Julian Sanchez frets about the implications of the out-of-context remark from Pres. Obama that has the whole GOP writhing in hategasm:
Maybe, however, the point is more along the lines of the Nagel/Murphy “Myth of Ownership” argument: Since you didn’t earn whatever wealth you have all by yourself, without external help, you can’t really claim to deserve or be entitled to it—it’s a matter of luck you’re not one of those smart, hardworking people who didn’t get rich, after all—and so “we” (apparently meaning “the government”) get to take back however much “we” think is appropriate.
But this one proves rather too much doesn’t it? … It’s not that the “you didn’t build that” argument is wrong as a factual matter—it’s that it’s true about everything, and therefore doesn’t get you much of anything.
Sanchez’s post misses the mark because it fails to engage with real-world debates over policy. As commenter Alex Theisen explained in the thread, Obama’s comment “reads to me more as an attempt to rebut a very common rhetorical strategy that is often deployed against government taxation or redistribution.”
As to where these principles lead us, well, let’s look at the current context. The president is proposing to return some income tax rates to surplus-era levels. Gov. Romney is proposing to cut taxes, mostly on the wealthy who have a proportionately greater share of the income and therefore pay more in taxes, but make it deficit-neutral with other (heretofore unspecified) changes in the law.
Zooming out a bit more, I don’t think things have drastically changed since 2009, when the US had the second-lowest taxation in the OECD behind Australia, and when we paid less as a percentage of income in federal, state, and local taxes than we had since the Truman administration. Certainly, we still have lower federal income tax rates than we did for most of the Reagan administration.
Given that context, it’s hard to be too sad and mad about the president’s comments. Sure, had someone said that in the UK in 1978, I wouldn’t have been too psyched. But, here we are.
I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
As on defense policy, the GOP’s economic talking points are built on plausible enough principles, but those talking points are rendered entirely specious by today’s context.