Elizabeth Warren is dead; long live Elizabeth Warren

Long-time readers of this blog (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) will remember I mentioned that Elizabeth Warren joined the Choir Invisible just two months ago. An Elizabeth Warren, the one better known by her married name: Elizabeth Warren “Betty” Ford.  I was distantly aware that there was another Elizabeth Warren.  She oversaw the TARP thingee and then was Special Advisor for the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whatever that means.  Now she’s running for Senate, trying to take Scott Brown’s seat.

I knew all this, vaguely, but never gave her much though until a picture of her was posted on the invaluable Reddit, with a recent quote from her, under the supposedly un-ironic headline “No Truer Words”:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you.

But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….

Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

I would have thought this was an unexceptional statement of basic left-of-centerism, but in nine hours on Reddit, it garnered over 4000 comments, the vast majority of them strongly supportive.  I just don’t get it.

Apparently, the idea is that since the state / government / community / village did you the favor of taxing you to pay for what everybody admits are

  • crumbling infrastructure
  • failing schools
  • corrupt police
  • inadequate fire protection

and despite all this, you still somehow manage to create a profitable business, then the state / government / community  — heck, let’s just call it the Leviathan — the Leviathan can help itself to as much of your stuff as it wants.

But it’s worse than that.  Assume counterfactually that the government was miraculously providing smooth clear roads, great schools, reliable emergency services — her position still makes no sense.

Certainly the government, the “community” if you want, provides a lot of services.  On the other hand, my landlord provides a lot of services too.  I have a small start-up and the landlord provides a space for us to work, electricity, cleaning services, heating, and so on.  Our start-up couldn’t function without those services, we’re very glad to receive them, and we cheerfully pay the rent he charges.

But that rent is all he gets!  He doesn’t get a seat on the board, and if (cross your fingers) the start-up takes off, he does not get one extra dime.

And if he fails to provide services we contracted for, we don’t pay.  In fact, we can even sue.  You think you can sue the government because the cops don’t answer your 911 call?  The “social contract” is entirely one sided.  It binds you, but it doesn’t give you a single enforcible right.

I wonder if Warren even believes this crap herself.  Does she think, for example, that since Microsoft hires a lot of Chinese programmers that the government of China should exercise special authority over that corporation?  Of course not.  Complicated, basically vacuous arguments like the one Warren was making aren’t meant to be actually examined; they’re just excuses for the course already decided on.

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