Book Review: ‘The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law’

tuttle

Libertarian political thought is booming in the United States with hundreds of new books published on the subject every year. But almost none of those books have been aimed at younger students. LDS author and political activist Connor Boyack is trying to fill that void with a new book titled “The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law.”

The book follows the nine-year-old twins as they consult with a wise older man who is their neighbor as part of a school project. The man (named Fred) helps them consider just and unjust behavior and points out that immoral behavior does not become moral if members of the government do it.

Fred encourages the twins (named Ethan and Emily) to voluntarily give to others but points out that a government that steals from some people to give to others is a government that encourages pirate-like plunder.

One of the key exchanges is this:

“True laws protect people and their property from plunder,” Fred explained. “When true laws exist and are respected, people work hard to improve their lives and they work peacefully with others. Everyone prospers together and is happier.”
Ethan wrote down “True laws protect people.”
Fred continued, “When there isn’t any legal plunder, people rely on the kindness and service of others for the things that they need.”

Fred’s teachings are based on the 164-year-old book called “The Law” written by French author Frederic Bastiat. Bastiat was not an anarchist and favored some government but pointed out that government, even well-intentioned, justifies immoral acts in the name of collective action.

The Tuttle Twins book points out that it is moral for people to voluntarily give to others but it is immoral for people to expect the government to take from some people to give to others. It uses the example of Fred voluntarily giving tomatoes to his needy neighbor but says that if the needy neighbor hired the police to take the tomatoes it would obviously be immoral.

So, how did the Tuttle Twins book do with actual young people?

I read the book to my three young boys, ages 8, 6 and 3. All three of them were very interested — even the 3-year-old. All three of them know every well that stealing is wrong. They agree that hiring somebody else to steal for you is also wrong.

How does this apply to their understanding of government? Well, we will have to see, but at the very least they found the book interesting and asked many questions as we read it through. (To be fair, the three-year-old lost interest about two-thirds of the way through, but the two older boys were hooked).

This book will provoke the usual hatred from the usual people who have nothing but disdain for libertarians. I can already hear the whining about feeding propaganda to kids.

But I would make an alternate argument: progressives, liberals, socialists and traditional conservatives could use this book as a primer for beginning the discussion on what level of government is appropriate. Progressives could point out that government is needed to protect the poor who would be otherwise abandoned, etc. Bastiat’s works are important for any well-read person, so intellectuals of all kinds should not have a problem exposing their kids to “The Law,” and this book provides an easy way to do it.

Libertarianism has a huge practical problem that has been pointed out on M* and elsewhere: many libertarians say they want little or no government, but government continues to increase in size, so how can any libertarian expect their recommendations to ever be implemented? (For one answer to this question you can see this post.)

The Tuttle Twins book obviously does not address this issue, but parents reading to their children might be interested in doing so. In any case, speaking as the parent of five kids, I think it is important to have your kids begin to think about the Big Issues, even at a relatively early age.

Boyack plans on creating a series of books on the Tuttle Twins where he addresses various issues related to liberty. I welcome the next book in the series and can recommend the first book to parents of all political perspectives.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law’

  1. What I think is really nice about libertarians is that they think that transfer payments are about helping the poor. This desire to convert governmental inefficiency into increased individual charity is the best part, really.

    Ah, property law! The obsession of 7th century Germanic tribes haunts us still. If only all those centuries of human accretion were as simple as we would like it to be, in theory.

  2. DCL, I think you would agree that libertarians do not believe transfer payments are about helping the poor, but this is the argument libertarians inevitably face so it must be addressed. Transfer payments are about political power and rent seeking, as I’m sure you know.

    Property law has been the obsession of human beings since at least the time of Cain, as far as I can tell. Moses 5:33: “And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.”

  3. I am a libertarian, and do not think that government use of my moneys for welfare is “helping the poor.” In fact, current efforts are encouraging people to leave the job force and accept government assistance, rather than work hard to achieve the American dream. Libertarians believe we should encourage one another to voluntarily assist the poor on our own. Government should only be there to maximize freedom and entrance into the free markets (economic, ideas, etc).

    Rather than libertarians, it is Liberals/Progressives who think that transfer of funds is the best way to “help the poor.”

  4. 1. Is it possible (from your point of view) for a society to make a legitimate collective decision that is binding on those who disagree with it?

    A. If not, how can there be any government at all? How could there be an entity to enforce contracts or to act as a last resort to defend property rights? How could a society of more than one person function?

    B. If so, how can you set limits on what those collective decisions might entail without arbitrary decrees based on your values (which others might certainly disagree with).

    2. The argument appears to be the only justified government (and by extension government actions) are those I happen to agree with.

  5. JSH, 1)yes, it is called the US Constitution, which is completely and utterly ignored by progressives when inconvenient.

