One meme that has been making the rounds of the leftist blogs (it always amazes me for supposedly ‘free thinkers’ how much leftists and skeptic imitate each other – but I digress) is a speech to supporters by Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. It encompasses all the favorite themes of the left; collectivism, hatred for the business, a unwavering belief that our problems will be solved if the Federal government has just a few more tax dollars. But she says it much more eloquently and convincingly than the average leftie, and so it tugs at the heartstrings of the leftist blogosphere. Here she is in action:
Here is the transcript of the popular portion of her speech:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you!
But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the 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, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big 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.”
One can see why the left loves this – it is the epitome of top down thinking, encompassing the mythos that the government is the ultimate provider of wealth and services, and those who are wealthy became so feeding off this provision. She literally couches it as ‘us’ versus ‘them’. And as Barak Obama proved, the left loves nothing more than a speechifying academic who incites class warfare.
The problem is, like most leftist academics she gets most of the facts wrong – in three specific ways.
First Warren completely reverses the actual history of economic development. Industry doesn’t start with roads and schools and police forces – it began with groups and individuals converting natural resources into useful goods. Once there was production of goods in an area, then roads and tracks and schools followed. Much later municipalities and police and firefighters were needed. It’s no coincidence that we identify regions of the country with such economic efforts – the Grain Belt, the Iron Range, Silicon Valley, etc. Those regions became home to towns and cities because individuals initiated economic activity there. Certainly businesses continue to be added, but even then much infrastructure development is a response to economic development. Obviously extant municipalities may choose to enhance infrastructure to attract businesses – but it shouldn’t then punish them for using said infrastructure!
She also ignores the obvious fact that businesses already pay significant taxes. In fact the US has some of the highest corporate taxes in the world. One gets the impression from her talk that conservatives have argued for no taxes, when in fact they have argued for fair taxes, as well as streamlining the tax code. So this aspect of her argument amounts to a straw man.
Finally Ms. Warren is doing a bit of bait and switch here. As a Senator running for a national office, she is arguing for raising federal tax rates on the wealthy and corporations. Yet the sort of services and infrastructure she is talking about are primarily local concerns. Her arguments might make more sense if coming from someone running for a city or county position, even a state position, but not as a federal budgetary consideration. One of the biggest problems with our national debt is the fact that so much money gets processed through the federal bureaucracy – we shouldn’t be sending money for schools, roads, and local police up through the morass of federal agencies and back down to the localities. In this respect Elizabeth Warren’s position is contrary to the interest of the average taxpayer. She is offering a recipe for more debt, regulation and inefficiency – killing jobs in the process.
These clear facts are unlikely to resonate with the average liberal or leftist because they play against the cliché stereotypes of the wealthy vs. the ‘rest of us’ that frame their every economic discussion Such understanding also requires a modicum of economic and historical knowledge. None the less they provide a clear reason for the average independent or fiscally conservative person to reject Elizabeth Warren’s framing of the issues, as well as her candidacy.