Friday, July 20, 2012

The banal fallacies of Barack Obama

Charles Krauthammer dissects the message within the President's "You didn't build that" approach to economic achievement.
To say that all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, the collectivity with the state. Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.

Moreover, the greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.
Obama wants to credit government with entrepreneurial success because he feels that businesses can't thrive without the infrastructure, physical and electronic that government provides as well as the education children get in public schools.

I wonder if he would also accept the blame for students who don't learn to read in public schools... The ACLU could call him as an expert witness in their case against the Michigan public schools.

Krauthammer goes on to take about the logical fallacy of Obama's crediting the state for building that infrastructure.
Absurd. We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he created the Mac and the iPad.

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.
And then he rips apart Obama's argument that liberals and conservatives are divided over the value of government-created infrastructure.
More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts, too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.
Obama is eliding over the real difference between liberals and conservatives and the role of government.
The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.

What divides liberals and conservatives is not roads and bridges but Julia’s world, an Obama campaign creation that may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived. It’s a series of cartoon illustrations in which a fictional Julia is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all- giving government of bottomless pockets and “Queen for a Day” magnanimity. At every stage, the state is there to provide — preschool classes and cut-rate college loans, birth control and maternity care, business loans and retirement. The only time she’s on her own is at her grave site.

Julia’s world is totally atomized. It contains no friends, no community and, of course, no spouse. Who needs one? She’s married to the provider state.

Or to put it slightly differently, the “Life of Julia” represents the paradigmatic Obama political philosophy: citizen as orphan child. For the conservative, providing for every need is the duty that government owes to actual orphan children. Not to supposedly autonomous adults.

Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.

Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.
Of course, the real motivation behind Obama's riff and the Elizabeth Warren argument he's copying is that government does so much to help businessmen succeed that they should willingly pay back a higher percentage of their earnings to that government that helped them get to where they are. That ignores the reality that they're already paying for the lion's share of government spending. Philip Klein expands on this fallacy.
The problem for liberals is that the nation is currently dealing with the natural consequences of the explosion in the size and scope of the welfare state over the past 80 years. The reason why America no longer does the big things that Obama likes to talk about – put a man on the moon, build the Golden Gate bridge or interstate highway system – is not that wealthy Americans aren’t paying enough taxes, but that government spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is strapping federal and state budgets.

Obama is trying to sell the fantasy that if the government simply takes a tiny bit more from the wealthiest of Americans that the nation can tackle the debt, invest in infrastructure, rescue entitlements and improve the economy. In trying to sell one fantasy, he’s creating another fantasy – that wealthy Americans have been freeloading off of the government and now it’s time for them to repay their debt. But for government to construct roads and bridges, invest in research, or build public schools, it needs taxpayers – and successful business owners not only pay taxes themselves, but they hire workers who also pay taxes. As I’ll reiterate, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent earned 13.4 percent of income in the U.S. in 2009, but (under the Bush era rates) paid 22.3 percent of all federal taxes. The top 20 percent, who earned 50.8 percent of income, paid 67.9 percent of taxes.

American businesses owners might well say to Obama, “You didn’t build that pile of tax money. Somebody else made that happen.”
Thomas Sowell adds in his own firepower in shooting down the logical fallacies of the liberals' arguments.
People who run businesses are benefitting from things paid for by others? Since when are people in business, or high-income earners in general, exempt from paying taxes like everybody else?

At a time when a small fraction of high-income taxpayers pay the vast majority of all the taxes collected, it is sheer chutzpah to depict high-income earners as somehow being subsidized by "the rest of us," whether in paying for the building of roads or the educating of the young.

Since everybody else uses the roads and the schools, why should high achievers be expected to feel like free loaders who owe still more to the government, because schools and roads are among the things that facilitate their work? According to Elizabeth Warren, because it is part of an "underlying social contract."

Conjuring up some mythical agreement that nobody saw, much less signed, is an old ploy on the left -- one that goes back at least a century, when Herbert Croly, the first editor of The New Republic magazine, wrote a book titled "The Promise of American Life."

Whatever policy Herbert Croly happened to favor was magically transformed by rhetoric into a "promise" that American society was supposed to have made -- and, implicitly, that American taxpayers should be forced to pay for. This pious hokum was so successful politically that all sorts of "social contracts" began to appear magically in the rhetoric of the left.

If talking in this mystical way is enough to get you control of billions of dollars of the taxpayers' hard-earned money, why not?
These entrepreneurs have paid once already for that infrastructure. But once they're successful, they should pay again.

If you follow the Obama and Warren argument, there is no end to what they demand of those businessmen in order to fund the government role that is ever-growing in their visions. Just as Europe is discovering the dangerous fiscal limits of the big welfare state, liberals like Obama and Warren want to take us down that demonstrably failed path. Previous Democrats like Bill Clinton realized the limits of that message. Now we have a much starker choice in paths for our country to follow. Obama's path is based on banal logical fallacies. You might not be thrilled with Mitt Romney and complaints about his record, but his victory represents the only chance to stop us from going further along that path that Obama wants us to go.