An acquaintance of mine has long made the argument that many government programs are unconstitutional (or at least unjust) because they take money from one person and give it to another. His argument is that we can only give the government rights that we ourselves possess. He argues that since I cannot rightfully take someone else’s property and give it to a third party, I cannot give the government the right to do that either. This argument misses the point.
What my acquaintance does not understand is the contractual nature of the Constitution. I can justly enter into a contract where a breach on my part gives the other party a right to my property. I can also enter into a contract where I agree to give my property to another person for their own personal use which allows collection by a third party. I think my acquaintance makes his mistake by assuming that the contract is between the government and the people. This is not true – the government is not an entity with the right to enter into a contract. Rather, the contract is between the individual members of the society. It is “We the People of the United States”, not “The government and the people contract as follows...”. The government was created as a part of that contract and was given powers that are derived from the collective rights of the people.
In exchange for my allegiance and tax dollars, the government agrees to “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare” among other things. I also agree that my interests will be represented by agents chosen by a plurality (sometimes a majority) of people within the district where I live. Most fundamentally, I agree that I will live in a democratic society and be subject to the will of the majority of the people around me. I also agree that my failure to comply with these terms will result in deprivation of property, liberty or even life. If I am unhappy with any of those terms, I can do my best to change them by electing new officials or changing the contract by passing an amendment to the Constitution or by moving to another area with a different contract. (To get out of the US Constitution, it would have to be a different country. Also, for those who don’t want to live under any contract, there are plenty of lawless places in the world.) By remaining in society and taking advantage of the benefits government provides, I am tacitly agreeing to the terms of the contract.
As part of that contract, we agreed that the government could take from some of us and give to others – a tax system. When the government takes my tax dollars and gives them to other people through public education, welfare, road building, and defense, it is not arbitrarily stealing my money, but it is acting pursuant to the terms of the contract. The government is taking money from parties to the contract and giving it out pursuant to the terms of the contract (this allows things like paying UN dues and foreign aid). It is not forcibly taking money from a third party who is not a party to the contract. Under this theory, any action taken by the government pursuant to the terms of the contract is permissible. Only those actions which are unconstitutional are impermissible.
So to my acquaintance and all of his kind, I say stop whining about how unconstitutional the system is because you are wrong. If the Constitution says we can do something, we can do it – end of story.
3-19 Update: I stated above that the government derives its power from the collective rights of the people. I didn't provide any support for the position - an oversight on my part. It does not however, change my point. The contract power of the individual can still give the government the same rights and powers that I described above for the exact same reasons.