    2)Yes, you should have big problems with progressives who have ignored as inconvenient the founding document that set the terms of justified national government.

  6. The terms of the Constitution (meaning what government is allowed to do) go far beyond the principles of government implied by the examples you gave from this book.

  7. Rame, what about those who may be disabled and are not physically able to work, have no family able to support them, and perhaps because of their isolation are unknown to those who are willing to voluntarily assist the poor? Are there any circumstances in which you can see valid government support for vulnerable individuals?

    For me, I guess it’s always been about where you draw the line on this question. In Europe the emphasis tends to be towards accepting that some people will abuse the system but that is preferable to having even more vulnerable people “fall through the gaps” and suffer when that isn’t necessary. One downside of that (apart from higher taxes!) is that to a certain degree it lets the individuals “off the hook” in terms of helping their neighbour.

    What is the right balance between individual accountability and trying to ensure we have a system that does its best to catch every (or as close to as possible) vulnerable person out there? Because if it’s left to individuals it is inevitable more vulnerable people will suffer.

    I pose the question because I don’t have an answer….

  8. “Far beyond.” No. The Constitution was written and ratified by the colonies to set up a minuscule federal government. The federal government was intended to carry out national defense, the U.S. post office and a few other small duties. The vast majority of government was assigned to the states. In fact, until about 1910 the federal government only spent 2 to 3 percent of US GDP (now it spends in excess of 40 percent of U.S. GDP). If the federal government had stuck to its constitutional duties, there would probably be no such thing as libertarians/tea party conservatives, etc. It was the distortion of the Constitution by a long series of progressives and liberals (in both parties) that created our current mess.

    If you read the writings of Jefferson, Madison and even Adams, there was a clear understanding on the part of most of the Founding Fathers that taxation was theft but that a very small amount of theft was necessary to run a government. Study the Whisky rebellion to get an idea of how sensitive early colonists were to any taxation at all. On a national level, the only taxation permitted for decades was a tariff on imports and very small consumption taxes, which created a system where the vast majority of Americans paid almost no federal taxes.

    If your point is that the Tuttle Twins is an anarchist book and the Constitution is not an anarchist document, I would say that you are technically correct but you misunderstand the realities of the politics of the late 18th century in which all players understood Bastiat’s point that government should not be used, for the most part, to take money from some people and give it to others.

  9. JeffC, there is no system today and there never will be any system until the Millennium that takes care of every vulnerable person. It is inevitable that there will be some people who fall through such welfare systems. Just to use the example of the UK, consider all of the problems with the NHS and how many people cannot get treatment because of rationing. And then consider the budget deficit in the UK and the fact that the Bank of England is massively printing money, and it is obvious that eventually there *must* be further cuts in the NHS and national pensions, etc, etc.

    And then you consider demographics and the fact that there are fewer and fewer young working people and more and more older people to support….

    In the Western world, all welfare systems are houses of cards that will fall at some point. They are simply unsustainable.

    There are some very interesting private, voluntary initiatives to look at. In the United States there are a lot of private, voluntary mutual aid societies that were started before there was anything like welfare. I am talking about groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, the Lions, etc, etc., which were primarily aimed at the working poor. These groups would take small monthly payments from members and set up insurance plans, disability plans, pension plans and even college tuition support plans. If you think about it, this is what the Church does for poor members who are going through tough times. So, when government welfare systems inevitably collapse, I am optimistic that people will get together and form voluntary mutual aid societies along these lines.

    Note that such systems — voluntary rather than forced — are exactly in line with Bastiat’s approach.

  10. Geoff, having lived in the US and the UK I think I can safely say that the negative reporting of the NHS in the US is over-stated; and in the UK the negatives associated with the US healthcare model are over-stated.

    Here in the UK, the general public is overwhelmingly in favour of higher taxes in order to fund free public services that seek to protect the vulnerable. Yes, you’re right that no system will ever catch *everyone* (hence my putting “as close as possible” in brackets), but when you look at countries that don’t have such approaches to social care, including the US, there are far more vulnerable people on the streets and/or suffering without any support than in those countries with. At a societal level one could argue that is far more in keeping with the writings of Isaiah, where some of the greatest condemnations against Israel as a people were because the *society* as a whole didn’t look after the fatherless, widow, etc. I’m sure there were plenty of individual who did, but that didn’t save them.

    On the flip side, the US model certainly encourages greater individual responsibility for helping others in need, and I would agree that there are some fantastic organisations that have been established to support individuals do this. And one could argue that is far more in keeping with gospel principles for us to take personal responsibility for caring for our neighbour.

    So I think both approaches have their serious downsides, and both approaches can be defended or attacked on gospel principles. I tend to favour the European model because I think that does a genuinely better job at looking after the vulnerable, but I recognise that my views are largely informed by my upbringing (English parents) and the fact that I have lived the majority of my life in countries where that is the way things work: none of us has a truly objective worldview paradigm.

