Two weeks ago, I submitted an article questioning the legitimacy of the $180 per year each of us pays to support various third party student groups on campus, due to my disdain for coerced payment and participation. Last week, there were two very well written responses criticizing my article: one from Brea Hutchinson and John-West Carvalho, and the other from Evan Brockhest. Both articles focused on three reasons why student levies are justifiable: (1) They accomplish great things, like funding charities; (2) Levy-groups are held accountable for their spending and their finances are transparent; and (3) The levies are decided through a democratic process, and therefore must be legitimate.
However, neither article focused on the main idea of my original article: that mandatory levies, acquired by non-voluntary, coercive means, are wrong and unjustifiable. What difference does it make if levy groups accomplish great things, whether they spend other people’s money in a transparent way, or if 51% of students decided a mandatory levy for group X is a good idea? The fact is, most of these fees are non-voluntary and acquired by forced transfer. Allow me to put this issue in more “hyperbolic” terms to appease Evan.
Let’s say I share an apartment with Timmy and Susan. One day, at an apartment meeting, Susan and I decide to take all of Timmy’s things, donate them to the less fortunate, and to catalog everything we take and who we gave it to just so Timmy knows. We met all three criteria of “good organizational behavior!” We accomplished great things, by helping somebody far poorer than Timmy, we were very honest with him about where his stuff went and were very transparent, and we decided everything democratically!
Is justice served because of the outcome of our actions? Or do we naturally believe this infringement on Timmy’s rights to be wrong despite the benevolence, transparency, and democratically decided decision? Clearly, (1) means are morally relevant; just because you are doing “good” things with other peoples’ money doesn’t mean you have the right to take it without consent; (2) accountability is irrelevant when you’re spending other peoples’ money who didn’t give it to you voluntarily; and (3) democracy is not a valid mechanism to infringe on the rights of the minority. What about the 49% who voted no? Do they have no rights to their property in the TCSA’s vision of democracy? Not to mention the fact that voter turnouts at TCSA elections are notoriously low; who knows what students actually want?
I believe both commentators misread my article. I agree that many of these groups are productive, transparent, and that a large majority of students at Trent support them. I object to the fact that the TCSA has the right to impose mandatory fees on me in ways that “the majority” decides. The minority ought to be safeguarded from the tyranny of the majority. I support charity. Clearly, at least 51% of Trent students do too, or some of these fees wouldn’t exist. We would still support the groups that accomplish great things without force, because they accomplish great things.