Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way? Until more liberals internalize this, they will fail to persuade America of the occasional need for government because people will rightly suspect that what they are really about is penalizing or diminishing hard work. By the way, I favor an inheritance tax. But I also favor allowing those who work hard to keep as much of their own money as possible.
Okay. So, first of all, are ‘so many on the left’ really incapable of acknowledging that many rich people worked hard to make all that money? Do they want to penalize hard work in response? I don’t think so. In fact, those two beliefs are contradictory.
Serious people outside the Anti-Tax Cult believe two things about taxation: first, that taxes are a necessary evil because they pay for services, and second that the government is often pretty lousy at the actual administration of those services – but nobody else is going to do it any better. Hence, necessary evil.
Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity. That’s a fine argument against the income tax on its own merits, but so far nobody has come up with a better alternative. And we still have to pay for all those services. The income tax was devised because it’s a sensible way to levy taxes, not because evil liberals are trying penalize hard work. Nobody likes to pay taxes but we do it because we recognize, as a society, that we all benefit from public roads and public education and so forth. We should also realize that for all the talk of welfare and government hand-outs it’s the very rich in this society who benefit most from government spending.
Of course, Sullivan wants to have his cake and eat it too: he supports many of the big expenditures coming out of Washington during Obama’s tenure but also mocks liberals as being somehow resentful of success who want to punish hard work. I think it’s much more likely that liberals want to levy taxes to pay for things like the Affordable Care Act which Andrew supported.
And here’s the thing about rich people working hard: yes, many of the rich people in our society worked very hard to get where they are today. But even if they did run the fastest, many also started much closer to the finishing line than their poor or working class counterparts. Having even a normal middle-class family gives someone an enormous leg up. The safety nets of a middle class lifestyle are invaluable: a stable home and family life; increased literacy and access to books and other educational resources; better schools; increased access to transportation, and so on and so forth. Things we take for granted, mostly. The upper class, meanwhile, has built-in business and academic connections and a whole host of other perks and benefits that help hard working upper class kids succeed.
Economic failure (or stagnation) is not a moral failure – it’s just a part of capitalism. It’s built into the system. Functional markets require failure. Until more conservatives realize this, liberals will indeed “fail to persuade America of the occasional need for government” because people will wrongly suspect that any effort by the government to provide assistance or marginalize pain is little more than an attempt to penalize truly successful people’s hard work. Which is a particularly tragic sort of bullshit, true, but bullshit nonetheless.