my education would be legitimate and only as a special case that I will explain.

----------

I am going to school by using the GI Bill, after serving four years in the military. I consider it to be legitimate compensation for working in a legitimate function of the government because it's something that is codified in law just like military basic pay rates, housing allowances, uniform allowances, etc, are. It was a primary reason for deciding to enlist in the first place. I think it's as legitimate as getting a pension or any other benefit above a salary from a private company. I did have to think about it for a while though because receiving a check when I'm not actually working anymore bothered me a healthy amount, and that's a good thing.

These are the facts to the situation. The amount that the government overpaid is over $1,100. I am in my first year of college (at 23). The school I am attending initially charged my tuition to the government as out-of-state instead of as a resident (there are lower rates for residents). I am actually a resident of the particular US state that I live in, so after discovering they were charging me as out-of-state by default, I brought the paperwork to prove my residency to the school. Now at the end of the semester, it seems the paperwork has caught up because not only did they change my residency status, they retroactively refunded the difference between resident and non-resident tuition. However, instead of refunding the government, they wrote a check personally to me.

It's a case of the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. For clarity, keep in mind the government's budget and the schools budget are very much independent entities, even if that doesn't make sense at first.

This money was produced and taxed by an individual in this country (technically a very small fraction of the sum of all the productivity and taxation), and it's immoral to accept their money in excess of the legal compensation for my own services to them while I was in the military. That much is clear to me. However, there are two things that are inclining me to do so anyway.

First, the level of the state's intervention in the economy has grown to the point that there may not even be a tangible relationship between accepting/not accepting the money, and taking/not taking money from those individuals. Take for example the actions of Congress after realizing TARP would "only" lose $141b instead of $341b and fighting over how to reallocate the extra $200b windfall of money in another way instead of reducing spending in the first place. To the taxed individual, does it matter anymore where his money goes if his tax burden will be the same no matter what? It's slowly becoming a shade of accepting extra meat rations like in case 1. Of course this is what's wrong with our society today; "the government takes my money anyway so I'm going to get as big a piece of the pie as possible." I am not about to go apply for welfare or vote for it, but it's how many other people justify it when they don't have a moral framework that can identify that kind of limit. This is all also made slightly more complicated because this is a state school, because the situation becomes ever less clear with the more state actors involved. The situation may have been different in a private school.

The second and more practical problem is that there may not even be a way to return this money to the state in the first place. The state, as far as it is concerned, has not overpaid. It received a bill, I successfully completed all of the classes, and it paid the bill. To the government I won't become a resident of that state until the next semester. To the school, I was a resident at the beginning of the first semester. Take my word for it that the government will get its money every time if it believes it is owed anything or has made a mistake in payment. However in this case their computers do not calculate that, even though they obviously have. Anyone I ask at the school or the Department of Veterans Affairs will most likely have no idea how to return this money. They will most likely tell me I am crazy for trying to give the government an extra $1,100 of what is now "my" money. This problem makes the situation similar to case 3, except with the government operating the machine. There is an extra $1,100 that is floating around with no one to return it to. Even if I could return it though, I don't think it would even matter and I would just be throwing it away without a good reason to.

What do I do? What can I do, anyway? It may not even be possible to refund it, but if I don't cash it, it sits in the school's account, and they have the least claim to it. Do I accept this as a fortunate and rare windfall resulting from a difference in how two government entities perceived a bill? Am I responsible for trying to reconcile two different interpretations of the same bill between two government entities? If the situation were the other way around and the school charged me that extra $1,100 and the government only compensated them for in-state tuition, I would simply be screwed out of that money without a recourse.

What do you think?

I think that you are pretty much on the right track here, especially since none of this is your fault or intention. I would not worry about the issue of the "rights" to the money.

What I would worry about is the ultimate government accounting, which is to say that somebody in the government might come back to you or the school and want the money back. If you got it, they could easily at any time tell you to pay it back and be quite unreasonable about it. My concern, self-defense.

