The Return of Self-Interest

On Wednesday, President Obama took another of his many, many taxpayer-funded 2012 campaign junkets to Pennsylvania, which he famously dismissed as a land full of small folk who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations” during his 2008 campaign. 

They’re even more bitter and frustrated now, thanks to three years of Obamanomics, but they also seem receptive to instructions that they should hate the Evil Rich even more than Obama despises them.  Thus, the President found himself at the Scranton high school, making awkward jokes about how the Republicans are a bunch of Grinches who don’t want to raise taxes so Uncle Santa can ride out of Washington with a fresh sled full of unsustainable government goodies.  The Republican National Committee whipped a little video to commemorate the occasion:

Obama also labored very hard to make sure the crowd was properly appreciative of his payroll tax cut, which is one of the few items on his agenda that Republicans find themselves in philosophical agreement with.  “That’s money you can spend on a small business right here in Scranton,” he told the crowd.  The median income in Scranton makes the payroll tax cut in question worth roughly $700 per year, which is just about enough to cover the necessary permits for a lemonade stand, which would otherwise be quickly shut down by vigilant regulators.

Obama has been pushing his payroll tax cut with strong appeals to the self-interest of those who wind up with extra money in their pockets.  Leaving aside the fact that this money is coming out of a Social Security system that didn’t need to be made even more insolvent, it’s interesting how politicians play around with the concept of self-interest.  It’s an unalloyed virtue if you’re a “working family” Obama wants to impress with his tax cut, but a dismal evil if you’re employed by an industry he disapproves of, or your income rises above certain limits.  Liberal politicians regard the ambitions of anyone except themselves as noble only when it’s a manageable hunger for government-provided adequacy.

If there’s one thing the Obama years should have taught us, it’s that government cannot “re-distribute” wealth.  It re-distributes poverty.  Collectivism is all about spreading misery while targeting benefits.  You’re supposed to forget about the massive, and in many cases hidden, costs Obama has imposed on the American economy, and be grateful for the seven hundred bucks he tossed you, as his gigantic motorcade rolled past.  The impending expiration of the Bush tax rates will cost the people in that Scranton auditorium far more than the puny payroll tax boon Obama expects them to swoon over. 

Much of that cost will be shuffled around and hidden in the shadows of commerce, like so many of the madly spiraling costs of centralized government.  The Obama way is deeply and inherently dishonest, because it expects businesses to pass on so many of the costs it imposes.  As government grows larger, it becomes both more important, and easier, to hide its costs from the people who ultimately pay them.  The results are very confusing to ordinary people seeking to lead honest lives.

There is no longer the slightest pretense of treating government as a dreadful expense to be shouldered by a consenting populace as evenly as possible, to perform a few carefully limited duties.  Now you’re supposed to wait for Good King Barack to smile upon your small-business plan and direct one of his many courtiers to cut you a check.  Applause for his good intentions is expected, while questions about the grim outcomes are rude, and limits to his discretion are unthinkable.

It’s long past time for Americans to grow up and move past this childish and destructive fantasy.  The great majority of people act in the interests of themselves, and their families.  They work hard to get ahead.  They make investments in the pursuit of reward.  The Democrats have no trouble understanding and promoting this when they’re looking to buy votes at $700 a pop… but otherwise, they expect us to embrace the highly regimented altruism of limitless “donations” to an angelic government filled with thousands of wise and selfless bureaucrats, whose salaries we are not supposed to envy.

Politics is the worst way to fulfill your self-interest.  It’s compulsive, which means it’s destructive.  Wealth is quickly shredded in a crossfire of votes from competing interests, seeking to force one another to pay for benefits.  The only thing “progressive” about those politics is that they become progressively uglier.  The Social Security system Obama is raiding to toss out his little payroll tax bouquets has already gone into the red.  Very soon, it will be completely unable to continue, even with those incessant tweaks to the retirement age.  When that happens, we will all receive a very unpleasant lesson in what “bitter clinging” looks like.

A system in which the natural ambitions of free people are thwarted, and punished, is an immoral system doomed to failure.  When cash from the government is viewed as magical charity, while the desire to keep the money you actually earned is portrayed as despicable greed, madness is the inevitable result.  That’s why the President who has pulled so much money from America’s wallet expects us to be so extravagantly grateful for the small change he stuffs in our pockets.