    So if I’m being honest, I really don’t know which is the better approach….

  11. JeffC, just a point of information: I think there is a huge misperception in Europe regarding US health care. Somehow people seem to think it is “free market health care” when it has not been anything close to that for more than 50 years. The third-party payer system started in the late 1940s began distorting the market in grievous ways because it inserted a third party (the insurance company) between the customer (patient) and the provider (doctor). The doctors had less and less incentive to keep costs down because customers stopped caring about costs because somebody else was paying for it. And then the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s on a national scale made the situation even worse. (Again, a third party was paying so customers stopped caring about costs). Obamacare has taken a very bad system and solidified the idea of third party payers with insurance companies basically becoming crony capitalists tied to a government-controlled system.

    So, in the United States the average person gets fairly decent care but at a huge cost because of the disincentives created by government and the third party payer system.

    I point this out because every single European I talk to about this (and I have talked to literally hundreds over the years because I used to work for a European company) will complain about “free market health care” in the U.S. when there really is no such thing.

    There WAS free market health care until the 1950s, and it worked very, very well for everybody, from rich to poor. If you were a working person you could see a doctor for a very inexpensive price. Doctors regularly made house calls because they saw patients as customers. If you were in an accident or were sick, hospitals would treat you and give you a long-term payment plan that was extremely affordable. And for the very, very poor there were free clinics and free hospitals run by the Catholic church and other charitable organizations. So the myth that the U.S. system left the poor behind is just that — a myth. The system was excellent until the government got involved and caused costs to skyrocket.

    I just want to be clear that the current US system is nowhere near the ideal. It is a government-controlled system that favors crony capitalist insurance companies and drug manufacturers. If we want to provide a true alternative, we need to return to the system we had before 1947, which worked quite well for everybody.

    (Anticipating your question as to why if the system worked so well the government got involved in the first place, you need to consider that there were wage and price controls during WWII in the U.S. So, companies could not offer higher wages to attract workers in a very tight labor market. They offered instead health insurance as a benefit. The government then set up in 1947 tax incentives for companies to continue to offer health insurance as a benefit, which was well-intentioned but ultimately created the market distortions I describe above).

    I would also continue to press the point that *the welfare state in Europe and North America is unsustainable.* It is not a question of IF it will collapse but WHEN it will collapse. You are seeing some hints of this in Greece and even in Sweden, where government benefits have been significantly cut back in the last decade. You cannot have a massive welfare state when people are not having children. The numbers just don’t add up.

  12. “So, when government welfare systems inevitably collapse, I am optimistic that people will get together and form voluntary mutual aid societies along these lines.”

    If mutual aid societies were exempt from the kind of pressures that would lead to the inevitable collapse of a republic’s institutions this would be grounds for cautious optimism indeed. But we know from long experience that there is nothing automatic about people working together to promote their collective interests; why that would be different in a future even more dystopian than the present is beyond me.

  13. Peter LLC, I think you are largely correct because we don’t know what the collapse will look like. A completely apocalyptic scenario (like that in 3 Nephi before Christ comes, for example) where people divide into tribes and there are virtually no government institutions would create some difficult circumstances. But let me give you a small example of how the marketplace is adapting right now to the disaster that is Obamacare. On the one hand, you have surgery centers that don’t accept insurance, Medicare and Medicaid offering extremely inexpensive surgery and putting their prices on the internet.

    http://kfor.com/2013/07/08/okc-hospital-posting-surgery-prices-online/

    This hospital is offering a way around the government-controlled system at very reasonable prices. In addition, you have reputable doctors in Panama and Mexico and other countries offering the same thing in an overseas setting at even better prices.

    Many hospitals are offering their own type of private insurance plan where you pay a monthly retainer (say, $300 a month for your entire family) and then pay tiny fees every time you use the hospital ($10 a visit).

    My argument would be that when Obamacare/Medicare/Medicaid collapse there will be mutual aid societies that develop that will help people pay for such services. The Church provides a hint at one model: if you are super-poor the Church already helps you out through fast offerings. But I think that when the welfare system collapses other churches and other charitable institutions will step up their private efforts to help people.

  14. Geoff B – as I say the reporting of our respective healthcare systems are generally mis-represented on both sides of the Atlantic….

    You make some valid points but I would firstly ask as to whether that pre-1950s set-up in the US is now being seen through those infamous rose-tinted spectacles as so many things in decades gone by are? Was there really NO poor who were abandoned? In the UK we had a virtually identical set-up with a free healthcare market pre- 1950′s, but the free hospitals for the poor run by the Catholic Church and other benevolent societies had notoriously bad reputations; and the current system (regardless of affordability, which is actually a different debate I think) is regarded by anyone who has studied UK health history as vastly superior.