If you decide to take the money, set up a paper trail in which you establish that you attempted to give it back. Mail certified letters, make calls and keep records of when you called and who you talked to, including title; ask for supervisors; etc. This way you will at least be able to prove that you are an "upright" citizen and have an argument that they should treat you with a little respect and consideration. You'll still have pay it back, if they come calling, but more on your terms, maybe.

I don't know if all of that is worth $1100, but the annoyance and threat factor of hearing from the government later is also a major pain.

Good luck.

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At what point when you put down your morals is it the right time to pick them up again?*

*I am assuming that you believe fraud is immoral.

None of it may have been your doing but you receiving (and taking) money that you know is not yours to take is fraud. To know what the right (correct/proper) course of action is and not to do it is to compromise your morals.

That's my non-refundable 2 cents. You can take it or leave it without compromising yourself. :lol:

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If you could get away with it, would you steal a government vehicle and sell it for cash on the grounds that you were taxed? I understand that on a daily basis it becomes harder and harder to distinguish the US government from the Soviet government, but it can be done.

Sorry guys, there is a difference between being sent money that you didn't ask for or want and if you try to return it they are going to put you through hell vs. stealing.

This is like the times the government through their own fault send you a tax refund that they later decide is wrong and treat you as a criminal.

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What do I do? What can I do, anyway? It may not even be possible to refund it, but if I don't cash it, it sits in the school's account, and they have the least claim to it. Do I accept this as a fortunate and rare windfall resulting from a difference in how two government entities perceived a bill? Am I responsible for trying to reconcile two different interpretations of the same bill between two government entities? If the situation were the other way around and the school charged me that extra $1,100 and the government only compensated them for in-state tuition, I would simply be screwed out of that money without a recourse

Rational self interest.

The govt doesn't truly recognize its mistakes.

6 months, 1 year, 5 years from now they could catch this.

When they do you will be charged, with interest.

I would claim the money, then make all diligence to send it back.

Document all the way.

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What I would worry about is the ultimate government accounting, which is to say that somebody in the government might come back to you or the school and want the money back.

$1,100 will not make a significant difference to me, so if they did it would not be a problem to let it go. This is really just an exercise in thought on what the right thing to do is, if there is one.

At what point when you put down your morals is it the right time to pick them up again?

I never want to put down my morals in the first place, but I am wondering if it is even possible to be moral in relation to the government if there is no relationship between my action and the person whose taxes actually produced the wealth in question. If it doesn't, then the situation might be described as morally nihilistic; it doesn't really matter what I do, morally. The money will go to me or it will go to someone else with no claim to it either. The persons with the claim to it will never get it as a result of anything we do. Short of founding a self-financed Ragnar Danneskjöld fund out of windfalls, I guess.

If you could get away with it, would you steal a government vehicle and sell it for cash on the grounds that you were taxed?

No. Well, I don't think so. I think I wouldn't because I would rather be productive. Modify the scenario slightly, and lets say the Cash 4 Clunkers program had been made permanent. As a car dealer, would you accept $4,500 from the government for every vehicle you sell in exchange for a turn-in, or would you go out of business because that's immoral and it's not feasible to sell cars at a $4,500 disadvantage to your "competitors"?

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On Monday, I will call the Department of Veterans Affairs office that handles the GI Bill. I will tell them that the school changed my tuition after the semester ended and retroactively refunded me the difference. I will ask how to refund the money to the VA. However, I am sure that they will tell me that since the government simply paid the bill it was handed at the time, they don't see a problem and that I should keep the money. It may not make a difference to the taxpayers anymore whether or not I keep it, but I'll pretend it will and attempt to return it to them unless I'm unable to return it.

In a broader sense, are we morally responsible for not accepting "unearned" compensation from the government, even if the members of the government want us to? I mean if running a public high school is not a proper function of the government, then is it moral to be a public high school teacher and receive that salary? In this sense, what is the moral difference between someone receiving a welfare check and someone receiving a salary in a government position that shouldn't exist? Common sense makes it obvious there is a huge difference, but what is it based off of? Or, alternately, is it actually really the same thing and only different by degree, meaning that conscientious people should not work for the government (except in the military, police, and courts). I think the teacher, like the above car dealer, is still producing value because his position would presumably still exist in a free market, but he is doing so under duress (since the free market has been almost entirely displaced). I think that people of high ability and self-esteem will be repulsed to working in such situations (even more than they already are by the bureaucracy).

