“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.”
Those words Obama was speaking actually belong to Elizabeth Warren:
“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.”
Both Obama and Warren are correct but what they are making is a strawman argument. With the exception of a few Rand-y libertarians nobody is arguing that we have no mutual obligations to each other. Without an implied social contract we would live in a Hobbesian state of nature where life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”
At the other extreme would be pure communism, where there would be no concept of “private property” and everything would belong to everyone equally. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” That utopian vision hasn’t worked out so well either.
The dispute isn’t whether we need government:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”
The dispute is how much government we need, how much it should cost and who should have to pay for it. Most people would agree that we need infrastructure, police, firefighters, teachers and a military. But agreeing that we need those things doesn’t mean we agree how much we should pay for them. It also doesn’t mean we agree where control of those things should lie – i.e. at the local, state or federal level.
There is somewhat less agreement when it comes to social welfare spending. There is still a consensus on the need to help children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as temporary aid to the unemployed. Many people balk, however, at the idea of providing support for the able-bodied who will not work.
Like it or not, capitalism is the driving force in our economy. It depends on concepts like free enterprise, free markets, profits and private property. It provides the wealth that makes taxation possible. But too much taxation will kill the golden goose.
How much is too much?
As for who should have to pay for government that is a question open to endless debate. The poor have no money to tax. There are not enough rich people to pay for everything, even if we found a way to make them do it. That leaves the middle class.
It’s fairly easy to demagogue and convince people they are paying too much while someone else is getting off to easily because nobody wants to pay more than their fair share. But wanting to pay less in taxes does not automatically make you greedy, selfish or racist. Nor is there anything wrong with taking advantage of “loopholes” to reduce your tax burden.