    If a society, out of compassion, says “we want to ensure as far as we can that those who are vulnerable receive the help and support they need, and the best way we think we can do that is via the government” why is that fundamentally wrong?

    There are separate questions about how government operates, the roles of unions, politics getting in the way, etc, etc, etc, and these feed the affordability question. But I certainly see them as separate, even if related, questions.

  15. JeffC, there clearly were poor who were abandoned. But the system worked well for the vast majority of people, from the working poor to the rich. Yes, the charity hospitals were not perfect, but the reality is that today the very poor get almost zero health care at all in the U.S. because they cannot afford insurance and doctors’ officers charge at least $120 per visit for people without insurance. So, the system is significantly worse today than it was in, say, the 1920s. (Keeping in mind of course that technologically health care has improved significantly. I am talking about whether or not a poor person could actually find a doctor in the U.S. and work out a way of paying bills. In 1925, just about everybody could find a doctor somehow and work out a way to pay. In 2014, that is simply not the case for the extremely poor because *costs have gone up much worse than inflation*.)

    You ask, “If a society, out of compassion, says “we want to ensure as far as we can that those who are vulnerable receive the help and support they need, and the best way we think we can do that is via the government” why is that fundamentally wrong?”

    I would make two arguments as to why that is fundamentally wrong.

    1)It is a system of force rather than free will. People who don’t want to participate in the system are forced to. They are taxed and if they don’t pay their taxes they go to jail, and if they resist they are killed. This is a fundamentally immoral system. A Christ-like system is one of voluntary action to help the poor, not armed government agents forcing you to do something you don’t want to do.

    2)It is a fundamentally bankrupt and unsustainable system where people today are reaping the benefits and leaving the bill to their children and grandchildren or, in many cases, the children and grandchildren of other people. This is immoral in the same way it is immoral to go eat at a restaurant and then say that the next person who walks in should pay your bill. No, you pay your own bill and do not expect others to pay for you.

  16. Is it a system of force when the people democratically choose to have that system in place? I guarantee no political party would get into office if they were going to dismantle the NHS, so it is genuinely the will of the people. Yes there are some individuals who would choose not to pay, but if you argue on the basis that it is therefore immoral, then *anything* a government does through *any* taxation is immoral because there will always be those who would choose not to pay it if they could. Where a society has chosen this approach it could be reasonably argued that it is a *more* compassionate society and therefore one that is *more* in tune with Christ-like values. Why? because it places a higher value on compassion. (In saying that, I lived in the US for 10 years, so believe me I understand you’re not coming at this with a lack of compassion, but probably compassion in a different way; but it *could* still be argued that way).

    I have worked in the NHS, in private healthcare, and in the charitable health sector in the UK, and there is *no-one* who doesn’t think the current system is vastly superior to the free market health system we had before.

    The affordability is a problem, but as I say I think that is a separate argument, and even private health companies in the UK who would benefit enormously from a free market approach see ways of structuring our health market in a way that retains the “free-at-the-point-of-use” NHS, while becoming affordable to the country.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m fascinated that people can have such opposing views due largely to cultural upbringing! :-)

  17. JeffC, I appreciate the good-natured way you are approaching this discussion. Thank you for disagreeing in a polite, civil manner.

    You write:

    “Is it a system of force when the people democratically choose to have that system in place?”

    If there is one clear message we receive in every single General Conference, it is that morality is not dependent on majority rule. The majority of people in the Western world believe that sex before marriage is moral, yet God has told us it is not. The majority people in the Western world believe that pornography is “normal,” but the Church tells us all the time that it is not. We do not determine morality by what the majority of people want.

    If Jeff C lives in a neighborhood with 10 houses and nine of the 10 people vote to confiscate his house, it is wrong despite the fact that the majority voted for it. It is stealing and breaks one of the Ten Commandments.

    So, when the majority of people vote to confiscate money from “the rich,” it does not matter if the vote is 99 percent to 1 percent — it is still stealing.

    This was a viewpoint that was widely accepted in the United States and England up until about 100 years ago. Until then, taxation was very, very small for most people precisely because the majority of people accepted that taxation was theft and that only a very small amount of money should be stolen from people to run the very basic institutions in society.

    So, how do we return to a just society? We steal less from other people and we give more voluntarily. Every year we keep on stealing less and giving more voluntarily until we achieved the morally ideal society in which people will give voluntarily so that forced taxation will be non-existent or almost non-existent.

    Will we ever achieve this before the Millennium? Almost certainly not, but it does not stop me from pointing out the immorality of our current system in the hopes that, over the years, I may convince a few people or even cause a few people to think about it. I know I am tilting at windmills, but I could not live with myself if I did not take the opportunity once in a while to point out some simple moral truths.

    And with that, I will retire from this discussion. It is inevitable at this point that just about anything I write will be repetitious, and I am just not interested in repeating the same points over and over again. I have had my say. Peace.

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