What about working in a legitimate function of the government that is compensated excessively, for example a corrections officer who is systematically scheduled to work "overtime" at 150% of his pay, instead of the union allowing more guards to be hired? Should he try to turn down the extra 50% if he thinks it's excessive? It's not even legal not to be paid overtime, no more than it is not to receive minimum wage. How does he determine what is excessive if the state (influenced by the prison guard union) pays a quarter million a year in overall salary, benefits, and overtime?

Thinking about questions like these make me wonder if it matters at all what I do here, considering our system of government and how it will have zero effect on the actual producers of the wealth no matter what I do.

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Sorry guys, there is a difference between being sent money that you didn't ask for or want and if you try to return it they are going to put you through hell vs. stealing.

So then if one day you woke up to find a car in your driveway with the keys in it and the ownership and registration inside, but the car is owned by the Chrysler Corporation would you feel similar justification in keeping it?

You are rationalizing fraud. Acting in a fashion like the one you suggest is exactly the kind of thing that get otherwise good people thrown in jail... "No one will ever know..." & "No one will ever find out I did it..." = famous last words

This is like the times the government through their own fault send you a tax refund that they later decide is wrong and treat you as a criminal.

Your example is faulty. If the government sent you a tax refund that was wrong and you knew it to be wrong but keep it anyway, then you are a criminal.

If there is one thing I have learned with my dealings with the army (almost 25 years worth) it is that they are continually auditing, checking and ensuring that their money isn't being taken by people. It may take years for them to catch a mistake but they usually do. Hell for the first 3 years of my career I was overpaid by $5 a pay. After 3 years they caught the mistake (which I didn't know about) and took their money back.

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So then if one day you woke up to find a car in your driveway with the keys in it and the ownership and registration inside, but the car is owned by the Chrysler Corporation would you feel similar justification in keeping it?

I agree that in this example, the action of returning the car to the corporation would be clear because there is a moral relationship. (A private corporation loses if you perpetuate the fraud, even if you didn't initiate it.) The first part of my problem is that there isn't really a moral relationship. Imagine that no matter what action you take, Chrysler Corporation will not receive that car, nor compensation for it. (The second part of the problem is trying to find out how in the world to return it, which I will undertake after the weekend.)

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So then if one day you woke up to find a car in your driveway with the keys in it and the ownership and registration inside, but the car is owned by the Chrysler Corporation would you feel similar justification in keeping it?

You are rationalizing fraud. Acting in a fashion like the one you suggest is exactly the kind of thing that get otherwise good people thrown in jail... "No one will ever know..." & "No one will ever find out I did it..." = famous last words

Your example is faulty. If the government sent you a tax refund that was wrong and you knew it to be wrong but keep it anyway, then you are a criminal.

If there is one thing I have learned with my dealings with the army (almost 25 years worth) it is that they are continually auditing, checking and ensuring that their money isn't being taken by people. It may take years for them to catch a mistake but they usually do. Hell for the first 3 years of my career I was overpaid by $5 a pay. After 3 years they caught the mistake (which I didn't know about) and took their money back.

You are undoubtedly one of those people who believe that paying your taxes and doing what the government tells you is a virtue. And I specifically did not say that the taxpayer knew anything, therefore you put word in my mouth just to make an accusation.

You need to identify that the government is an entity that deals in stolen money as a matter of course, that has no respect for the residents of the country, that functions according to arbitrary rules and regulations, that fears sticking their head out and making any kind of decision, and that their employees are generally not capable of doing productive work. This entity does not meet the test of the honest individual or corporation who must be dealt with fairly. This entity will treat you arbitrarily. You could follow the rules they tell you about and you could still be ruined. The Miltary payroll organization functions very differently than the normal government office.

In this case one of the real possibilities is that if he leaves the money at the school the government could still demand that he pay it back on the grounds that it was paid on his behalf and it was his responsibility to straighten it out. He could send in a check and they deny that received it. We are not talking about an entity that believes in fairness or justice, just rules and regulations.

