An exchange between myself and another poster from The Denver Post comment board:
Airborne All The Way wrote:This is actually an important issues having deep ramifications for our society. As noted in the Harvard lectures of Michael Sandel, we have the concept of self-ownership. That includes the fruits of our labor. There are people who work hard and risk much to succeed. Others will not work hard or act in a prudent manner. Why should they have a call on the fruits of those who have?

The answer to your final question is simple: Because wealth is not only or always distributed to those who produce it, or to those who work harder, or even to those who are fortunate enough to enjoy valuable natural talents. While these factors play a role in our complex political economy, they do not play the only role, nor, statistically, do they play the primary role. The number one statistical predictor of one’s future socioeconomic status is socioeconomic status at birth. As a statistical fact, the descendants of those who were historically oppressed and exploited are grossly overrepresented among those today who are most impoverished. Either you employ the implicit racism of suggesting that those particular races produce higher proportions of the lazy non-meritorious, or you admit that there is still gross inequality of opportunity laced into our political economy.

Not everybody lives in a world of false dichotomies, in which we must either embrace extreme individualism, or extreme collectivism; or in which if you do not believe in a complete disregard for our actual interdependence and our actual shared interests and basic values of human decency and fairness as a polity, then, by default, you must be completely against any emphasis on personal responsibility or respect for many very real virtues of our market economy. Some live in a more complex and nuanced world, in which there are real challenges we must face, and real difficulties in facing them.

When you get past the oversimplistic ideological noise, and get into the details of how economies work, how social institutional systems evolve, and how power and opportunity are distributed and horded, even in modern capitalist democratic societies, you look to the information-intensive challenges of our life, and deal with them as rational, intelligent, compassionate, and sane human beings.

Unfortunately, too few of us ever take that vital initial step.

In 2007 in America, 34.6% of all wealth in this nation was concentrated into the hands of just 1% of the population. 80% of the population, a full four fifths of all Americans, were left to share among themselves just 15% of the total wealth in the country. it could only be the most contemptuous elitism that would suggest that four fifths of all Americans are so worthless that they merit, together, less than half of what the richest one percent merit.

It’s a fiction that to modify this inequity within the context of a market economy destroys that economy. Western European nations have comparable per capita GDPs to America, but far lower gini coefficients (the statistical measure of the inequality in the distribution of wealth), and, despite your mythology, far higher social mobility (i.e., more opportunity than Americans to succeed by virtue of their own efforts). They also enjoy lower infant mortality, lower rates of homelessness and poverty, more effective and cheaper healthcare systems, and higher levels of self-reported happiness.

Nor did they all accomplish it by borrowing their way into an economic crisis: Germany has had a stronger economy than the U.S. for decades, was less affected by the recent economic crisis and recovered from it sooner than the United States, and, by your reckoning, is a far more socialist country than we are.

Our national history, and our deeper political economic heritage, are not just about your extreme individualism, but also about our sense of interdependence and shared purpose. Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of working together as a polity to address social problems, and spent his life devising effective means of doing so. Two centuries before Franklin and across the pond, John Donne wrote that “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

A century after Franklin, also in England, Charles Dickens had a tormented specter remind a person whose words so strongly resemble so many of your own that “‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

These concerns that I raise and that you so blithely dismiss are a legitimate part of our national business, of our moral responsibility as a polity, of our burden as members of a society.

Step out of the pages of your right-wing comic book, and join the real world, the one in which it is a travesty to claim to be concerned about America’s debt but then scuttle a $4 trillion dollar debt reduction deal that was on the table because it involved small “tax increases” (in reality, closing of tax loopholes that are essentially subsidies to the extremely wealthy), “tax increases” that the overwhelming weight of professional economic opinion from across the ideological spectrum (including, for instance, supply-side economist Alan Greenspan) insists are absolutely necessary. And in order to ensure that we don’t do what virtually all economists agree is what we should do, these noble warriors are willing to blackmail the nation with a self-imposed economic catastrophe that will greatly exacerbate the debt problem and destroy the national economy at the same time.

As I wrote elsewhere: The party that claims to be serious about addressing our debt not only refuses to consider any package that includes actually paying down that debt, in defiance of the overwhelming weight of economic opinion from across the ideological spectrum, but also 1) has scuttled the larger debt-reduction plan in order to do so, and 2) threatens national economic self-destruction unless the nation capitulates to their “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical” demands.

In the world of responsible and informed people, we put the facts on the table, the real facts, and we work toward solutions, real solutions, not what The Economist magazine rightly called the “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical” strategems being advanced by your ideological representatives today.

There are no panaceas; I am not suggesting that I have some magic wand to wave which eliminates all inefficiencies and resolves all dilemmas. But we do have minds, and we do have means of using them. And we do have huge resources mobilizing our collective genius in myriad ways to work together, as reasonable people of goodwill, doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That is all that I advocate.

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