Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don’t feel sore; you’ll keep getting richer

In any vigorous (dirty) US election, there’ll always be a signature red herring. In logic, the term for this gambit is “poisoning the well.” During the Cold War, implying that the other guy was an intellectual was negative political dynamite. Up until recently, passing along the suspicion that he was a little queer and, therefore, unreliable on law and order also worked well. And today, the old standby that he is too easily tempted by “foreign” ideas still has some force.

The big one for this presidential election, however, has to be: “The Obama administration is jealous of the rich. It’s disgusting.”

The accusation that Obama is being hard on the rich has specific practical and psychological value: it is raising $millions for Mitt Romney from people who can most easily spend the money and it seems to provide many incredibly fortunate Americans an explanation for why they’re unhappy and don’t think they get proper respect.

On a general basis, however, it’s just another intoxicant. It clouds the issue of fair taxation and distracts people from real problems in the social and economic fabric of the country.

It would deserve a hearing, anyway, if it were true. But, it isn’t.

Larry Summers—the economic Rasputin of Obama’s first term—alluded to the truth of the matter in a column calling for greater focus on inequality in opportunity:

“While I support moves to make the tax system more progressive, the reality is that inequality is likely to continue to rise, even with all that can responsibly be done to increase tax burdens on those with high incomes and redistribute the proceeds. Measures such as allowing unions to organize without undue reprisals and enhancing shareholders’ role in setting executive pay are desirable. But they are unlikely to even hold at bay the trend toward increasing inequality.”

Mitt Romney faithfully parrots that audaciously pedestrian question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Why not, Mr. Romney, first ask your friends?

Imagine the blushing outrage if Barack Obama took the rich aside and asked: “Aren’t you feeling better off—and safer—today than you were feeling when I took the oath of office in January 2009?”

That question would be rude. The poor shouldn’t complain and the rich shouldn’t have to acknowledge their good fortune.

The truest, if not the most politick, response to the hostility of the most affluent Americans to Obama’s policies and his record is this prediction: if he remains as radical in his second term as you think he’s been in his first term, you should expect that the rich—the job creators, if not every speculator—will keep getting richer, probably faster than everyone else.

Seriously, Obama’s pitch to the affluent should be less arduous than his pitch to the poor. His more collegial foreign policy and middling Keynesian policies have been far more effective, so far, in restoring the fortunes of the rich than in creating wage improvements for the rest.

Of course, the most affluent may decide to go for broke, to try to get more out of the economy with more tax cuts with Romney. Many, however, may wonder whether it might be prudent to invest just a little more in the fate of the population at large. Every four years, after all, they’re shareholders, too.

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