RH will have to spend significant time in just trying to find who and how to return the money. How much is his time worth?

If you found a private individual's property your responsibility is not open ended. The car sitting on your drive way is an inconvenience and you would be within your rights to charge the company for using your property and for the time required to get the car off your property. There is no duty to see after other peoples' property. Respecting their property does not require your time, effort, or expense. If you find it on your property, make a reasonable effort to see it returned, and they do not act to reclaim it or to meet your expenses, you can certainly salvage it. They come over and abandon something on your land without your permission, then it is their responsibility. If someone stole it an left it on your property, it would then be the authorities responsibility (a legitimate governmental function), and still not yours. You would want to find out where the thing came from, if you can, before deciding what the appropriate action would be. But it would be legitimate for you just to call a towing company with an impound lot and let them handle out.

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On Monday, I will call the Department of Veterans Affairs office that handles the GI Bill. I will tell them that the school changed my tuition after the semester ended and retroactively refunded me the difference. I will ask how to refund the money to the VA. However, I am sure that they will tell me that since the government simply paid the bill it was handed at the time, they don't see a problem and that I should keep the money. It may not make a difference to the taxpayers anymore whether or not I keep it, but I'll pretend it will and attempt to return it to them unless I'm unable to return it.

That is right initial action. The problem is, if the gov't ever wants its money back how will you prove that you already paid them? Getting the mess straightened out as quickly as possible is the best course. But consider, since the gov't paid the school initially not you, they may simply deduct the amount from the next semester's payment. The university will then charge you the difference. If you already gave the money to the government by writing a check to the U.S. Treasury, you will be screwed.

Put the money in the bank to draw some interest, don't spend it, be ready and willing to give it up when asked for it. You won't be safe until you are out of school with diploma in hand.

In a broader sense, are we morally responsible for not accepting "unearned" compensation from the government, even if the members of the government want us to? I mean if running a public high school is not a proper function of the government, then is it moral to be a public high school teacher and receive that salary? In this sense, what is the moral difference between someone receiving a welfare check and someone receiving a salary in a government position that shouldn't exist? Common sense makes it obvious there is a huge difference, but what is it based off of? Or, alternately, is it actually really the same thing and only different by degree, meaning that conscientious people should not work for the government (except in the military, police, and courts). I think the teacher, like the above car dealer, is still producing value because his position would presumably still exist in a free market, but he is doing so under duress (since the free market has been almost entirely displaced). I think that people of high ability and self-esteem will be repulsed to working in such situations (even more than they already are by the bureaucracy).

The objective value of the work justifies the compensation.

What about working in a legitimate function of the government that is compensated excessively, for example a corrections officer who is systematically scheduled to work "overtime" at 150% of his pay, instead of the union allowing more guards to be hired? Should he try to turn down the extra 50% if he thinks it's excessive? It's not even legal not to be paid overtime, no more than it is not to receive minimum wage. How does he determine what is excessive if the state (influenced by the prison guard union) pays a quarter million a year in overall salary, benefits, and overtime?

Charge for services what the market will bear. If the mismatch is too much, the officer can do better work (including a little educational campaign about compensation issues) or leave.

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The objective value of the work justifies the compensation.

I think I understand what you mean, but the value of a person's work is subjective depending on what their employer is willing to pay them. It's 'objective' value would be its market-clearing price in a free market of workers and employers. That's difficult to judge and impossible to know without a free market for the price to clear in, though. If I understand what you mean in this way, then I agree with you. The lack of a truly objective measure of their work's value is what I meant by 'working under duress', as well as the lack or paucity of private alternatives in his line of work.

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Charge for services what the market will bear. If the mismatch is too much, the officer can do better work (including a little educational campaign about compensation issues) or leave.

This is a timely article on federal overcompensation.

"Average pay $30,000 over private sector" http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/...nterstitialskip

There are some counterarguments such as the claim that the government preferentially hires higher skilled workers, but I think the trend is towards overcompensation due to unions and no incentive to economize.

