An interesting screed passed through my social media today. Interesting, not in a “hm, that makes good points” way, but in a “blindered by ideology” way. The author, Heather Cox Richardson, is a professor of history at Boston College, and a quick perusal of her on-line presence makes it rather clear that her political proclivities slant in the expected direction.

A snippet:

For a generation, Republicans have tried to unravel the activist government under which Americans have lived since the 1930s, when Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure. From the beginning, that government was enormously popular. Both Republicans and Democrats believed that the principle behind it — that the country worked best when government protected and defended ordinary Americans—was permanent.
But the ideologues who now control the Republican Party have always wanted to get rid of this New Deal state and go back to the world of the 1920s, when businessmen ran the government. They believe that government regulation and taxation is an assault on their liberty, because it restricts their ability to make money.
They have won office not by convincing Americans to give up their own government benefits—most Americans actually like clean water and Social Security and safe bridges—but by selling a narrative in which “Liberals” are trying to undermine the country by stealing the tax dollars of hardworking Americans—quietly understood to be white men—and redistributing them to lazy people who want handouts, not-so-quietly understood to be people of color and feminist women. According to this narrative, legislation that protects ordinary Americans simply redistributes wealth. It is “socialism,” or “communism.”
Meanwhile, Republican policies have actually redistributed wealth upward.

Stop there.

I will eschew commenting on the Good vs Evil tone of Democrats vs Republicans, the straw man BS about clean water and safe bridges, and the balance of the hagiography, and instead go more fundamental.

First, FDR’s New Deal made the Depression longer and worse, and it was its partial dismantling after WWII that allowed the economy to resume growth (and, of course, the utter devastation of WWII). Its negative effects have rippled across our nation ever since, and the continued extolling of its virtues despite the hard realities have emboldened generations who want to repeat its errors.

Second, this damn word “redistributed.” Bernie Sanders made it part of our vernacular. It’s a Good Thing when things are “redistributed” in the direction Democrats desire, and a Bad Thing otherwise.

However, it’s a lie.

All wealth is the result of human activity and the voluntary exchange of its fruits.

In a free society, that wealth is the property of individuals, and they decide with whom they will exchange. Someone who wants to work and someone who wants to pay someone to work talk, they come to mutually agreeable terms, and they honor those terms across time. This is true for a homeowner and a landscaper, a line cook and a restaurant owner, a doctor an a hospital, and for two multinational corporations. Every one of these exchanges ultimately comes down to individuals deciding to exchange value for value.

In a not-free society, the product of human activity is appropriated, by force, by those with the power to do so, i.e. agents of the state. They are the ones who voluntarily exchange the fruit of human activity, whether it be some apparatchik deciding who gets doorknobs or Stalin deciding that Ukrainian grain should be sold abroad to fund the State. They, however, are not exchanging the fruit of their own labor, but rather the fruit of others’ labor in a decidedly non-voluntary fashion.

To “redistribute” something in the sense spoken of by Sanders, Richardson, and countless others is to presume that the State, not the laborer, owns that something. As in, wealth of the State is distributed to the masses via an unfair mechanism (i.e. Republican government) and should properly be redistributed to the masses via a fair mechanism (i.e. Democratic government).

I’ll repeat one sentence from Richardson’s essay:

They believe that government regulation and taxation is an assault on their liberty, because it restricts their ability to make money.

The “because” herein is accurate but incomplete. Government activity beyond a certain baseline level impedes wealth creation. Government regulation and taxation, as we currently endure them, and as the Left envisions them, are impediments to wealth creation.

Government in a free society is a lubricant. It serves to enhance individuals’ ability to create wealth, among other things, via core functions like protection of individual and property rights, courts for adjudicating contracts, national defense, et al. A certain amount of government enhances people’s ability to create wealth, just as a certain amount of government enhances people’s ability to live happily, peacefully, and with less fear. This is true for everyone, not just “Republicans,” of course.

A free society benefits from a certain amount of government, limited to certain functions. Government in a free society does not take, it helps make.

Contrast the scope of government in a free society with that which Richardson and so many leftists desire: a government fully empowered to take money from those who create it in order to be used as those in (unchecked) power desire.

Consider, also, that the “activist” government Richardson applauds has been in effect for nearly a century, and has only succeeded in one way – ballooning the national debt. A partisan would seek, here, to point out that the national debt has grown under both Democratic and Republican governments, ignoring the fact that many Republicans are just as activist as their Democratic brethren.

What this activist government has failed to do, across the 87 years since the inception of the New Deal, is actually fulfill its supposed promise of elevating the poor and minority communities. So many of the programs created to help the poor become not-poor have instead trapped them in a perpetual state of dependence. Economic mobility, quite robust in the post-War era, has lagged dramatically since LBJ (who, with Wilson and FDR, have proven to be an unholy trinity of liberty-destruction) instituted his Great Society. Making money was supplanted by taking money. From others, at the point of a government goon’s gun, with predictable results.

Taking money is easier than making it. To the typical taker, Other People’s Money (OPM) seems endless, especially when the narrative is stoked by a Fourth Estate that is awash in takers. And, when your political philosophy has no respect for others’ labor or its fruits, taking money doesn’t cause any lost sleep.

Taking money, unfortunately for the takers, has a proven track record. It is one of misery, destruction, death, and the loss of those “self evident” truths that (the now reviled) Thomas Jefferson spoke of: the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Taking money creates no wealth. Rather, it hinders it, it disincentivizes it, and it wastes it. A person is never as careful with another’s money as he is with his own. Coupling that reality with the near-total lack of accountability within government explains why government is so wasteful, why too much of it (we have WAAAAAY too much of it) harms productivity, slows growth, and hinders people’s economic mobility (i.e. improvement in one’s living standards born of one’s efforts).

Taking money eventually hits a wall. Eventually, as Thatcher told us, the OPM well runs dry.

Taking money sells to the masses, especially when the idea is swaddled in the language of racial injustice, oppression, and the bald-faced lie that wealth is zero-sum, that one can get wealthy only by stealing from others.

Making money, however, is the only way that things improve. Humans creating and voluntarily exchanging wealth is the means by which people have risen out of poverty, throughout history. Humans taking OPM has impeded and reversed that rise.

Sadly, our society is awash in the message that the makers, not the takers, are greedy and selfish.

Tell me, however, who’s greedier? The person who wants to retain control over the fruits of his labor, or the person who wants to take it from him?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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