Earnest Progressives urging their liberal champion Elizabeth Warren to run for president pose a critical riddle for Americans: Can the Left promise Americans prosperity and opportunity when Leftists dislike the people, forces, and dynamics that generate real growth? Do liberals even like prosperity?
The American Left disapproves almost everything about people who create wealth in a free market: They distrust the profit motive; they disdain consumerism; they question entrepreneurs’ moral claim to the fruits of their own labors; and they fail to grasp the seamless bond connecting “business” and “people,” believing instead, that business is some dangerous separate thing that can be demonized, harassed, and shackled in the name of making things better for people.
Barack Obama tried to blunt this criticism in the second presidential debate, asserting: “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known,”
Observing the administration’s treatment of business and the economy, it’s tempting to dismiss the claim as a whopper on the scale of “You can keep your doctor.” But the truth is actually worse. Obama probably does believe free enterprise builds prosperity best of all; but, that’s just not very important to him. He cares more about concepts like fairness, equality, social justice, and government control of the economy than about growth and opportunity.
A booming economy, soaring markets, robust growth and investment, all actually produce things the Left dislikes: Personal fortunes, growing inequality; higher consumer expectations, more building and expansion. A vibrant economy of producers and consumers becomes a society inclined to let freedom hum along without government needing to run the show—that’s anathema to the Left.
One of the most beguiling expressions of this view helped Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren become a darling of the left. Warren set liberal hearts aflutter with her redistributor’s manifesto:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on 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... Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea - God bless! Keep a 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.”
Liberals swooned, but if you rinse off the sugary rhetoric, the salvo is incoherent. First, the business owner paid all the same taxes for all the same public purposes as everyone else. Rather than incurring a debt for future success, he likely paid more than other taxpayers for the services all enjoy. Second, the community didn’t pay taxes for roads, schools, and police in order to benefit the business owner, but rather, for the benefit of all. Third, the same infrastructure is available to all. Our society has roads, schools, laws, and enforcement. If those resources explain the businessman’s success, don’t they also rebuke the rest of us because we didn’t build a factory?
In a free society, people have a natural right to pursue their happiness, make their living, and maybe start a business. Or work for a business owner. That is a different concept from having a collective lien on the success of those with the vision, risk, drive, and luck to make something happen, just because they happen to enjoy the same services we do.
Finally, after attributing business success to the infrastructure and taxes supplied by the rest of us, Warren somehow backflips into arguing reparations are owed not for reinvestment in the infrastructure, or rebates to the sponsoring taxpayers, rather, it’s owed forward to the “next kid who comes along.” The argument is nothing but little word flowers amounting to demanding the wealthy give over more of what they have for government to distribute in ways people like Warren judge good.
A less remarked but in some ways more remarkable expression of the Left’s philosophy of greed as social justice issued from candidate Obama to Charlie Gibson of ABC News. Gibson cited fiscal experience to challenge Obama on his support for a large increase in capital gains taxes, pointing out that when Reagan cut cap gains rates, revenues actually rose, and when Clinton increased rates, government receipts fell. Why, then, would candidate Obama want to increase rates if it meant the government would collect less tax revenue? “For purposes of fairness,” the candidate explained.
He plainly said he would sacrifice public revenues and services in order to bite rich ankles harder. There’s no doubt Obama’s vision informs his foreign views as well as domestic. The wealthy are an affront to poorer Americans. America is an affront to poorer nations. No, he and his ilk do not care about prosperity for those they judge already unjustly fat and comfortable.
That’s the American Left. In the Warren/Obama playbook, a controlled economy is better than a growing economy. A pie sliced by government is better than growing pie for all. A tax rate that hits the rich harder is better than a rate that actually generates more revenue for public services.
For our economy really to flourish, government would have to unshackle it. But, that play is not in the Leftist book.