As an aside to my above post, I would also say that the use of illegitimate government services is also ethical, if not desirable if it is at all avoidable, because it is done under duress since private options are either limited or non-existent as a result of those services. (ie roads, municipal services, transportation, schools).

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You are undoubtedly one of those people who believe that paying your taxes and doing what the government tells you is a virtue. And I specifically did not say that the taxpayer knew anything, therefore you put word in my mouth just to make an accusation.

No, and no. The virtue at issue here is the individual's morality. Morality isn't just doing the right thing when you think you will get caught it is doing the right thing because it is right. Do you or do you not agree that it is fraudulent to keep money that you know is not yours?

I specifically changed that response to fit the actual situation. He does know that the money doesn't belong to him. I'm not putting words in your mouth I'm fitting the words to the situation. Your example explicitly ignored the fact that he knew the money wasn't his. I was merely putting that fact back into context because it is his knowledge that makes this a moral question in the first place.

You need to identify that the government is an entity that deals in stolen money as a matter of course, that has no respect for the residents of the country, that functions according to arbitrary rules and regulations, that fears sticking their head out and making any kind of decision, and that their employees are generally not capable of doing productive work.

Government, your parents, the guy that owns the liquor store down the street... I don't care who it was, nor do I care what his rules are, I care about my morality. As I said. When you put down your morals at what point is it proper to pick them up? Perhaps you think that because a manufacturer produced a product that didn't live up to what you believed it was supposed to you have the right to rob that manufacturer from that point on.

Do you believe that the government in paying for his education is not acting in good faith?

This entity does not meet the test of the honest individual or corporation who must be dealt with fairly.

So now you are saying that the only people whom you must treat fairly are those that treat you fairly first? What if you find out a man who has never done anything to you has cheated on his wife would you then feel justified in stealing from him?

This entity will treat you arbitrarily. You could follow the rules they tell you about and you could still be ruined. The Miltary payroll organization functions very differently than the normal government office.

In this case one of the real possibilities is that if he leaves the money at the school the government could still demand that he pay it back on the grounds that it was paid on his behalf and it was his responsibility to straighten it out. He could send in a check and they deny that received it. We are not talking about an entity that believes in fairness or justice, just rules and regulations.

RH will have to spend significant time in just trying to find who and how to return the money. How much is his time worth?

This sounds far more like conspiracy theory than real life. You do realize that the vast majority of people who deal with the government are not ripped off as a matter of course don't you?

Another thing. Your excuse for not doing the right thing is that it's too much of a trouble? How much trouble is it to phone and talk to someone, write a letter and a cheque and send it registered mail, getting someone to witness what you put inside and watch you put it in the mail? Seriously, if that constitutes "significant time" then some lessons in time management are in order.

If you found a private individual's property your responsibility is not open ended. The car sitting on your drive way is an inconvenience and you would be within your rights to charge the company for using your property and for the time required to get the car off your property. There is no duty to see after other peoples' property. Respecting their property does not require your time, effort, or expense. If you find it on your property, make a reasonable effort to see it returned, and they do not act to reclaim it or to meet your expenses, you can certainly salvage it. They come over and abandon something on your land without your permission, then it is their responsibility. If someone stole it an left it on your property, it would then be the authorities responsibility (a legitimate governmental function), and still not yours. You would want to find out where the thing came from, if you can, before deciding what the appropriate action would be. But it would be legitimate for you just to call a towing company with an impound lot and let them handle out.

You still don't have the right to use the car. The correct course of action and one that will not incur any legal complications is to call them and tell them to get their car off your property.

This whole thing is not about the government, it's about the individuals moral action.

The question that is still being evaded is... is it moral to keep money you know you should not have been paid.

Yes or No.

*edit for typo

Edited by Zip
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I’m sorry. I forgot the most important point!!! You can’t be morally blamed for wanting and keeping what has already been stolen from you. The government, our government is a thief. It forces you to pay money to them every year. Getting your money back, in whatever form you can is wholly justified. Again the only concern is self-defense.

From Ayn Rand, “The Question of Scholarships”, The Objectivist, Vol. 5, No. 6, June, 1966.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare stateism.

Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it.

