How much do we owe each other?


“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.


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44 Responses to How much do we owe each other?

  1. myiq2xu says:

    I don’t think it’s the idea of sharing your success with the people that helped you get there that bothers people. It’s the idea of being forced to share with people who had nothing to do with it.

  2. votermom says:

    Talk about a problem with messaging – one of the things that drives people up the wall about these two speeches by Warren & Obama is the tone. The sheer, arrogant, lecturing, finger-wagging tone by two people who have lived in ivory towers of privilege and have no idea how much work a business creator puts in, how much anxiety and stress they go through.
    “Never made payroll in their life” resonates with small biz owners for a reason.

    • myiq2xu says:

      Every small business owner with employees knows that there are people out there who are unwilling to work.

      When I was operations manager for a uniformed security company we were always looking for guards. We paid minimum wage but the requirements were really low – you had to be eighteen and have no criminal record.

      We provided the uniforms, all they needed was black shoes. The work was boring but easy. It was not dangerous.

      We had a high turnover rate.

    • Lulu says:

      The progressives are scolds. They bitch at people rather than explain. That is the beauty of Bill Clinton. He could explain without bitching, whining and scolding. They are also blind to their own faults which makes them rather stupid, very shallow and humorless. And I am bored with them so I am tuning them out and if I am so are more and more people.

    • leslie says:

      Please see my comment @ 6:38.

  3. myiq2xu says:

    Imagine the screams if in order to get welfare you had to show up five days a week and work, even if it meant spending the day picking up trash or digging holes and filling them in. No sitting at home and collecting a check for doing nothing.

    Progs already freak out over the idea of drug testing welfare recipients. Don’t they have any idea how that goes over with the working poor?

    • yttik says:

      One problem is that welfare has actually become more profitable than working. You get your housing, medical, food stamps, and you don’t have to pay for gas to get to work. From a purely financial perspective, it’s more logical for many people to be on welfare than to work. Many people on welfare are better off than the working poor.

      It’s a bit like Obamacare, you can struggle to be able to afford 24,000 a year in insurance premiums or pay a fine, or you can just go on the dole and try to qualify for medicaid. After a while, people are going to just give up. There’s also going to be resentment, like I might as well take from the government, since they took away my ability to make it on my own.

    • elliesmom says:

      No, they have no idea. One of the few heated political arguments elliesdad and I have is over welfare. He says let the lazy bums stay home and collect their checks. If you require them to do anything for their checks, then you have to create a bureaucracy to manage whatever it is you’re asking them to do. Cheaper to just add $$$ to their ATM cards every month. And he really doesn’t appear to mind that he’s killing himself working 80 hour weeks while they just collect some of his wages every month. While I concede his point that it’s costing him less to just pay them, I have seen firsthand what generational dependency on welfare does to kids. Seeing Mom and Dad getting up and going to work everyday, no matter what they’re doing as long as it’s legal, is important for kids.

    • wmcb says:

      Progs wax lyrical over all that FDR did during the depression, and rightly so. But they’d scream bloody murder over his programs now. Because he set up WORK for the poor. They built dams, and dug ditches, and cut roads. They were paid less than a priavte enterprise would have been for that work. And many lived in freaking hastily constructed barracks in work camps. Not to mention they had to move to where the work programs WERE.

      If anyone tried that today, they’d be accused of slave labor.

      • myiq2xu says:

        Some of them got paid to sweep streets and sidewalks with a broom.

      • elliesmom says:

        Back in the old days of Digital Equipment Corp., when Ken Olsen headed up the company, he would pay engineers full salary to paint the lines in the parking lot to keep from laying them off when business was down. Those folks would have donated body parts to Olsen if he had needed them. Today DEC is part of the Intel Evil Empire and no such loyalty exists on either side. But I’m not sure that the young engineers who work there now would have been willing to actually go out and do the manual labor that Ken asked. I think most of them would rather be laid off – as long as the severance package was generous.

        • wmcb says:

          My husband’s very young grandfather left his family in southern Italy to go help build the railroad in north Africa. He was gone for several years. He lived in work sheds. Because it was a job, and he had to support his family. That’s one of the reasons they were able to save enough for eventual immigration to the US.

          We have gotten soft in this country (and yes, I realize that this includes me to some extent.). One of the reasons immigrants kick our asses on the job front is because of that “suck it up now, and the next generation will have it better” attitude. They are not working for success for themselves so much as working for success for their kids and grandkids. Determination and patience.

  4. jeffhas says:

    I don’t mind paying taxes, or paying for others who need legitimate help….

    It’s the ‘what am I paying for’ that hurts sometimes. You only need so many Solyndra’s, Fisker’s, Food Stamp Fraud, GSA conferences, and Fast and Furious’… Before you’re Furious over how Fast the Government spends your money unwisely.

    Get your own house in order before you ask me to pony up more. If I spent recklessly on failure after failure, with no repercussions or explanations, well, I’d be out of business or thrown in jail or both pretty quickly.

    It’s the utter stupidity with which they spend my money that makes me not want to give them more.

    Fix that FIRST, then we’ll talk… In the meantime, I will vote to reduce your size so you have less to be reckless with.

    • Lulu says:

      +1000
      Democrats used to be very good at the administration of bureaucracy. I think of James Lee Witt at FEMA under Clinton. Now it is Chicago rules which means graft, pay to play, and ultimately bankruptcy. It isn’t just corruption but stupid piled on top of corruption.

