In last week’s incredible gaffe (“If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”) President Obama expressed an idea about the government and the people that most Americans do not accept. And it wasn’t his idea alone.
Elizabeth Warren, the ultra-liberal Massachusetts Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, used almost exactly the same words some months ago: “You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for….” That fact is, representatives of the American Left have expressed the same sentiments repeatedly over the years.
Set aside that all of us – not “the rest of us” – pay for everything our state and local governments do. Set aside that if federal dollars are the question, only the upper 60 percent of earners – and mostly the upper 30 percent – have paid for anything in recent years. Thanks to changes in the tax law, Federal revenue has become increasingly – some might say dangerously – dependent on higher earners.
“Dangerously” because, as California has discovered, top earners tend to have highly volatile – boom, bust – incomes, magnifying downswings of government revenue during a recession. “Dangerously” also because it isn’t healthy when government depends too much on one slice of the people for its funding, no matter which slice of the population that is. But most of all “dangerously” because the increasing concentration of taxation at the top has opened the door to championing a new (for the United States) relationship of the individual to the state — and this is just what the president has done.
That new view comes down to this. If so much as a sewer line passes before your house and you hook up to it, we (controllers of the state) own you. Private activity exists only at our (the state’s) sufferance. No personal risk, no creative insight, no dogged exertion, no right of property, nothing overcomes the primacy of the state’s claim on you and all you produce.
Another thought, less frequently expressed, is part of this view: highly successful private activity is a scam. To Balzac is attributed, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” This attitude about the illegitimacy of private achievement – private property, too – comes up again and again in the American and global Left, and it seems implicit in the fury of the president’s rant.
It is as if he were stuck in old Europe, where the people were subjects, that is, serfs to the state, which had first claim on everything. America has always been very different. It is the creation of free and independent citizens. The state belongs to us.
Put another way, to most of us, America is “we” the people. But the idea behind the president’s rant was “you” the people.
The president should consider that he is pointing the accusatory finger in exactly the wrong direction. For months he has been saying that his administration has “created” jobs, meaning private as well as public sector jobs. Many economists now believe that every new public sector job comes at the expense of even more private sector jobs. Through its taxing and borrowing, government hogs resources that in private hands would create even more employment.
But isn’t the point of private sector job creation that it is the product of private effort – from small business and entrepreneurs to giant corporations and everyone in between? Government can get in the way or out of it. Our problem has been that in the last four years government has too often and in too many ways got in the way.
So when the president starts boasting of creating new jobs – a claim that underpinned last week’s rant as well – shouldn’t the rest of us respond: “You didn’t do that. Some one else made that happen.”?