The same moral principles and considerations apply to the issue of accepting social security, unemployment insurance or other payments of that kind. It is obvious, in such cases, that a man receives his own money which was taken from him by force, directly and specifically, without his consent, against his own choice.

The same moral principle and considerations apply to the issue of government research grants. [see the provisos].

...government jobs [provisos].

It is a hard problem [accepting government money], and there are many situations so ambiguous, and so complex that no one can determine what is the right course of action. That is one of the evils of welfare stateism: its fundamental irrationality and immorality force men into contradictions where no course of action is right.

All italics were in the original article.

Regarding the issue “welfare-state laws”, it is not a respect for the laws of the welfare-state, especially as it becomes as large as it is today. It is the issue of self-protection. You don’t expose yourself to the force of those laws unless it is unavoidable, which their laws attempt to achieve, or you can strike a very significant blow for freedom. The respect for law in a welfare-state has already been lost.

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No, and no. The virtue at issue here is the individual's morality. Morality isn't just doing the right thing when you think you will get caught it is doing the right thing because it is right. Do you or do you not agree that it is fraudulent to keep money that you know is not yours?

I specifically changed that response to fit the actual situation. He does know that the money doesn't belong to him. I'm not putting words in your mouth I'm fitting the words to the situation. Your example explicitly ignored the fact that he knew the money wasn't his. I was merely putting that fact back into context because it is his knowledge that makes this a moral question in the first place.

Government, your parents, the guy that owns the liquor store down the street... I don't care who it was, nor do I care what his rules are, I care about my morality. As I said. When you put down your morals at what point is it proper to pick them up? Perhaps you think that because a manufacturer produced a product that didn't live up to what you believed it was supposed to you have the right to rob that manufacturer from that point on.

Do you believe that the government in paying for his education is not acting in good faith?

So now you are saying that the only people whom you must treat fairly are those that treat you fairly first? What if you find out a man who has never done anything to you has cheated on his wife would you then feel justified in stealing from him?

This sounds far more like conspiracy theory than real life. You do realize that the vast majority of people who deal with the government are not ripped off as a matter of course don't you?

Another thing. Your excuse for not doing the right thing is that it's too much of a trouble? How much trouble is it to phone and talk to someone, write a letter and a cheque and send it registered mail, getting someone to witness what you put inside and watch you put it in the mail? Seriously, if that constitutes "significant time" then some lessons in time management are in order.

You still don't have the right to use the car. The correct course of action and one that will not incur any legal complications is to call them and tell them to get their car off your property.

This whole thing is not about the government, it's about the individuals moral action.

The question that is still being evaded is... is it moral to keep money you know you should not have been paid.

Yes or No.

*edit for typo

Zip, the nicest thing that I can say is that no one has suggested anywhere that anyone steal or not "do the right thing" (or are you changing the example so you could yell at another straw man?). The fact that you have jumped up and down and gotten excited is not a justification for accusing me or RH of doing anything, considering doing anything, or suggesting doing anything immoral. As the quotation from AR suggests, you missed a point. Telling me that "I don't have a right to use the car" when I suggested no such thing is an indication of your inattention to detail and the specifics of a moral discussion. The question was not "is it moral to keep money you know you should not have been paid". No one suggested that it was. The question was, what to do in regards to the government and its activities. That you do not understand the difference between today's government and a private citizen is concerning.

Your willingness to ignore the real, concrete issues in daily moral decisions is another thing. You say just "call them up". Are you serious? You come out and find a car sitting in your drive (your example). Who are you going to call? If there is a note, fine. But the car could be anyone's. The only thing to do is to call the police, tell them there is a car you don't own on your property, and ask their advise. Hopefully, they'll impound it and hope someone calls. After a while they'll claim it to be abandoned. But only you suggested that the homeowner use the car. Some other person's actions do require you to throw out your plans, your values and spend your time "doing the right thing". Yes, you could be too busy. If you're in a hurry, leave the damn thing. It's already sat there for hours. It is not a life and death situation. You fit it in as your judgment dictates.

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I’m sorry. I forgot the most important point!!! You can’t be morally blamed for wanting and keeping what has already been stolen from you. The government, our government is a thief. It forces you to pay money to them every year. Getting your money back, in whatever form you can is wholly justified.

