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Who are the real 'takers'?

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Ayn Rand by DonkeyHotey

Ayn Rand by DonkeyHotey
   
According to the GOP, right-wing think tanks and FOX, the U.S. is on the verge of becoming a nation of "takers" who want to be given (as Mitt Romney put it) "free stuff." These takers are flush with a sense of "entitlement."

As candidate Romney explained in a leaked video of a meeting with his financial backers, typical Obama voters (the inferior 47%) are parasites who " believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it." If they can't afford these necessities, they expect the government to pay for them by taxing the earnings of other people.

On Jan. 3, FOX News commentator Arthur Herman repeated his widely circulated warning of a "coming civil war between makers and takers." This fantasy comes straight from the pages of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a novel that continues to be a best-seller 55 years after it was first published. In 2009-11, it sold 1.5 million copies.

The novel's hero, John Galt, organizes a "strike" by the business leaders of the world, to protest against government regulation of their activities and taxation of their wealth. The effect of this strike is that civilization goes into drastic decline. This catastrophe teaches ordinary people (the "second-raters") how much they depend on the striking business leaders for even basic necessities.

John Galt broadcasts a Castro-length speech in which he pours contempt on the lower classes and their government representatives. Instead of being offended by the great wealth of superior people, these little people should be grateful for the opportunity to buy all the good stuff made possible by their betters.

After all, he says, "The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains." Those at the top owe the rest nothing.

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In Rand's school-girl vision of capitalism, a tycoon isn't just someone who is good at making money. He is Daddy Warbucks for little orphan Aynie--a super-human brimming with wisdom and creativity.

The best antidote for readers exposed to this silliness is Donald Trump. He is a living demonstration that business success has no necessary connection with any other desirable human quality. Or we can think of the Wall St. CEOs whose greed and incompetence plunged the world into a lingering economic crisis in 2007-8.

The world-view of the Romney-Ryan ticket was saturated with Ayn Rand. Ryan, self-styled GOP "young gun" and current chair of the House Budget Committee, told the Atlas Society in 2005 that "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are."

After dumping on the 47% for benefitting from federal programs while not paying federal income tax, Romney said he's given up on them: "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

According to the Tax Policy Center, the vast majority of this 47% are either the elderly (22%) or the working poor (61%). (The latter do pay federal payroll as well as state and local taxes, most of which are regressive.) The remaining 17% include students, the disabled and the unemployed.

The arrogance and condescension in Romney's rant probably cost him the election. Yet most Republicans continue to exhibit the same insulting attitude in their relentless attempts to defund social programs. The Ryan budget recently adopted by the House in a party-line vote pursues deficit reduction by harming the poor while protecting the wealthy.

Conservatives ridicule people for thinking they "deserve" the food, health care and other goods these programs provide to people who aren't paid enough to be able to buy them. They are making "entitlement" a dirty word.

And yet, too many rich Americans have their own sense of entitlement--a belief that they "deserve" an ever greater share of the nation's income and wealth. For instance, as reported by the AFL-CIO, "The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay between CEOs of the S&P 500 Index companies and U.S. workers widened to 380 times in 2011." That is nine times greater than 1980's ratio of 42 to 1.

Of course we're all better off with some degree of inequality to provide incentives for those with greater ability. But it would be absurd to claim we're nine times better off today than in 1980. As philosopher John Rawls famously argued, the only degree of inequality that rational voters should accept is one that makes everyone better off.

What makes something my property is that society's laws and government will uphold my claim to it. If someone steals my car, the police will try to recover it for me, and arrest the thief. Otherwise, my car is just something I have until it's taken from me.

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I'm a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. I also am a regular columnist for our local paper, The Danville Advocate-Messenger, as well as the Lexington Herald-Leader. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically about the Future (more...)
 

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The popularity of Ayn Rand is a national disease. ... by Brian Cooney on Friday, Apr 19, 2013 at 1:51:11 PM
"You've got gold in your mouth, liarwe ain't seen ... by Don Caldarazzo on Friday, Apr 19, 2013 at 1:54:11 PM
Why should a philosophy professor ask questions wh... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 12:14:13 AM
how things are "supposed to be?"  Who came up... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 3:56:32 AM
But in the minds of many people, these words are d... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 9:45:08 AM
 How do teachers fail to see their "employers... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 9:47:38 AM
 Do you see the trash in (secondary) textbook... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 9:49:15 AM
 That's nothing: wait until they begin saying... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 9:54:15 AM
I hear so many people repeat the false meme that b... by Textynn N on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 3:15:38 AM
the alternative is to have no income at all. ... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 4:46:34 AM
As professionals, that is.It's not hard: their lev... by Ad Du on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 10:05:40 AM
I have never read Atlas Shrugged.  Maybe I ha... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 5:14:00 AM
Too many of the wealthiest of Americans demand han... by Brian Cooney on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 9:53:40 AM
   My boss will not allow any overtime w... by Bob Gormley on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 10:59:08 AM
Yours are good questions, Professor Cooney, but th... by Walter J Smith on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 6:32:32 AM
The corrupt government gives far more hand outs to... by Gary Brumback on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 8:24:29 AM
The corporations get tax breaks and subsidies even... by dorothy przystas on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 1:25:39 PM
is to turn the meaning of words and ideas on their... by intotheabyss on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 4:46:02 PM
what is happening today. Just listen to so many co... by dorothy przystas on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 6:06:07 PM
With examples such as Steelworkers' partnership wi... by manifesto 2000 on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 6:51:33 PM
There are some organizations that provide resource... by Brian Cooney on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013 at 9:51:34 AM
I do think that Ayn Rand mixed a lot of things tog... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Saturday, Apr 20, 2013 at 10:11:51 PM