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Behind the Lines: All together now
First Published Sep 10 2012 09:00 am • Last Updated Sep 10 2012 09:00 am

Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.

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Lambson: Bill Clinton delivered what indeed was a rousing speech. Who wouldn’t rather live in a "we’re in this together" society than a "winner take all" society? Certainly no true American can refuse to "champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor, the cause of forming a more perfect union."

Wait a minute. That wasn’t the cause. That pledge comes from the Declaration of Independence, which asserted rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution came later, with the purposes of creating a more perfect union and securing the blessings of liberty, among others. Liberty seems to be the common theme. What does a "we’re in this together" society even mean?

Bagley: It’s implied in the first word of the Constitution: "We." In fact, the entire preamble to the Constitution is one big "we’re in this together." Certain Southern gentlemen once took exception to so much togetherness and loudly left the Union to preserve their "Freedom and Liberty." It is worth noting that the freedom they were so cussedly determined to preserve was the freedom to own another human being.

Also, like it or not, we humans are social animals.


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Lambson: What is it with you Democrats looking for subtle nuance in two-letter words like "is" and "we"? Like you, I think slavery is wrong when it entails forcing human beings to work in the fields and expropriating the fruits of their labors. Unlike you, I think slavery is ALWAYS wrong, including servitude to government. Part of the founders’ cause referenced by the former president was to escape the yoke of onerous taxation.

Also, like it or not, we human beings are not social animals in the same way bees and ants are. "We’re in this together" is often used to try to elicit ant-like collective action leading to wars and other atrocities.

Bagley: Welcome to the Beehive State. To early Mormons the beehive was a symbol of working for the common good. Religion and any moral ethical code worth its salt correctly stresses our interconnectedness. And do you really want to equate paying taxes with being a slave in antebellum Dixie?

Lambson: Religion correctly stresses our interconnectedness while allowing for individual choice. This was reflected in the national motto suggested by Benjamin Franklin: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." All analogies break down when pushed too far. The beehive is no exception. Neither is the comparison of slavery in antebellum Dixie with the servitude inherent in current taxation. Of course the former is far more egregious. But they are both a form of servitude.

Bagley: Franklin also said, " We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." You, of course, are free to choose to opt-out of our American social compact and keep all your money. I hear Somalia is relatively tax-and-government-free.

Lambson: The trick is to navigate between the Scylla of dictatorship and the Charybdis of anarchy without drifting into either. The United States of America has been very successful in doing so, largely due to the genius of the founders, but it is not immune. Jefferson was right that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I would rather be vigilant from here than from Somalia. I hope you don’t mind.

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