    • wmcb says:

      HONK! This, and the outright lies when anyone says what you just said. The fuckers in DC squeal like stuck pigs when you even suggest not growing spending at as fast a clip as they want, much less cuts. For instance, Ryan’s budget doesn’t even get us back to Clinton era spending levels, but they lie and wail that govt won’t be able to function and the poor will starve. Bullshit.

      We are all sick of it. Our govt functioned well and provided services just fine for most of my life, on MUCH less than now. We weren’t Somalia in 1970, or 1980, or 1994. So don’t throw up your hands and screech doom and armageddon and the needy thrown to the wolves at the idea of doing it again. You lie.

  5. elliesmom says:

    If having a teacher who inspired you, or a city or town who built a road past your business is what made successful people successful, then a lot more people would be successful. Warren and Obama have no idea what it takes to make it in the business world. Maybe because they both are affirmative action hires, they don’t even know what it feels like to compete without being given a hand-up so they assume everyone else has been given a hand-up, too..

  6. yttik says:

    What’s the point of their argument?? Of course we’re an interdependent culture and we all have to pitch in to produce the infrastructure we have that makes success for people possible. That’s why we pay sales tax, fed income tax, property tax, SS tax, medi tax, labor and industries tax, storm drain tax, FCC tax, city business tax, business and occupations tax, lodging tax, a tax on paper grocery bags, tax on cigs and liquor, gas taxes….etc,etc.

    We pay dozens of taxes to various branches of government every single day. We’re dirt poor, but if you add up our city, country, state, and fed taxes, it amounts to 30% of our income. One third! I bet if others added up all the property tax, sales tax, etc, they’d come up with a similar percentage. It’s staggering how much of our money goes to the Gov. Right off the bat SS is 12.4%, medi is 6.2%, sales tax is 9%.

  7. leslie says:

    You are absolutely right. It’s the tone. It’s the finger pointing. It’s the “I know better” and “Let me tell you”. It’s the “You owe me”. And Obama reminds us over and over and over again just how much we owe. And when he’s done, it begins all over again.

    Amazingly enough, when the time come to pay the piper, and we have paid what we are told our fair share is, the money goes to other countries, or idiotic wars, or programs that continue the people’s dependence on government. We do nothing to encourage independence or personal responsibility. And then we are lectured and chided again.

    I believe that in the end, the ony responsibility we have (in the eyes of these politicians) is to keep them in office.

    • leslie says:

      PERFECT !!!!

      Where is it playing, though? I never see any of these ads anywhere except online. And none of my freinds/ family/ colleagues spend much time on their computers after work hours..(I also live in Illinois, so this may be a silly question to begin with.)

  8. leslie says:

    My 6:38 comment was menat to nest beneath votermom @6:02

  9. wmcb says:

    It’s also a lie that a sense of community, and interdependent social structure, only exists via govt. That the only way for people to join together, or accomplish anything as a group, or help each other, is by means of the State. WRONG.

    In many cases, govt is a very bad tool for help or social support. Private support almost always does a better job, and is more meaningful to both the giver and receiver. All you have to do is spend some time in a disaster area post hurricane to know that. People who have done so will tell you that their neighbors with chain saws, volunteers with food kitchens,, church groups, out of state truckers piling in with bottled water, the Red Cross, etc, did much more than the govt did, and responded with amazing flexibility and speed.

    Yes, we need govt as well. The govt is great for broader support, logistics, infrastructure, and making sure there aren’t people falling through the cracks of the private efforts.

    But I’m tired of the growing attitude that govt is the ONLY means to serve one another. We lose a real sense of connection to each other when we make help at a distance, via a faceless State, our only means of fostering community.

    • elliesmom says:

      I’m an atheist, but my family belongs to a very active church. When the church gets together to support something in the community that I support, too, I have no problem pitching in and helping them out. It’s become kind of joke that every time they get a new minister, and I show up at something, I get targeted for “saving”. The members of the church were caught taking bets about how long it would take the new minister to ask me to teach Sunday School. But the point is that even someone like me prefers a church to do some things, and I’m willing to help them.

      • wmcb says:

        My husband is also an atheist, but admires the work of many of the catholic charities his dad is involved in, and regularly gives to the Salvation Army. We do the KIVA thing as well, which I think is an amazing program that fosters independence and self-respect while still helping people.

  10. cj says:

    Personally, I think old Baracky got all puffed up with his jivin’ folksy self and just got carried away. I never, ever take what Obama says at face value so my first thought is that this “share the glory” BS is not the sentiment of a pathological narcissist who thinks his every burp & fart is historic and unprecedented.

    Here’s what I think. I think Obama just got all wee wee’d up over the fact that his million dollar hits on Romney’s business successes aren’t working the way he expected and this is his juvenile way of getting up in his face about it. I think Romney’s getting under Barry’s skin and this is nothing more than calling him out as an ungrateful, cockey bastard who doesn’t deserve all the credit he’s claiming.

    I don’t for one minute think that this is “a man-of-the-people” spouting some ridiculous left-wing ideology, rather I think it’s simply the petulant narcissist lashing out at someone who’s perceived to be better at something than he is. That’s my take anyway.

  11. foxyladi14 says:

    Looks like that skinny black guy has brought an AH57 to a knife fight again. 😆

  12. foxyladi14 says:

    correction…lol. AK 47

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