Over at First Thoughts, R.R. Reno writes about inequality and solidarity. He writes (following Charles Murray) that “the rich have abandoned moral leadership, or more accurately have developed an esoteric morality for their children (“healthy choices”) while promoting moral relativism (“inclusion”) for everybody else.” Reno also writes about the two paths for dealing with this inequality. There is what might be called left-redistributionist view:
to use government to level things out and put people into roughly the same material circumstances, or at least less disparate ones. The cultural revolution in China during the 1960s was a particularly radical and brutal version of this strategy. Stiff taxes and generous redistribution, a public health care system that prohibits private insurance, regulations requiring open access to elite colleges and universities, are of course far less destructive but reflect a similar impulse.
There is also a social, but not entirely state-centered approach to solidarity:
to emphasize the bonds of solidarity that transcend inequalities. Patriotism is a good example. Downton Abbey has a season of shows set during World War I. During those shows the distance between top and bottom of society is by no means eliminated, but it was in a real way bridged, at least emotionally, and with lasting consequences for political culture. Religion is another bond that transcends. In more modest ways dignified public spaces create solidarity. Everybody from the rich Westchester commuter to the working stiff heading to the subway is uplifted while walking through Grand Central Station. It’s a luxury we hold in common.
I’d like to focus on another approach that is on offer. This approach is to free the creative entrepreneurs to make things better for everybody else even if this widens inequality. At the extreme, this approach looks at low earners as “lucky duckies” for their low tax liability. The answer to our economic woes is to raise taxes on the those around the median and just under the median while cutting taxes on high earners to spur wealth creation.
This approach might look like the opposite of solidarity, but I don’t think it looks that way to people who support it. Call it “job creator solidarity.” This approach aims to increase the solidarity of low earners with the high earners who make America go. Raise the taxes on low earners so they can feel the pain of high earners. This will make the low earners less likely to vote themselves higher benefits. Cutting taxes on high earners will unleash the creativity we need to create new jobs for that majority of people who aren’t entrepreneurs. The combination of less government and lower taxes on the creative minority will lead to an explosion of wealth that will lift even the boats of low earners who are paying higher taxes and getting fewer benefits. Everybody is a winner and the system is more just because everybody is contributing.
This is the perspective of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and Michelle Bachmann (at least sometimes.) You can sometimes hear that perspective on the Saturday morning Fox News business shows. Bachmann finished last in Iowa and then dropped out so it isn’t like she defines the party. Romney actually wanted to be elected president so he didn’t adopt a plan to raise taxes on the lower middle and working-classes, but his campaign borrowed some of the themes of job creator solidarity. The convention seemed obsessed with defending the “successful” who were “job creators” and “built that.” The dark side of this obsessive valorization of high earners was the contempt that Romney expressed for those forty-seven percent who had no net income tax liability. Not only were they not job creators, but they were also nontaxpayers who were not contributing the government. They also thought of themselves as victims, expected to be taken care of by the government (at the expense of the heavily taxed job creators of course), and could not be convinced to care for their own lives.
There is a lot wrong with the above point of view and it is easy to mock, but we shouldn’t underestimate its appeal in certain circles as a politics of solidarity. That is why you can hear a lot of not-at-all wealthy people support this kind of politics even though they might benefit from some kinds of redistribution. They think the redistribution would be morally wrong and would injure society even if they benefited themselves in the short and medium-term. That is why political figures voice this view from time to time even though it is a liability in the general election. A large measure of the support for job creator solidarity is that it really is, for those who believe in it, a vision of shared burdens and broadly rising living standards.
We could use a better right-of-center politics of solidarity and luckily folks like Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru and others are helping to build one.