by Barry A. Liebling
If you want to see how elite leftists see the world there is no better publication than The New York Times. Nicholas Kristof, one of its star award-winning columnists, both reflects the sentiments of his fellow progressives and encourages them to take actions that support their Neo-Marxist agenda.
Recently Mr Kristof wrote a column that calls for increasing taxes and confiscating wealth from the richest Americans. If you examine his arguments you will see that his premise is that the government owns you and that new taxes should be collected to give the state more (and ultimately all) control over your life. https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2019/10/13/nicholas-kristof-should/
Of course the idea that individual citizens belong to the state is not new. Kings and dictators have operated this way for thousands of years. In the nineteenth century Marxism became highly influential among intellectuals as the justification for having “experts” guide and control individuals “for the good of society.” Neo-Marxism is a twenty-first century “reformulation” of the original dogma, and its themes emphasize group membership, victims versus oppressors, and the state making things right by forcing people to do what the “experts” regard as “social justice.”
The correct retort to the leftist-progressive program is to recognize and appreciate the Enlightenment concepts of individual freedom and autonomy. The idea (expressed in the Declaration of Independence which was partly inspired by John Locke) is that each person should have sovereignty over his or her own life. The state is not the owner of people. Instead, its proper function is to protect the natural rights of citizens (including life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness).
Consider what Mr Kristof asserts in his column. He offers three excuses for appropriating the wealth of “the rich.” First, he is concerned that wealthy people have too much political influence. He writes, “That’s the rot in our system: Great wealth has translated into immense political power, which is then leveraged to multiply that wealth and power all over again – and also multiply the suffering of those at the bottom.”
Essentially the author is disturbed that a tiny minority of people have the resources to wield a lot of political clout. He is probably referring to the classic one percent, which in the United States with a population of 330 million would point to about 3.3 million people. Certainly these people do not necessarily agree with one another, and they do not act in concert. Some are active in politics and some are not. Political think tanks are funded by wealthy Americans, and most of these institutions lean heavily to the left (think of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Rockerfeller Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, many others). Only a few advocate a free market approach (The Koch Foundation and a small number of other players).
Note well that the money and resources that private individuals can spend on political action is minuscule compared to the government’s assets. While Mr Kristof is bothered by private power he does not seem to be concerned about the state. If rich people can bully you around, what do you suppose government entities can do? Be aware that the government has a monopoly on force. And note that to a leftist-progressive private power is inherently bad – because the “wise elite” do not control it. But government power is ideal – because leftists intend to be in the saddle.
The second excuse for stealing from the rich is the inequality cliche. People at the top have too much, and people at the bottom have too little. That is the perpetual slogan that leftists use, and it has served them well. On several occasions I have pointed out that wealth equality or inequality is a bogus issue. The real important question is how each person acquires wealth. http://www.alertmindpublishing.com/data/2019-columns/wealth-inequality-focus-is-toxic-2019-aug/
Mr Kristof accurately reports that a lot of critics of increasing taxes argue that taking more from the wealthy will discourage them from being productive. Consequently, say the critics, it will “hurt the economy” if the tax rate goes up. And Mr Kristof responds by citing several academics who have done studies that report that when productive people are taxed more they continue to work hard. Voila! Full speed ahead on more taxes.
Of course, if you look around enough and play with statistics you can find people who work more, work the same, or work less when their taxes are increased. The “lower productivity” argument against higher taxes is a poor strategy. A savvy defender of liberty will zoom in on the essential issue – theft is wrong. If taxes are going to exist at all, the only fair policy is to have everyone pay exactly the same rate. This points to a flat tax, which is abhorrent to leftists who yearn to dish out special punishments to “the rich.”
And notice that the argument “higher taxes will hurt the economy” plays right into the hands of leftists. It suggests that individuals exist to serve the state, and the state should allow the productive to create wealth so it can be taken away later. The essential principle is not about the macro-economy. Instead the Enlightenment attitude reminds us (in many cases informs us for the first time) that people legitimately own their lives and if they act honestly and refrain from initiating force they are entitled to their property.
The third rationalization offered by Mr Kristof for grabbing the assets of the wealthy is that it will fund more lavish welfare programs. He writes, “by raising taxes on the wealthy, we could end the lead poisoning that afflicts half a million American children, we could provide high-quality preschool for all, we could offer treatment for all people with addictions and we could ensure that virtually all children graduate from a decent high school and at least get a crack at college.”
Recall that the official government War On Poverty was initiated in 1964, more than half a century ago. While a prodigious amount of money was spent, the proportion of Americans who receive welfare state benefits has remained high. Why would the next fifty years be different? Of course, the apparatus for administering programs and the number of government employees has ballooned. Welfare state enthusiasts would probably be pleased if welfare recipients benefitted. But that is just icing on the cake. The real prize that progressives seek is to put the government in the driver’s seat of everything. Reducing and eliminating personal autonomy is their end-game.
Leftist progressive thinking has a dominant position in American culture. This includes education, entertainment, and most of the media. The Enlightenment philosophy of liberty is the antidote to Neo-Marxist poison. We have a lot of explaining to do.
*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***