October 20, 2010
Social Justice and Fair Taxes
There is no justice in social justice. The Duke Lacrosse Team was convicted in the court of social justice even though they were innocent and their black female accuser was guilty. Nazis worshiped social justice. In the name of social justice, Nazis persecuted "capitalist" Jews. The Ku Klux Klan wanted "social justice." Although blacks were the Klan's most conspicuous victims, bankers, Republicans, Catholics, and -- again -- Jews were high on the list, too, and the Klan was founded to protect the weak and defenseless...all in the name of social justice. Father Coughlin, the notorious anti-Semite and a victim of Klan violence himself, warned about the wickedness of the rich in his book, A Series of Lectures on Social Justice.
Fairness is the mystic mantra of the left, and so when President Obama responds to extending the Bush tax cuts, he conjures the spirit of fairness. It is hard to argue against the vague, sweet whisper of fairness. Leftists, in tax policy, read fairness only one way: those who earn more pay more. That certainly redistributes wealth from the more productive to the least productive members of society, but is it fair? Fairness, like justice, must transcend democratic majorities, but the fairness proclaimed by the left with its progressive income tax rates is like the social justice.
The snarling face of social justice lies behind the mask of fair taxes. Why should those who earn more pay higher taxes than the rest of us? Do we have some moral claim upon the wealth they create? It is just the opposite: they who produce more have a claim on the rest of us, who consume more than we produce. The titans of industry a century ago -- Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and the rest -- turned out cheap and high-quality products which were a principal reason for our rise as a great nation. Their personal wealth represented a miniscule part of the national wealth they created.
Men like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and others lived more to create scientific and technological breakthroughs than to earn money. Indeed, for many of these men, money was simply a tool to allow them to do more good. The same is true today. Microsoft, FedEx, and Wal-Mart created wealth that we consume. These creators, in the equations of economic advantage, owe us nothing at all. We, instead, owe them much. The left's love of social justice does not rest even on the hoary, dull tomes of Marxism. Producers, not consumers, are the exploited in Marxist mythology, and huge chunks of American consumers -- the ones crying for fair taxes -- produce almost nothing.
Most great givers ask almost nothing in return. Mozart and Beethoven received microscopic monetary returns compared to the vast cultural wealth their compositions created. Twain and Orwell gave us incomparably more than the meager royalties from their writings. What is real injustice? Alexander Fleming received little for his quiet work -- the discovery of penicillin. Upper-level bureaucrats or education administrators earn, on the taxpayers' backs, more in a year than Fleming acquired in his lifetime for the life-saving antibiotic.
The fair taxes demanded by the left also ignore the uncomfortable truth that the rich receive less from government than most of us. When the rich send children to private schools, public schools need less money from taxpayers. Wealthy Americans who live in gated communities need less police protection than other Americans. The rich do not need Medicaid, public housing, or welfare. Those who produce little or nothing and who pay almost no taxes gobble up huge amounts of taxpayer-funded services. Our noble instinct for charity governs part of this help for the poor, and charity is a modest, real virtue. But coerced government transfers of wealth are not charity at all. When the serpent slithers into the picture, then the gratitude toward charity felt by the poor morphs into the venomous predator of social justice. Gentle requests for help, so easily touching the hearts of most Americans, become jack-booted demands for "my fair share" when the exploitation of the few by the many becomes a system of prerogative and not of pity.
We should throw a huge caveat on all this dithering about economic fairness: money, like politics, ought to be a small part of our lives. Conservatives know that. It is the leftist misinterpretation of life which paints us all as economic creatures and which considers all things in life, essentially, political. The lust for money, like the lust for political power, ought to be restrained by vastly greater values like truth, love, art, family, and faith.
The jihad for fairness can be seen in its hideousness when we consider that fairness of the sort envisioned by the nightmare of social justice would require that the beautiful young woman be scarred or her beauty loaned in rapine to unappealing (and so "disadvantaged" men). Iron fairness demands that gifted students and gifted athletes be given fewer opportunities than the duller brains or slower bodies of the less blessed of us. Indeed, "fair taxes," like every other evil incarnation of social justice, require brutal war against the creator of our differences, our Creator. Our private, selfish notions of "justice" thrive only in the Hell which we create by banishing God.
Bruce Walker is the author of a new book: Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life.