"A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."
-- George Bernard Shaw (1944)
We Americans like to think of ourselves as a classless society. After all, the Constitution specifically stipulates, "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States."
No counts, dukes, or barons and no buying of military commissions, a common practice when the Constitution was written. Success in America depends not on family lineage or caste but merit.
Democrats and Republicans, however, have been able to circumvent the intent by creating an interventionist economy, by creating various classes of people and by conferring not titles but special privileges in exchange for votes and political contributions. This has set the stage for the burgeoning vitriolic class warfare we see today.
Under any free enterprise, private property, limited government order each person's gain must also be another person's gain or people wouldn't voluntarily do business with each other. Everyone is free to compete and may the best man win -- no castes -- no classes -- and therefore no class conflicts.
When the government intervenes in the economy and has $3.8 trillion in its federal budget to dole out, it's a tacit admission that all political power derives from what government can do "to us" -- or "for us," and $3.8 trillion delivers a lot of "fors." All recipients of government largess, all classes have in common an interest in promoting increased taxes either because they pay none or they benefit far more than they pay.
For example: Government employees pay only a small percentage to the IRS of their much larger taxpayer remunerated salaries. All political classes have an irresistible desire to keep what they have and attain more. Wealth, however, must be earned before it can be taxed and redistributed. The threat of losing money and privileges "not earned" is the cause of class warfare. And the violent reaction to those proposing spending cuts is the clash of classes over who gets what -- and who pays. Since most politicians have no idea of how wealth is created, they promote the politics of envy and covetousness by taking money from one class and giving it to another.
Mortimer Zuckerman, editor in chief of U.S. News and World Reports, recently noted that roughly 50 million Americans are on one or more taxpayer supported programs. It's unclear if he includes money for defense contractors and their unions, airlines, steel mills, railroads and their unions, trial lawyers, banks, and farmers -- Fannie Mae -- Freddie Mac, Realtors -- the textile industry and its unions -- auto manufacturers and the auto workers' unions -- the maritime industry and its longshoremen -- NASA, Chambers of Commerce, AMA and hospitals, operas, symphonies, ballets, KPBS ("Sesame Street," "Frontline," PBS and NPR), the NFL owners and their ballplayers, libraries, universities and science grants, plus environmentalists with their mitigation credits, and on and on and on.
It's reasonable to assume Zuckerman does include welfare recipients and their case workers (who actually get the bulk of the money), as well as food stamp recipients, builders of affordable housing and its occupants. In short, any special interest class of people that can be created, identified and counted on for votes and money in exchange for an unearned share of the wealth produced by others. (As if the government was selling indulgences). Ask yourself, why would any of the above ever complain about the deficit or national debt?
Fanning the flames of the entitlement mentality -- pitting one class against another for funding -- diverts attention from what the government is doing "to us." It's not for naught that labor unions have contributed over $500 million toward elections in the last 10 years while business organizations have tried matching them dollar for dollar. (No, "big business" is not and never has been a defender of free enterprise).
The solution is not limiting campaign contributions but limiting the government's ability to dispense favors and redistribute wealth. Together unions and businesses in the hunt for other people's money are the biggest contributors to elections. (See: opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php)
The distribution of $3.8 trillion in government spending is a tremendous incentive to get a seat on the gravy train. Whereas under free enterprise success is determined by consumers buying or abstaining from buying and thereby in command of what's to be produced in what quantities and quality, in politics success is determined by supplicants who vote. In the latter not consumers but politicians determine what's produced.
Once privileges have been conferred they are nearly impossible to rescind. Look what happened to the Soviet Union when people were made dependent upon government. Look at Great Britain as F.A. Hayek forewarned in the Road to Serfdom (that Democratic Socialism would change the character of the British people) or the sad state of American Indians under the paternalism and stewardship of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (before casinos).
This is not to suggest that government is a necessary evil. Government is not inherently evil. To the contrary, government is absolutely imperative for sustaining a free society, provided the government is properly constrained and does not engage in enterprise. The role of government is to create a fair field without favor, first and foremost to protect the people from predators, both foreign and domestic, protect property, invoke a common system of justice and enforce contracts legally and voluntarily entered.
That's it! People look to themselves when government has nothing to give and there is no opportunity for class warfare.
Success depends not on how to influence politicians but how well you serve your fellow man. Under free enterprise by the content of their character the American people have proven to be the most generous in the world toward less fortunate people.
Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 35 years and was a San Diego city councilman from 1977-81.