Elizabeth Warren wants to be Massachusetts’ next liberal champion. Warren, the Harvard Law Professor and the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is trying to win back “Ted Kennedy’s” Senate seat for the Democrats in 2012.
To do that, she must first win the Senate primary contest- no small feat for a woman who has never held elective office. Ms. Warren is appealing to Bay State Democrats by emphasizing egalitarianism: no one, in her eyes, got rich on their own.
Everyone has benefited from public services, Warren says-roads transported private goods, public schools educated the private workforce, police and fire protect private property, etc- and the most affluent among us must contribute their share to society. In this way,Warren echoes former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, who maintained that taxes were the price we pay for our civilization.
Warren’s appeal upset George Will, who writes about her candidacy in a recent column. Conservatism’s most erudite voice says Warren wants to destroy individualism and threatens private autonomy. A sample:
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera[a hybrid], that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.
Will is onto something. Notice the language liberals use to talk about taxes. They always say Republicans want to give money back to their millionaire supporters while sticking it to the little guy and the middle class. That language presupposes that government allocates wealth and should take, in Marx’s phrase, from each according to his ability, and provide to each according to his need. Conservative policies, suffice it to say, are anathema to this egalitarian ideal.
Liberals immediately countered Will’s piece- none defended Warren’s vision better than William Galston in The New Republic. Galston says that Warren wants to strengthen a fraying social compact that has withered, in recent years, due to a failing economy and an increase in the disparity of wealth. The poor have gotten poorer and the rich much richer over the last decade.
Galston hints at Edmund Burke, the progenitor of the modern conservative intellectual movement, and writes: “Society is indeed a contract … a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” and contends that Warren’s egalitarianism is not only prudent, but a moral necessity.
Liberals throw the morality card around all too frequently in public discourse. That is to say, above all else, they want fairness. It’s patently unfair, in their estimation, that the rich only pay a top marginal tax rate of 35%.
But is it “fair” that the top 10% of income earners pay 70% of income taxes? Is it “fair” that the bottom 50% pay 3% of taxes? Is it “fair” that the bottom 49% pay zero income taxes?
Let’s be clear: I’m not arguing against a progressive tax system. A national consensus has developed on this system; therefore, what’s the best way to fix our nation’s fiscal woes?