DavidOdden alluded to this when he asked, "If you could get away with it, would you steal a government vehicle and sell it for cash on the grounds that you were taxed?"

Would you consider that justified? I don't think I would, speaking only for myself.

Personally, the moral dilemma to me here is that the money is the taxed productivity of anyone, not necessarily myself. In theory I would like to return it to the government to fund other legitimate purposes, such as the military, police, or courts, or to be refunded to tax-payers otherwise. In reality it won't be.

From Ayn Rand, “The Question of Scholarships”, The Objectivist, Vol. 5, No. 6, June, 1966.

Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it.

This is interesting, and now it makes me question my current intent to call the VA on Monday and attempt to return the money, out of my deliberately misplaced good faith in the government to act legitimately. Thank you for the quote, it is a new idea for me from Ayn Rand. I had assumed the moral action was not to participate in the welfare state whatsoever, until it chokes you to death, but that sounds a little too close to self-sacrifice.

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DavidOdden alluded to this when he asked, "If you could get away with it, would you steal a government vehicle and sell it for cash on the grounds that you were taxed?"

Would you consider that justified? I don't think I would, speaking only for myself.

Personally, the moral dilemma to me here is that the money is the taxed productivity of anyone, not necessarily myself. In theory I would like to return it to the government to fund other legitimate purposes, such as the military, police, or courts, or to be refunded to tax-payers otherwise. In reality it won't be.

This is interesting, and now it makes me question my current intent to call the VA on Monday and attempt to return the money, out of my deliberately misplaced good faith in the government to act legitimately. Thank you for the quote, it is a new idea for me from Ayn Rand. I had assumed the moral action was not to participate in the welfare state whatsoever, until it chokes you to death, but that sounds a little too close to self-sacrifice.

If you could steal something from an innocent person and sell it and get away with it you would be immoral. If you could take something from someone you knew had stolen from you you would be taking the law into your own hands and it would be wrong in most situations. Respect for law is more important. Taking things back from the government has lots of risks of which you want to be very careful. The government wants you guilty. As I have said repeatedly, in this situation, act for self-protection. That is why I would suggest at least a minimal documented effort to talk to them about it. Self-protection if they should actually track it down.

Another principle implicit in what AR argued is that the conflict is between you and the government. It has taken (or will soon) money from you. What the government is doing to other people is very important but does not alter what they are doing to you. There is no fairness issue. If someone has been able to safely avoid having their money taken, good for them. Notice how liberals attack corporations and "wealthy" people because they pay "less" taxes" and try to get people riled up. Don't fall into that trap. It is divide and conquer. Getting different groups to argue that the other should be taxes more. It is who should be eaten first or the most.

There was a lot more in the article that I didn't include that is important. From what I can gather many people do not know that AR wrote or editied a lot that is not in the books that you can find in the book store. Get copies of The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist, hell, The Ayn Rand Letter as well, and read them front to back. It will give you much more material.

Good Luck

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Personally, the moral dilemma to me here is that the money is the taxed productivity of anyone, not necessarily myself. In theory I would like to return it to the government to fund other legitimate purposes, such as the military, police, or courts, or to be refunded to tax-payers otherwise. In reality it won't be.
It most certainly won't be used for legitimate stuff. In your example, I guess it will be used for the same program it came from.
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  • 1 month later...

Legitimacy of government spending aside, they may very well come back for it. I have relatives (long since dead) who were given Social Security checks, but were morally opposed to any kind of government payments to them or anyone else, so they just put it away in a secure account distinct from their other assets. A number of years later, the Feds sent them a letter indicating that their checks had been too much by some amount, and would they please give it back? So, they did. Of course, the matter being resolved, they also pocketed the interest...

I think that's probably your best bet. Just tuck it away, give them a notice that you have the money and will return it to the proper agency. If they reply, great, give it back and they shouldn't bother you. If not, let it grow in something productive - better that it go into capital formation of some kind than down the drain called the Treasury's ledgers. "Sit on it" can often be a good policy until you get more or better information.

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