Should We Pity the Rich?

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 2:44 PM EST

I found this little gem on National Review online via Oliver Willis. I think it says a lot about modern conservative thought. Stick with me all the way through; I think it's worth it.

The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities….

No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife's former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling? Instapundit speculates on people "going John Galt." I think golf — a time-intensive sport that the hard-working have eschewed for the past decade or two because it took too long — will make a comeback.

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(1) By assuming that "heart surgeons, dentists, litigators" will work less when they are taxed more, the writer ascribes to all high-achievers absurd objectivist motivations. For her worldview to hold together, she has to presuppose that people achieve exclusively to reap material gain. But in reality that's not true. Heart surgeons, for example, presumably went through the hell of medical school and work long stress-filled hours in order to become wealthy, but also because they believe in serving society. And because they seek to give something back, they may be more amenable than most to shouldering a greater tax burden for the good of others.

(2) The underlying the-rich-are-more-virtuous thinking here, which could be directly out of a Jane Austen novel, is out of place in today's conservativism. Didn't the writer get the memo? Sarah Palin went to 1,000 colleges and her kids are kinda-but-not-really going to school. This is a good thing; it gives them an everyday horse sense and helps them avoid the trappings of elitism. You are not supposed to exalt learning, hard work, and achievement in today's GOP. Those things are to be associated with arugula-eating and and Europe-emulating, and dismissed.

(3) Does anyone really believe that a successful lawyer is going to say, "I was going to continue applying myself as I have for the past eight years under the laissez faire economic policies of the Bush Administration, but fuck it. Obama is going to tax me slightly more, so I think I'm going to blow off my afternoon meetings and play some golf"? I have a hard time believe those that "work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else" will submerge their work ethic that easily.

You know what this is, in truth? It's class warfare through Ayn Rand's looking glass. In a crisis when even the wealthy are facing precariousness, and the prospect of losing everything, a strong social safety net that protects everyone in their times of need is even more vital. History will judge our actions in this period not by how we treated those that have the riches to survive, but by how we treated those that almost didn't.

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