How odd it is, then, that they should also be the folks who harbor an unshakeable belief that the universe is a stingy, scarcity-driven machine whose iron law is that if A does well, B must do poorly. I cannot improve upon Mr. O’Rourke’s summary of this Weltanschauung:
There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney‘s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got—with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners.
In this zero-sum universe there is only so much happiness. The idea is that if we wipe the smile off the faces of people with prosperous businesses and successful careers, that will make the rest of us grin.
There is only so much money. The people who have money are hogging it. The way for the rest of us to get money is to turn the hogs into bacon.
Mr. President, your entire campaign platform was redistribution. Take from the rich and give to the . . . Well, actually, you didn’t mention the poor. What you talked and talked about was the middle class, something most well-off Americans consider themselves to be members of. So your plan is to take from the more rich and the more or less rich and give to the less rich, more or less. It is as if Robin Hood stole treasure from the Sheriff of Nottingham and bestowed it on the Deputy Sheriff.
This view of the world has many unpleasant policy corollaries. It redefines a certain species of stinginess as the higher generosity and it fans the flames of resentment and envy at the expense of ambition and hard work. And it has this effect not just domestically, but also internationally. And it is in terms of international politics, in terms, that is, of America’s place on the world stage, that Mr. O’Rouke’s argument really gets traction. The question is, he says to the president,
“whether you want to convince the international community that zero-sum is the American premise and redistribution is the logical conclusion.”
I would argue that the world doesn’t need more encouragement to think in zero-sum terms or act in redistributive ways.
Western Europe has done such a good job redistributing its assets that the European Union now has a Spanish economy, a Swedish foreign policy, an Italian army, and Irish gigolos.
Redistributionist political ideologies, in decline since the fall of the Soviet bloc, are on the rise again. Will you help the neo-Marxists of Latin America redistribute stupidity to their continent?
Et very much cetera.
The fundamental mistake that Leftists make concerns the bounty of the world. It is much, much greater, potentially, than they admit. Conservatives (I do not mean Republicans) tend to be cautious spenders not because they believe the zero-sum scenario, but because of just the opposite. They know that growth is the ticket to sustainable largess and that overspending hampers growth. It is sometimes said that Leftists are people who believe in a perpetual Santa Claus domiciled in Washington, D.C., not the North Pole. In fact, as Mr. O’Rourke suggests, conservatives have a much warmer appreciation for Santa Claus. It’s just that they know he is an avid capitalist. It is Leftists like President Obama who are telling the world “to go sit on the Grinch’s lap instead of Santa’s.”
It’s sour, crabbed, Scrooge-like advice. Don’t take it.