Say It Loud: Redistribution Is Good for America

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How to Make Government Work
Sept. 19 2012 5:13 PM

Say It Loud: Redistribution Is Good for America

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Mitt Romney has defended his "47 percent" comments

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages.

Give Mitt Romney credit for doubling down. Perhaps he had no choice: Even the master Etch-a-Sketcher couldn't erase his dismissive tone toward the 47 percent. So embracing it became the strategy. Put aside the factual errors about who pays and who doesn't, and also the question of whether the 47 percent might still support Romney. Instead, let’s thank Romney for defining what this race is all about.

In his clarifying statements yesterday and today, Romney squarely said he opposes a government that redistributes, and he repeated to the point of boredom that he opposes the kinds of government interventions—such as the auto bailout and the stimulus—that have defined the government's fiscal policies for almost 70 years.

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Given that, what is the intellectual framework for Romney? It is the world of Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, a world of such diminished government that only the efforts of the individual are to be valued, a world in which the collective effort represented by government is derided.

In opposition to Romney's world view is that of John Rawls and John Maynard Keynes. They provide the intellectual guideposts for post-World War II America and its prosperity. They do believe in redistribution: Those who are affluent can and should help those who are not. They believe it is in fact government's responsibility to manage this effort in a way that promotes growth and overall prosperity. This has been—and should be—a core of our national identity. Those who receive the hand up are not to be denigrated: They are every bit as much a part of our community as anybody else, and will one day return the favor to others who are in a moment of need.

We should articulate this world view loudly and clearly. We should not be shy about declaring it. It is right morally and philosophically, and it has worked to build a bigger, stronger nation.

One last thought: Romney has now made paying taxes the litmus test for moral standing in our community. He has done this by dismissing the 47 percent as dependents and slackers. So while I had grown tired and lost interest in Mitt's tax returns, I have a sudden, newfound desire to examine them. If payment is the ticket to moral uprightness, I want to see if Mitt has punched his own ticket. I am once again curious how hard he tried to become part of the 47 percent by taking advantage of off-shore tax shelters and other chicanery. So, to Mitt Romney: Before you deride the hard-working folks who are perhaps not fortunate enough to have to file a federal income-tax return, show us how hard you worked to minimize your own contribution.

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