Sunday, July 29, 2012

More on "You didn't build that"

There’s a bit more to say on “You didn’t build that”, because even though we all, both liberal and conservative, appreciate the infrastructure we have all around us, and with few exceptions we recognize that government is central to providing it, and even though we all appreciate the work and grit that it takes to run a small business, and the intelligence it takes to make one successful, even though that specific controversy is a complete fabrication, there is an ideological distinction that evoked it.  There's a reason it seemed to resonate with some people, on both sides of the political divide.  And a financial blogger named Rortybomb (aka Mike Konczal) has nailed it here.  He relays this quote from a Romney fundraiser named Michael Zambrelli as reported in the LA times:

It's not helping the economy to pit the people who are the engine of the economy against the people who rely on that engine.”

Frankly, this is another statement that people at all points on the political landscape would agree is true---but in this case we would mean completely different things when we said it.  What I would mean by those words is that those who have done well should be humble and very grateful to the efforts of those around them that provided that wealth to them; to the government who provided infrastructure that made communication and transportation possible, and who provided security and a justice system to enforce contracts, and that created large-scale technological advances on which their wealth was built, and that they should also be profoundly grateful to the people they have employed along the way, the engineers and clerks, accountants and electricians, project managers and office managers,  plumbers and assembly line workers, sales staff and programmers and all the others I’ve left off this list, who worked and built the foundations of the economy on which the wealth of the well-off was built, and on which it rests.  Those people are the engine of the economy, and it is on those people that the wealthy rely not only to create their wealth but also to create all the things their wealth can buy.

What Zambrelli meant, apparently, was that we, all of us,  all the people on the list in the last paragraph, rely on the rich to provide us with our survival; they, the rich, are the creative engine, the job-creators, the goods-creators, and the rest of us would be lost without them.   Here’s another quote that Rortybomb cited, this one from Ayn Rand:

The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their brains.”

This, seemingly, is the attitude that underlies the policy prescriptions of people like Paul Ryan (who gives all of his staff copies of Atlas Shrugged, from which this quote was drawn).  Their entire philosophy of government is that we will all be better off if we just get our government out of the way of “those above us”, to whom we contribute nothing and without which we, in our hopeless ineptitude, would starve.   To get out of the way of these creators we need only to stop taxing them, stop regulating them, stop repressing them, and if (and only if) we do that, the economy will bloom.

Since Rortybomb made this clear for me, I’ll leave this topic with his conclusion.  I can’t say it any better than this.  From Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

“These policies include no hint that the economy is stuck due to inadequate demand or the weak purchasing power of the middle and working classes and the delinking of wages and productivity. There's no mention of the need to expand education and infrastructure to create the economy of the 21st century. There's absolutely no sense that the economy encourages the most innovative or entrepreneurial when there is full employment and a portable social safety net that provides economic security. And it is light-years away from the observation that society is a system of cooperation in which the value in the economy is created together.”
Yeah.  Exactly. 

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