Should Ron Paul apply for, or accept, matching funds from the government for his political campaign? Would he be justified in doing so? Or, more generally, what is the libertarian position on anyone accepting any monies from the state for whatever reason?
Many libertarians argue that all such financing should be strictly eschewed. For is not government in general, and the U.S. version of this curious institution in particular, an organization simply incompatible with libertarian principles? Yes, this cannot be denied. Governments necessarily tax their victims, that is, rob from them. They also prevent others from supplying supposedly quintessential "governmental" services in competition with them, for example, army, police and adjudication offerings.
Further, the state receives all of its money from only three sources, all of which are entirely illegitimate: taxes, inflation and borrowing. Tax levies are blatant and outright theft. If you do not believe this, try not paying them and see what happens to you. Governmental printing up of money, whether directly through the printing press or indirectly via fractional reserve banking, is nothing less than counterfeiting, a form of fraud, which is equivalent to theft. And, as for borrowing, anyone who lends money to the state apparatus is complicit in its evil doings. When libertarianism supplants present institutional arrangements, these bonds will not be repaid.
Given that this is the case, accepting money from the government, it is argued, is indistinguishable from accepting stolen goods or merchandise. Perhaps this ought to be a crime, severely punished by some future libertarian Nuremberg court.
But wait; there are difficulties here. For the modern state is so involved in the lives of its citizens that it is the rare individual who does not accept some form of government largesse, whether in the form of money payments, services, or goods of one type or another.
For example, while not everyone goes to a public school or teaches there, it is the rare individual who does not: walk on statist sidewalks, drive on public roads, carry currency in his pocket, avail himself of the services of governmental libraries, museums, parks, stadiums, etc. Which of us has not entered the premises of the motor vehicle bureau, sued someone in court, posted a letter, attempted to attain a passport, or interacted with government in any of the thousand and one other ways it touches upon our lives? And this is to say nothing of seeking government permissions for commercial purposes, accepting social security payments, voting, taking an air flight (where we are "protected" by the security apparatus).
If it is per se illegitimate for a libertarian to accept anything of value from this evil institution, then there are very few people who act fully compatibly with this philosophy: maybe a hermit or two. The implication here is that we are all guilty of the crime of statism; under a regime of full, complete and impartial justice, we would all be in jail.
The error in this thinking, I suggest, stems from failing to view government as precisely the moral monstrosity it is. There is one fictional character who did not make this mistake: Ragnar Danneskjold, one of the heroes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He knew full well and so should we, that the state (in my view, any state, in his view, any government that exceeded its proper limited bounds) is a thief, and should forthwith be relieved of its ill gotten gains. Yes, one justification for using roads, a regulated bank, the post office, a public library or park, is that the money to build and administer these amenities was mulcted from the taxpayers, and therefore in utilizing them one is "only getting one's money back." I go further, however. Even if someone came from Mars yesterday, and thus paid not a single iota in taxes in the past, he would still be justified in taking government wealth.
Why is this, if the Martian libertarian cannot rely upon the argument that he is merely reclaiming his (or his parents') stolen wealth? This is because the state as thief simply has no right to this booty. Better that any non statist posses this wealth than the thieving state. Yes, of course, there will arise the question of whether and to whom and how these monies are to be returned to their rightful owners, but this complication cannot be allowed to get in the way of appreciating the primordial moral fact that the state has no legitimate claim to this wealth.
May anyone properly seize state wealth in this perspective? No. Only non statists may legitimately do so. Not Halliburton nor Bechtel; not Hillary nor Rudy. They are all supporters of statism. They are all members in good standing in the ruling class. But Ron, and also the average guy in the street, may do so. They have no blood on their hands. Indeed, it is a positive mitzvah for people of this sort to relieve the government of its stolen property.
Would Ron be wise to accept government matching funds? No, despite the fact that he would be justified in doing so. This would be a gigantic pragmatic mistake. First of all, these monies come replete with all sorts of strings attached. My admittedly imperfect assessment of this situation is that the gains would not be worth these costs. Second, and more important, there are very few libertarians who agree with me on this analysis. Most take the position that it is illegitimate to accept funding from the government. Why should Ron split his supporters at this particular point in time, and on such an abstract, abstruse and complicated issue? Third, and most important, one of the major benefits of Ron's candidacy is that so many, many people are now hearing about libertarianism for the first and only time from one of the best and most attractive spokesmen for this philosophy we have ever had. For him to accept government matching funds would confuse the message in the minds of these newcomers. This is a complex enough issue as to be divisive within the libertarian community; very few of those we now hope to attract to the movement for liberty will be able to appreciate the deontological points sketched out above.
Let us conclude by now directly addressing the questions posed at the outset. Should Ron accept government matching funds? He would be very unwise to do so, despite the fact that there is nothing in the libertarian legal philosophy that would be violated by such an action. Should the rest of us stop availing ourselves of government "services"? Not at all. The problem is not when the government returns wealth to us; the rights violation occurs when the state seizes our income.