A reader writes:
Thank you for clarifying your "makers" vs. "takers" comment. I still don't buy it.
I'm a professor at a state university. My education was paid for by the government, my salary comes from the government, and most likely I'll retire on a government pension. I guess that means that I primarily rely on government to get me through my life, putting me solidly on the "taker" side of the ledger. If the shoe fits I'm willing to wear it, but I can't see how the world would be a better place if I moved to the private sector. Through my government funded research and the government subsidized training I give my students, I believe I support the long-term health of our economy much more than I could as a scientist in private industry focused on product development and short-term profits.
Everyone takes something from the government, and everyone makes something for society. To pretend that's not true by setting up a simplistic divide between makers and takers just obscures the real questions we should be addressing.
Andrew, populist conservatism is a mirage. Those who broadly consider themselves the "makers", i.e. those in control of capital and large enterprises, will always use their power to get themselves the "corporate welfare" you denounce, gutting regulation and skewing the tax code in their own favor, all in the name of maximizing incentives to produce wealth. Believing that you can disentangle their eternal wish list on the tax front from some kind of purist cerebral conservative commitment to minimal taxation is like believing in clean coal.
"It's about those who contribute their labor to produce something of value, and those who primarily rely on government, directly and indirectly, to get them through their lives."
I fear that the new cultural divide you are trying to describe will never take hold. Why? Because the line is so fuzzy that I cannot tell for most professions on which side they are on. Is the policeman paid by the state to protect his neighborhood a maker or a taker? How about Warren Buffet? A realtor? A retired vet? A professional baseball player?
I don't see why "relying on the government" is such an important distinction. When Rick Wagoner gets a $23 million severance package, does the fact that the $23 million are paid by GM (as opposed to the government) matter to decide whether he is a maker or a taker? Not in my view of the world.
I think some of the umbrage your "Makers and Takers" comment faced is due to the fact that there has been a comfortable place in American discourse for vilifying the less fortunate, as if "welfare queens" were by any stretch of the imagination the source of our troubles, especially compared to the Financial Products division of AIG. And to see you participate, however accidentally in that habit, is part of what many of us see as a dangerous dark side of American politics - something to be dragged into the light and criticized. It's part of that dynamic where the powerful like nothing more than the weak being seen as the problem.
You also mention "mandatory entitlement benefits to the comfortable middle and upper classes", but if anything we are learning these days, who is a member of the "comfortable middle class" is a rapidly moving target. It's the reason we fought privatization of Social Security for what it was, a fool-hardy, short-term, rose-colored glasses approach to unknown long-term problems.
We all agree, on the left and right, that we do not want to waste our remaining resources, and suggesting that Democrats just can't wait to start burning dollar bills is a great way to get actual Democrats to wish you would modernize your views. The tendency of the right to manipulate that discussion by hauling out old straw-men like "welfare queens" is a lack of change we do not believe in.
Regarding your clarification of "makers and takers": right on! But I think there was a subtle, but important shift from your original post. You initially said:
"It will be between the makers and the takers, the producers of wealth and the recipients of redistribution."
It's the phrase "producers of wealth" that traps many modern conservatives. It's the Larry Kudlow view of the world, in which the debt-fueled paper profits of Wall Street were repeatedly lionized as "the greatest story never told." Bernie Madoff, AIG, and the Saudi royal family are (or were) incredible producers of wealth. The financial services industry got away with its destructive behavior for so long because it was driving GDP growth. Clearly there is a difference between producing "wealth" and producing, as you write in your clarification "something of value." To the extent that wealth production is decoupled from value production, capitalism is failing. The scam artists that drove Wall Street into the ground are walking away insanely wealthy and largely unscathed, and future scam artists are surely taking note.
With that in mind, I'm curious as to how you propose we restore the association between wealth production and value creation.