This “government is everything” mindset doesn’t begin and end in Washington. Last week I happened to catch Rush Limbaugh engaged in conversation with “Carl,” a 24 year old caller to his talk show who was arguing that we all must sacrifice more (especially “rich” people) to keep the government goodness flowing. A portion of the conversation went like this: Carl: A tax cut depletes necessary revenue needed to keep the government operational and functioning.
RUSH: Carl, that's not what a tax cut is. A tax cut is you work for a living, and you are paid X. At the present, you have a tax rate -- let's just pick one, may not be accurate -- of 30%. Which means that 30% of every dollar you earn goes to Washington, but the money starts with you. It's yours. You earned it. You did what was necessary to be paid that money.
RUSH: If a tax cut happens, and your tax rate goes to 20%, then all of a sudden you get to keep 80¢ of every dollar you earned rather than 70¢ of every dollar you earned. How in the world is that spending?
Carl: Because when I spend that money out of my own paycheck, that's money that I spend on my own life. When the government spends my tax dollars, they're spending it on necessary infrastructure that's to keep the entire government running, to keep schools running…
RUSH: No... Wait a minute. So are you telling me that you believe that it is more important for government to spend whatever money it has than it is for you to spend whatever money you earn?
Carl: The government spending tax dollars benefits everybody, whereas me spending my own money benefits me…
Apparently Carl hasn’t been taught that when he spends his own money, it benefits the person who grows his food, manufactures his clothes, and so forth.
Rush’s conversation reminds me of a question I recently encountered while serving as a panelist at a university forum on economic growth. As a student took to the microphone and noted that she had read my bio on my website, she stated “your degrees are in literature and philosophy, and you’re not even an economist, so why do you think you have the right to speak about economics?”
I reminded the woman that in America, I have the right to speak about nearly anything; the university had the right to not invite me; and she had the right to not listen. I also suggested that the question about which is more important – individual people, or the government – is really a philosophical question more than anything else, so as a trained philosopher I was probably qualified to participate in the event.
President Obama will likely never embrace this “people before government” philosophy. But will America ever return to it?
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.