Friday, September 30, 2011

Warren's rant

This video of Elizabeth Warren engaging in what appears to be a candid and unscripted rant about taxation has attracted a fair amount of attention, with Paul Krugman hailing her "elegant remarks" and Andrew Sullivan wondering aloud if she is now the "Chris Christie of the left." A few points:
  • Warren basically knocks down a giant strawman: does anyone really disagree with the notion that those who benefit from government should help fund it? The debate is not over whether taxes should be paid, but rather how much. Warren declines to state exactly how much the hypothetical factory owner should pay in taxes, but does concede that they should keep a "big hunk" of their income. Hey, I agree -- say 85 percent?
  • The video is entitled "fair taxation" (and really, is anyone for unfair taxation?), but I doubt Warren favors at flat tax, despite the fact that under such a system someone who makes 10 times more than another person would pay 10 times greater tax. 
  • When Warren mentioned government preventing "marauding bands" from seizing everything at one's factory I couldn't help but think of this
  • It's notable that when discussing the benefits of government Warren cites security, roads and firefighters. This, however, in no way represents the margin at which the debate over the size of government is being conducted, with those opposed to a government role in these three functions few and far between. If the left believes in expansive government, why not justify expansive government instead of citing the functions that just about everyone agrees on? And if the expansive welfare state has little or nothing to do with the factory owner's success, what does that tell us about how beneficial it is?
  • The other area cited by Warren is education. One small problem, however, is that government doesn't do a particularly good job there, with public schools regularly outperformed by their private sector counterparts. 
Other commentary:
  • Aaron Ross Powell notes the difference between receiving government benefits and accepting them:
Nobody approached the rich before they were rich and said, “Hey, we’re all pitching in to pay for roads and police, which we all think are pretty valuable. If you’d like to benefit from those things like we would, we ask that you pay for them. Are you up for that?” A (pre-)rich person might very well say, “Yes, I’m game.” In that case the principle of fair play would apply. 
But it would only apply if he had a meaningful choice about the matter. On the other hand, he might say, “Yes, I think we do need roads and police, but I also think they’d be better provided by an alternative cooperative scheme (the market, a different government, a different voluntary group, etc.) to the one you’re offering.”
  • Rich Lowry says the government's contribution to the entrepreneur's success pales in comparison to the entrepreneur's own initiative:
Focusing on infrastructure as the crucial support of entrepreneurial activity is like crediting the guy who built young Bill Gates’s garage with the start of Microsoft. Yes, Gates needed a roof over his head, and garages are useful. But it was Gates who had the ambition to do more in his garage than store his car and lawn-care products. Incalculably more important than his physical surroundings were his imagination and business sense.
More here from an Instapundit reader and here from Russ Roberts.

Update: A. Barton Hinkle similarly labels Warren's rant an exercise in strawman slaying.

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