Monday, May 9, 2011

Libertarians and Liberals

It's certainly a strange twist of fate that my new best friend is a libertarian conservative George Bush fan from Texas. Who I've never met. Funny the ways that life can surprise you.

We get along great, but sometimes our friendship brings articles like this to my attention: It's Time To Kill The 'Robin Hood' Myth. It's from a column called The Objectivist from Forbes magazine, which is an appropriate title, because I can't resist objecting to it.

I'll leave Stephen Colbert to skewer the whole Ayn Rand Objectivism thing (jump to the 2:25 mark in the video to get to the Atlas Shrugged review):

I especially like Colbert's line of Ayn Rand birthday cards: "Grandmother, You are a drain on society... I ate your cake."

The article above is an attempt to discredit the "reverse-Robin Hood" myth that providing tax breaks to the wealthy is "giving" to them, and that cutting social programs for the poor is "stealing" from them. There's an attitude that runs throughout this article that signals to me the biggest difference between liberals and libertarians. As they state in the article:
On our view, you earned your wealth and it belongs to you, and no politician has any business talking about how much of your money he can “afford” to let you keep.
Libertarians love to emphasize how the mean old government is taking their money. They act as if they live in a self-sustained bubble that has no effect or interaction with anyone around them. This is their fatal logical flaw.

We liberals, on the other hand, understand how in a civilized society, people depend on each other. All of us, working together, can achieve much more than any individual can working alone. Individuals don't build roads or court systems or firehouses or police forces or national defense or education. All that wealth that you earned was done as a result of the infrastructure provided by the state. You didn't do it alone.

When I hear people whine about how the government is taking their money, it reminds me of a teenager who has a part-time job and complains when his parents ask him to put some of it into buying a new family car. "But it's MY money! I earned it!" What the teenager doesn't acknowledge is that he was only able to make his money because his parents payed for his housing, food, medical care, utilities, clothing, etc.

I understand that people work hard and want to keep what they earn. But plenty of people work just as hard around the world and aren't able to amass any wealth at all. So it seems like a small price to pay for adults to acknowledge and support the infrastructure that made it possible for them to earn money at all.

I think balancing the public budget is important and we need to have serious discussions about how best to spend our tax dollars. But this attitude of "I earned it and it's mine" does not contribute to that discussion in a positive way.

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