It does seem that if you’re on the one side, perhaps a bit left of center, and probably a Democrat, that your first priority when looking at presidential candidates would be how likely this or that candidate would be to look to public, government funded solutions to our problems, being not convinced that the private sector could do it all. And in particular how likely the candidate would be to protect those entitlements including free public schooling, health insurance, and social security, that have clearly made life better for millions of beneficiaries.
And if you’re on the other side, a bit right of center, your first priority when sizing up the presidential candidates might be to hear how they would protect individuals, and states, from further federal encroachment into their (individuals and states) lives and activities. Also, you’d want to hear your candidate on how he or she would keep governmental rules and regulations, and taxes, at a minimum, thereby allowing individual entrepreneurs with good ideas to grow their ideas and prosper.
If you’re in the middle like, alas, too few of us, no where near enough of us (I haven’t even mentioned all those at either extreme, there being a rapidly growing number of these, —actually here and most everywhere in the world), you would look for candidates who would do both, protect our entitlements and protect us from the regulatory excesses of our government, even though in important respects the one is the inverse of the other, more of the one meaning less of the other, and less of the one meaning more of the other.
And that’s the kind of the situation we have now, the ones, Republicans, always trying to undo the others, Democrats, and vice versa. Republicans rage against regulations and taxes and haven’t yet found a place where they might stop. Nor have the Democrats promising more and more of everything to all us us, and thereby growing the entitlement culture, haven’t yet said to themselves, let alone to the rest of us, that this is enough.
Yes, I know, it’s crazy. On the one hand our government is not affluent enough, in fact has no money of its own, to permit the Democrats to continue to grow the entitlement portion of the budget. And on the other hand the rest of us including the Republicans can’t get along without, certainly can not live comfortably, without a fairly substantial number of rules and regulations, and taxes.
Crazy, because while it’s common sense that governments and individuals depend upon, need one another our Washington elites act as if they didn’t. Crazy because so many seem to have forgotten, or never learned just how dependent the ones are on the others.
And they are what history is most about. For our history is mostly about kings and other such tyrants and their more or less violent oppression of their peoples, mostly about their depriving the individual of his rights. On occasion history does record the other side, that occasional rebellion, for example, when the people, made up of individuals, a fact often overlooked by those rebelling, such as right now in the Middle East undergoing the Arab Spring, that rebellion when the people take back, if only for brief periods, what they claim was in fact their own.
There is, of course, the social contract, made much of throughout the 17th. and 18th. centuries in Europe, as well as at the moment of the founding of our own country, the “contract” being a kind of balancing act between freedom and responsibility (between Republicans and Democrats?). Unfortunately our people, and our presidential candidates too often fall on one side or the other of the contract, forgetting that both sides are equally essential to the contract’s realization, as well as to the ongoing health and strength of the entire country.
I found it rare, and refreshing to read in the news and to hear on UTube last month these words from Elizabeth Warren, now a democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she said at a campaign event. “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. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . .”
Well said, I said to myself, if in fact factory owners do forget how much their own accomplishments depend on the work and contributions of others they should be reminded of this. But Ms. Warren goes too far. She assumes that those who build and then profit from the factories (and other industries) are not, doing what? paying taxes? For she says,
“You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Ms. Warren is clearly incorrect to imply that those businessmen who benefit from the roads leading to and from their business, from a highly skilled and well educated work force (although it’s not at all clear that this is the product of our public schools), from having a police and fire department ready to respond to their calls (and she might have mentioned many other benefits, not the least of them being clean air and water), to imply that these people do not take a big “hunk” of what they have earned and turn it over to the government in support of future generations of others much like themselves.
In this regard many have pointed out Ms. Warren’s error, as well as that of the President who says much the same thing. Here, for example, is Russ Roberts writing in today’s WSJ:
“Ms. Warren implies that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. I’m not sure what that is, but they’re already paying a lot of taxes. In the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office, from 2007, the top 1% of households paid 28.1% of all federal tax revenue—income taxes, payroll taxes and so on—for a total of $722 billion. That would buy plenty of roads, police and fire protection—and plenty of education, too.”
The question, the one that Ms. Warren never asked, really should be, not whether the rich should be taxed, and taxed in some relation to their riches, but how much of their income should go to the federal government. Is there a limit? Some of us feel, not unreasonably (the top 1% of households paid 28% of all federal tax revenue) that the limit may have already been reached.
In any case our tax laws are badly in need of revision. Ms. Warren ever the “regulator” ought to have talked about this. But instead of proposing fundamental revisions our political leaders, with Ms. Warren perhaps about to become one herself, fall either on the side of more entitlements, more spending, and more taxes, or on the side of reigning in the three of them and thereby reducing the place of government in our lives.
The tragedy (comedy) is that the opposition between our political parties seems to be working primarily to maintain the opposition, to strengthen the opposed positions, rather than to the benefit of anyone. Yes it’s crazy.