"Makers And Takers"

Many readers took umbrage at this shorthand in this post. Here's the context:

The new cultural divide will not be on guns, gays and God. It will be between the makers and the takers, the producers of wealth and the recipients of redistribution.

I should unpack a little (and maybe at some point, a lot). The divide I'm talking about is not a hackneyed distinction between God-fearing entrepreneurs and parasitic welfare queens. 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. This is not about rich and poor as such. It's clear at this point that the rich and privileged often get as much from government as anyone else. Nor is it about ending a welfare state that provides a core level of health and retirement security. Conservatives should be very comfortable in backing such a safety net - and working hard to make it more efficient and effective. It's about work vs. welfare broadly conceived. What I think conservatism has to do is recover its core sense of itself as the movement that values work over wealth, individual effort over collective action, and a system that is transparent and fair enough for ordinary folk with lives to live and families to take care of to keep tabs on.

The welfare includes mandatory entitlement benefits to the comfortable middle and upper classes, and the corporate welfare state in which wealthy businesses have the means to lobby big government to grant them tax breaks, hidden subsidies, tariffs and bailouts. It includes agricultural subsidies.

It targets big finance that has also lobbied to reduce the regulation that monitors their speculation. It's about teachers unions that protect bad teachers out of collective clout at the expense of students. It's about huge defense firms that come close to dictating what government buys and spends. You get the picture. Reduce these people's effective welfare, and reward ordinary people's hard work. It's a conservative theme that speaks to our current moment - and reflect a core element of the conservative DNA that avoids divisive moral and religious culture war issues that are best left to the states.

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One reason I favor a flat tax and a full-scale 1986 style attack on deductions and loopholes is to restore a sense that those who work hard and succeed at what they do are not being scammed by powerful free-riders who can use their money to get tax lawyers to rig the system. One reason I have no problem with a modest estate tax is also because it reflects a tax code that values work over inherited wealth.

That's also why conservatives should, in my view, back a restoration of some of the pre-1999 regulation of the financial sector to prevent them from gaming rather than working the system. Too big to fail means too big, as far as I'm concerned. It's why conservatives should champion a more aggressive attempt to ratchet back the military-industrial complex as well, as Eisenhower wanted, to subject America's defense establishment to some rational assessment of real national security needs. A serious bid to means-test social security and Medicare - or otherwise ensure that only the truly needy get help - may be political poison, but it's what fiscal conservatives exist to take on.

A smaller, more transparent and simpler government is easier to keep tabs on. I should add that, unlike many fiscal conservatives, I've long favored an estate tax that taxes inherited wealth rather than earned income. What conservatism needs to do is to regain the confidence of ordinary Americans who value work, thrift and self-reliance. After this current crisis, the moment will be ripe.