The dextrosphere is abuzz today over the President’s observation that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” I do not share the outrage of some, if only because I believe that the President has already made clear his fondness for utilitarianism-based arguments in favor of wealth redistribution.
The part of his statement that I think has been insufficiently discussed is what followed:
Now, we’re not doing this to punish these firms or begrudge success that’s fairly earned. We don’t want to stop them from fulfilling their responsibility to help grow our economy.
I find this statement noteworthy because it makes clear the worldview that motivates many, if not all, of the administration’s economic policies. It is the view of the economy as an aggregation of activities that exists as a distinct entity from the people in it.
This is one of the clearest dividing lines in politico-economic arguments. Rare is the issue that does not prompt the question, “Do we have enough of this good thing?” It seems hardly to matter whether you, as an individual, have any direct interest in my consumption of this particular item. We are an uber family, “looking out for each other.” It is taken as a mark of sophistication to frame public issues in this way.
Obama’s view is disturbing because it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state. Businesses have a responsibility to their owners, their customers, and their employees. They do not have a responsibility to “our economy” that involves “helping” to “grow” it. And, of course, the larger the government becomes, the more it is true that “we” lose out (in the form of reduced revenues) when you don’t work as much. So the notion that you are working for me, and for all of us, becomes closer to reality over time. Alas, it doesn’t take too long for you to decide that we, like so many tiresome in-laws, aren’t really worth working so hard to support. Or as Lady Thatcher famously put it, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”