The president is actually channeling Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren when he told a rally in Roanoke:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
This is a view of society more utopian than real. Elizabeth Warren spelled it out even clearer last year:
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”–No!
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
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.
You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, 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 forward for the next kid who comes along.
Note that Warren and Obama both are trying to make the case that rich people don’t want to pay their “fair share” in taxes, and take advantage of all these nice things that are funded by the rest of us. In fact, the implication is that those who make less make possible roads, police, firemen, and other infrastructure when, in fact, government makes those things possible for their own sake. Whether there were private businesses or not, we would still have roads, police, and firemen to facilitate civilization — not help businesses make a profit.
And as far as taxes are concerned, not only does the businessman pay taxes, but his company is taxed as well. Using the logic of Obama and Warren, the businessman has more right to use those services because they pay more in taxes than ordinary Americans.
The rhetoric here implies that entrepreneurs don’t want to pay taxes for roads, public schools, and police officers. Of course, this view would be held only by the most extreme of anarchist-leaning libertarians. But let’s put that criticisms aside for now. Let’s also ignore the fact that state taxes — not the federal taxes that Warren would have power over as a senator — generally pay for all of these expenses. Even forgiving these seemingly relevant points, it’s hard to see how her argument makes any sense.
In fact, wealthy entrepreneurs as a group do pay more taxes than other Americans — a lot more. They pay higher rates, as I explained yesterday. And we can take that a step further: they pay many more actual dollars in taxes per capita. And yet everyone has equal access to those common good products, like roads, education, and security. This implies that the wealthy pays far more than their fair share.
The Obama-Warren vision is Utopian. Their idea of a “social contract” is a political invention and has nothing to do with the real social contract for which workers give a full days effort for a full day’s wage, policemen and firemen perform their jobs out of a sense of duty, not because the rest of us pay to protect rich people, and teachers teach in order to pass on knowledge to the next generation, not to enable a businessman to have an educated work force.
Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk wrote of a “voluntary community” where “the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.”
Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger. Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through cooperative volition. If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction—why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and human dignity.
The notion that it takes a village to build a business ignores the idea of a voluntary community and smacks of forced altruism. To Obama, we are all cogs in a machine with individual rights and achievements taking a back seat to a collective sense of worth imposed by a soulless government. This argument is now clearly not about taxes. It is about the state’s unlimited power to direct individuals to whatever ends that fit into its notions of a new kind of “social contract” that would destroy individual initiative.
That should be what this election is about.