We cannot all be at the top of our class, even if - as in Lake Wobegon - all our children are above average. How you answer the question; "What prevents everyone from being a success in America" determines where your values lie and is a good predictor of your politics.
"A simple "Thank You" from the people who benefit from the largesse (of my taxes) would be nice." - JPMcT
"I am tired of being castigated for being successful -- of being told that I don't "deserve" what I've worked for." - Anon 7:15
"a lot of this depends on whether you believe that people who consume more than they produce, over the course of their lives, are failures or not. My own view is that they are failures. In some cases it may not be their fault, but that does not make it any less so. " -Tigerhawk
Who says the election is not about values? You cannot have a discussion about the economy or the direction we are heading as a country and as a society without confronting what each of us values and how we see the world and our place in it. The three excerpts from previous comments at Tigerhawk, above, struck me as illustrative, and prompted this post.
The issue of whether 'those who have not' feel entitled to benefits subsidized by 'those who have' is all about those values. I can appreciate that those who have made a financial success of themselves could resent being told that they are selfish takers and not doing useful, even highly beneficial service to society. I can also understand how those who never asked for anything, toughed it out, and either were successful financially or were not not but are never going to be the beneficiaries of an "entitlement" program would resent those who are subsidized by our taxes and who (may or may not) believe they are entitled to such subsidy. There are, of course, entitlement expectations of some who inherit wealth but produce nothing of their own that get resented in the other direction. Such fortunes, by design or default, tend to decline in the next generation.
To JPMcT - Ingratitude and expectations of entitlement are a galling combination. So thank you. I mean it. But, then, I pay my taxes too, so thank me. Neither of us, however, is the face of the benefits of our taxes to those who receive them. Do you thank inadequate impersonal government bureaucracies, like Medicare, when your medical practice is the beneficiary?
Ingratitude from those who benefit from our taxes has the feel of a strawman to me, though I am aware such examples exist. It is not a very long jump from there to redistribution, that old Socialist canard. That, in turn, has the whiff of reparations about it in America, and that quickly brings us to matters of race and whether the sins of the fathers shall be visited down the generations or whether we have any obligation to attempt to redress old wrongs (financially or otherwise). There is no sword for this particular Gordian knot, so instead we have a wedge.
Some like TH may conclude that such people are failures (as he says) whether it is their fault or not. I respectfully would reply to my friend and cousin that he is missing the distinction between quantifiable value that produces things that economists understand, and qualitative but nonetheless measurable values that add greatly to society (not to mention family) but may not be personally remunerative. Could I make more money as the attorney I could certainly have chosen to become? Certainly. But that is not the value measure I would place on the impact of my work or the societal values it serves. I work for conservation non-profits and do not consider the product of my labor or the rewards I receive for it to be adequately captured in a simple ratio of consumption over production.
I will also point out that when my wife stayed home as the primary caregiver for our two children, she deeply resented that her unpaid work was socially undervalued despite its tremendous value for our family. In fact, measured purely economically we would have been more "productive" had there been two significant wage earners instead of just me. There is nothing wrong with day-care, but the sort of people and citizens our children are becoming, in part because of the supportive home environment we strive to provide, represents anything but "failure".
Sacrifice for a greater good may not balance the books, but it can balance the scales. That is why soldiers risk their greatest personal asset in battle, and why we support our churches and other charities. That is also why, according to Hobbes' Social Contract, we give up some of the freedoms of the state of nature to be part of the state of man. Pure individual freedom is anarchy and a threat to all. Ask the Somalis - aside from the warlords and pirates - how they like living in a failed state. This society admires those who grab their bootstraps and pull. In his nomination acceptance speech, Barack Obama described the flip side of this value:
"Out of work? Tough luck, you are on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own boot straps. Even if you don't have boots you are on your own."
Again, whether you believe personal lack of resources is a personal failure or not says a lot about what you value and by extension what government policies and taxation you feel are appropriate and whether social change is desirable or necessary. What may keep us from sharing more values are the conclusions we draw about what should be done.