Larceny by any other name

Steven Miller

Google the word larceny on the Web, and there, within the many definitions that come up, you'll find the sad intellectual plight of modern America.

Multiple sources define the word as "any wrongful taking of property." Others define it as "any unlawful taking of property."

Note the distinction: between wrongful and unlawful. While some people believe that taking others' property is simply wrong, others believe it's OK if some government law permits it.

Interestingly, Webster's goes back and forth on this question, and revealingly so. In 1913, in the initial heyday of American progressivism — Woodrow Wilson had just been elected president and Congress was imposing the federal income tax, while handing the U.S. dollar over to the Federal Reserve — Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary presented larceny as "the unlawful taking and carrying away of things personal with intent to deprive the right owner of the same. (Emphasis added.)"  

Seventy years later, during the Reagan administration, the 1983 edition of Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defined the word as "… the act of taking and carrying away the goods or personal property of another without his consent and with the intention of depriving him of it." No mention of government or law there.

Of course, in these definitions, we're dealing with differences of nuance and emphasis. Some people won't really see the distinction. They presume that anything unlawful is necessarily wrongful. And vice-versa.

Ultimately, however, when government expands beyond its rightful limitations, everyone but the unredeemable fanatic eventually gets it — perhaps even in the neck. The government-spawned genocides of National Socialism in Germany, "international" socialism in Russia, Maoist socialism in China and Khmer Rouge socialism in Cambodia should have made it clear by now: Between what a "law" says is proper and what actually is, there can be light years.

Nevertheless, both in Washington and Nevada we are beset by power-seeking mongers of government out to make sure the economic calamities they helped generate "don't go to waste."

What would "going to waste" mean? It would mean that they fail to turn the current government-precipitated economic difficulties into laws that give them huge new powers over you — and over the future of your children.

This is the meaning of the current race to pass a massive, coercive, government-run "health reform" regime, a coercive, government-run "energy" regime and huge new taxes. It is the story behind the Obama administration's demagogic and unlawful evisceration of Chrysler's secured creditors and the very concept of secured debt. It is the reason that an enraged Harry Reid, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, "blew a gasket" when a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate voted for a death tax of "only" 35 percent on estates, instead of the 45 percent Reid and Obama wanted. And it is the reason that the $787 billion "stimulus package" was passed and signed into law in February, even though its net economic effect is certain to be negative.

Finally, it is the story behind the Federal Reserve's monetary policy of "quantitative easing," through which your own government perpetrates forgery on a massive scale, transferring the wealth from your increasingly worthless dollars to the congressionally advantaged sharks that slide through the canyons of Wall Street.

At bottom, each of these cases constitutes a monumental instance of government-enabled larceny, the wrongful taking of private property.

The bad faith is revealed in multiple ways — the casual indifference to the inherent rights of property owners, the repeated ramming-through of legislation before Congressional representatives have read it, the emphatic lack of transparency from an administration that loudly promised the exact opposite and, of course, the administration's regular recourse to the impressively delivered but easily documented lie.

Clearly, the larceny here is to be an enabling crime: The transcendent goal, in every case, is to move control of American wealth and American life out of the hands of individual Americans and into the hands of these power-hungry, would-be commissars.

Indifferent to the principles of the American founding and scornful of the letter of the U.S. Constitution, this claque is attempting to pass its legislation before voters fully grasp what's happening.

These are ominous signals in an ominous time. If government agencies, under statutory law, attain more rights to your income prior to your rights, to that degree you effectively become their slave. Moreover, once the larceny involved is made "lawful," the essential nature of government — that it wields a legal monopoly on lethal force — can be set in motion against those who refuse to obey the "law."

It would be the ultimate theft: American liberty.

Steven Miller is the vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.