Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Self-Made Billionaire

Elizabeth Warren wants to tax billionaires because they made their billions thanks to what society made available to them. Here is a bit from an opinion piece by E. J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post that expands on this:
It’s not often that a sound bite from a Democratic candidate gets so under the skin of my distinguished colleague George F. Will that he feels moved to quote it in full and then devote an entire column to refuting it. This is instructive.

The declaration heard ’round the Internet world came from Elizabeth Warren, the consumer champion running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Warren argued that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” that thriving entrepreneurs move their goods “on the roads the rest of us paid for” and hire workers “the rest of us paid to educate.” Police and firefighters, also paid for by “the rest of us,” protect the factory owner’s property. As a result, our “underlying social contract” requires this hardworking but fortunate soul to “take a hunk” of his profits “and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

In other words, there are no self-made people because we are all part of society. Accomplished people benefit from advantages created by earlier generations (of parents whom we didn’t choose and taxpayers whom we’ve never met) and by the simple fact that they live in a country that provides opportunities that are not available everywhere. The successful thus owe quite a lot to the government and social structure that made their success possible.
You really should go read the whole article to see how Dionne tears apart the nifty piece of propaganda that George Will constructed.

Dionne catches the hypocrisy of Will by pointing to an earlier bit of writing by him that argued with Elizabeth Warren that we need to acknowledge the very real boost we all get from having a solid, successful society upon which to build:
In his thoughtful 1983 book “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” Will rightly lamented that America’s sense of community had become “thin gruel” and chided fellow conservatives “caught in the web of their careless anti-government rhetoric.” He is also the author of my favorite aphorism about how Americans admire effective government even when they pretend not to. “Americans talk like Jeffersonians,” Will wrote, “but expect to be governed by Hamiltonians.”
In short, George Will is a propagandist. He cuts his opinions to sell to the highest bidder and these days that is the extreme right of fanatical anti-tax, anti-state, libertarian viewpoints. At least Elizabeth Warren is out selling her own ideas. George Will is an intellectual prostitute who sells whatever ideas brings him the biggest bucks.

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