What’s it Going to Be: Community or Government?

November 2, 2012

by Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D.

There has been an ominous tone developing in this year’s presidential election. No, it is not the ugly personal attacks, negative ads by special interest groups or promises that pander to special interest groups. Those have been part of the fabric of America’s elections for far too long. There is something new and even more dangerous. Some politicians see political gain in demonizing economic success under a free-market economy.

Make no mistake, this is an attack on capitalism without precedent. As a child growing up in a middle-class family in a small town, I admired the businessmen and professionals who earned a high income. I remember thinking that these folks had earned their financial awards by going to college to learn their profession, by putting in long hours in their business and by providing services or products that were needed by our community. I wasn’t jealous of them; they motivated me to achieve like them.

The desire to get educated and work hard comes from a belief that our economic system is fair and that these qualities will be rewarded.Yet there was former President Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention stoking the flames of class warfare with his remark that some “want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society.” I find this disheartening. It seems particularly corrosive to tell people – for political advantage – that they don’t have a fair shot, that the system is rigged, that Wall Street is corrupt, that the rich don’t pay their fair share . . . and that, somehow, we all have less because billionaires have more.

These attitudes completely misrepresent capitalism. Capitalism is not a zero-sum game. We can have billionaires with a thriving middle class. In fact, we will not have a thriving middle class unless we have the capitalists willing to invest money in new products and new services that are in demand in the world economy.

Capitalism as an economic system is about a voluntary exchange of money, goods or services for mutual benefit. Businesses don’t take citizens’ money. Only two groups in America take our citizens money involuntarily: criminals and government. Government does not create wealth – it confiscates it.

Perhaps Mr. Clinton meant the rich “take” because they don’t pay their “fair share” in taxes? However, the facts don’t support this view. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the top 10 percent of Americans pay almost 70 percent of all personal income taxes. The bottom 50 percent pays essentially zero federal income taxes. So shall we have the “rich” pay even more so the rest of us can have our “entitlements”?

Since entitlements are not guaranteed by the U.S. constitution, perhaps we should amend it to include free health care from cradle to grave, free money in retirement to allow us to do anything we want to do, and lifetime unemployment benefits so we don’t have to work at jobs we don’t find enlightening? Also, how about free money for mortgages we took out for houses we knew we could not afford?

I’m confused about Mr. Clinton’s assertion that “you’re on your own”. No one objects that government provides a social safety net for the truly needy, but when I reached the age of majority and graduated from college I expected to take care of myself.

If I couldn’t take care of myself from no fault of mine own, I knew I might have to lean on family, friends or my church for a short while. If that still weren’t enough, maybe I would have to turn to the local or state government as a last resort. I never even thought about turning to the federal government for help. I grew up in another era – one where big national government was not expected to take care of people down on their luck. I never imagined that some federal bureaucrat in far-off Washington D.C. cared about me — or even wanted to meet me.

Some folks seem to mistake government for community. These are the people who look to the federal government to take care of all their adult needs. Why would they do so? It’s simple. Local and state government have limited resources but the federal government does not. It can simply borrow more and more money or print more and more money – or do both. Surely, we won’t ever have to pay back any of this “free” money, will we?

But there is no free money; it is just a delirious self-serving myth. At some point, the interest on the federal debt will take so much of the available revenue that there is no money left for the entitlements. America will be ripe for a takeover from a hostile country that holds our debt much the same as a hostile takeover happens in business.

My point is that these class warriors aren’t just attacking opposing politicians who believe in the free-market economy. They are attacking the very notion of individual initiative and personal responsibility. Now that’ is new.

Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is an education consultant living in Fort Wayne. An attorney, Dr. Abbott is a former superintendent of Indiana pulbic schools and an instructor in the graduate school of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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