The fact, nonetheless, is that for economic purposes there really are two kinds of people: the kind who think government has most, if not the all, the answers and, on the other hand, the kind who know better. You sense this, hardly for the first time, in the national palaver about jobs and economic recovery.
Members of the government-has-most-of-the-answers faction usually call themselves Democrats. Generally, at this historical passage, they back President Obama and desire a slew of new economy-boosting measures on the government's part. Those of the opposite persuasion normally call themselves Republicans. Whereas few deny the necessity of some government, many view with fishy eyes most proposals for strengthening or multiplying government programs. This is due to a pair of factors: an engrained bias in favor of human freedom and an abiding skepticism that government knows what it's doing, economically speaking.
Government-has-the-answers people are inclined almost always to cut slack for those who seek more government oversight and regulation. Their trust can be truly touching. They really believe elected officials and the people they hire know best. The seemingly random operations of the marketplace send chills down their spines. They don't like apparently random outcomes. They think results can and should be controlled by "experts" of the sort that government officials and their enablers fancy themselves to be.
A conspicuous feature of Democratic rhetoric for the last few years has been affirmation of the need to "redistribute" wealth in a supposedly fairer way. Studies of economic inequality are rife. Expert A (who usually teaches in an Ivy League economics department, or else studied in one), says the spread between the rich and the poor is growing -- and, further, is developing as a threat to social stability.
The obvious answer, to those who produce such studies, is government intervention. Experts can decide how much money people actually need, hence, through adjustments in the tax code, they can even things out in a judicious way.
Concern for the disadvantaged, as they are normally called, doesn't stop with economic considerations. A New York Times op-ed piece some days ago called attention to the plight of the "ugly." The author -- for whom there was no photo mug that might have helped readers assess his personal interest -- wants government to step up to the plate and defend the pulchritudinally challenged, who evidently are itching for liberation in the mode of the 1960s and '70s. It would be fair to guess that the author cannot be considered a probable Rick Perry voter.
Once we acknowledge the perdurability of the government-can-do-it-all mindset -- its persistence in bad times and good alike -- we can start to understand the agony inherent in this economic moment.
In addressing our economic challenges, Obama wants more government because he and people like him believe (often against the raw evidence) that more government works; that experts know better than consumers, merchants and the like the ways that they should behave. Obama progressives -- liberals as they called themselves before the term apparently became an embarrassment -- are offended by suggestions that economic decision making can be turned over to a loose herd of consumers who don't know a demand curve from a snowy egret's nest.
Taxation is the great tool the progressives wield to make sure consumers know their place in the economic order. That place is...what? One of gratitude for favors bestowed by the experts and one of coerced obedience -- a state alien to most of the free societies one has ever heard of.
As the 2012 election campaign goes into high gear, expect at the grassroots level an upsurge in ingratitude and maverick behavior -- just what you'd expect from a people who may have had it up to here, at last, with experts and control freaks.