To Whom Success Is Due

Recent statements by Obama have gotten a lot of (well deserved) attention already. As usual when Obama tells us what he really thinks, we Conservatives are just too stoopeed to comprehend the point, or we are taking the remarks out of context. Right. Well, what does Obama mean when he says “You didn’t build that”? Apparently his point was simply that people cannot take all the credit for their own success. But such a statement is totally vacuous if it is not meant to make a political point. So what is the political point? The political point is that successful people owe their success to the fact that the government made their success possible, and, therefore, they have a special obligation to pay the government for the services it provided them. This point is still vacuous, however, because it is basically an argument for a progressive income tax which, in case you haven’t noticed, is the existing government policy. In terms of what Obama would like to do with that policy, he has said that the wealthiest should pay more: in other words, according to Obama, the wealthiest are not currently paying income taxes in proportion to the extent to which they benefit from the services that government provides. But that is false: those with the highest incomes pay a greater portion of the overall revenue from income taxes than their share of the national income. The other possible political point is that the government needs to provide certain services. Again, vacuous: the government can provide necessary services, it also might “provide” many unnecessary ones. What services that only the government can provide does Obama want? Which ones are the “bad guys” trying to do away with? The answer to both questions is none. There are a great many unnecessary services that the government “provides” and many such services that Obama wants to create or expand (or has).

But, let’s deal, in a philosophical manner, with these points in a bit more detail. Obama says people owe their success (at least some of it) to great teachers or roads and bridges. These are government services, it is surely true that people may benefit from these services. But do the successful disproportionately benefit from these services? Put another way, why is life unfair? I have t0 admit I am a bit amused to learn that Leftists do not believe that some people succeed and others fail because of a cruel and angry God in whom they do not believe. It turns out it’s teachers. Yes, teachers choose to make some people successful and others not; in fact we may make a general statement that government services discriminate systematically to make certain people successful and others not. One has to wonder, if government services are so profoundly biased and unfair, why we would want the government to be the provider of services at all. Well, either that or one cannot attribute a few people’s success to services provided to people who failed, too. But on a less facetious level, it is worth noting that, in a capitalist economy, one would not have obligations to those who have provided services or goods for one’s use. One pays the price the offerer asks for their services-or one demonstrates how little one actually desires the service by not bothering. It is by forcing some services to be done through the government that you create a situation where someone “owes” another party for their services, but does not pay. Who are the greatest beneficiaries, and to whom is the most owed? The answers are, the government’s friends, and the governments enemies. Are there services which only the government can provide? The first that springs to mind is national defense. But every person benefits equally from that crucial service, and yet about half of the people pay nothing for this service (crucial point here: for this service. While Social Security and other things that payroll taxes pay for are arguably not necessary services, such taxes are in-arguably not supposed to pay for national defense). I would certainly agree that people should pay for services they receive. If such services cannot be provided by private entities (cannot does not mean the same thing as “currently not” as Leftists inevitably interpret this) the solution to this problem is called user fees, or in the case of services which a person may not choose to forgo a head tax-not a progressive income tax. In point of fact, however, Leftists do not agree with the principle that people should pay if they receive a service-they strongly reject this proposition as unfair when it applies to making those people who they like pay for things Leftists think should be given to them for free. But a more fundamental problem is that, even if they were being serious in proposing such a principle, the Left believes a great many things must be done by the government, that frankly don’t need to be. We might be able to maintain true fairness (those who benefit, pay), if we adopted the aforementioned principle and then had the government provide most services, but never as well as the private sector could. In fact in many cases it would only remain “those who benefit, pay” in the sense that many would not benefit at all and therefore have no obligation. But more importantly, people would not decide for themselves if they were in the group of those who benefit, and pay, as in the capitalist economy; the people who would benefit, and pay, would be arbitrarily determined by the government-the only difference from the current situation being that the government cannot make those who benefit and those who pay two different groups of people. The real alternative is capitalism.

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

~Frédéric Bastiat


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