The big political news of the day, of course, is the video released by Mother Jones of Mitt Romney speaking to a room of wealthy donors in which he essentially wrote off half the American public as moochers who will never be convinced to take responsibility for their lives.
Romney’s remarks are a version of an increasingly popular conservative narrative according to which 47 percent of the American public allegedly pay no taxes and are living off the largesse of the welfare state at the expense of the hard-working “makers.”
There have been a number of debunkings of Romney’s comments today, not all of them from liberals. Ezra Klein wrote about it with his usual wonky detail, but National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru and First Things‘ Matthew Schmitz also pushed back. The New York Times’ David Brooks pointed out that these “freeloaders” include war veterans, students getting loans to go to college, and senior citizens (who disproportionately vote Republican!). The reality is that there’s no clear sense in which the political coalitions of Right and Left can be divided into “makers” and “takers.”
I’m not trying to make a tu quoque argument that Republicans benefit from government spending too. The point I’d rather make is that the self-made man who inherits nothing and doesn’t owe anybody anything is a myth. Luck is as large a determinant of where you end up as individual initiative is. And liberals believe that government is the only entity in society with the ability to level the playing field a bit and make sure as many people as possible have a shot at a decent life. It does this through redistribution, regulation, and provision of public services, among other functions. As I’ve written before, one of the reasons I became disenchanted with libertarianism was that I realized my life wouldn’t be possible without “big government.”
We all probably have a tendency to exaggerate our own contributions to our successes and to minimize what we owe to others, to circumstances, or to dumb luck. But is that something to base a governing philosophy on?