“Makers:” The Tiny Band of Heroes

Paul Krugman made a point late yesterday that really ought to be emphasized: in describing 47% of the U.S. population as hopelessly dependent “takers” during his Boca Moment, Mitt Romney was actually being pretty generous as compared to now-routine GOP rhetoric on economic life:

Ask yourself: when was the last time a Republican leader made a point of praising hard-working, ordinary families — as opposed to “job creators”? Think about what happened on Labor Day: on a day dedicated to celebrating workers, House majority leader Eric Cantor sent out a tweet praising … business owners:

“Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.”

This all makes sense in the Ayn Rand intellectual universe, where a handful of heroically greedy entrepreneurs are responsible for all that is good. And if you live in that universe, your dividing line between makers and takers isn’t drawn at the point where people make enough to pay income taxes; everyone who isn’t John Galt should be grateful for what the Galts do, and we’re all takers by asking those heroes to pay any taxes at all.

Think about it. A large percentage of GOP economic policy thinking is based on the assumption that minimizing business costs is the alpha and omega of growth and competitiveness. Not only taxes and regulations, but also wages and benefits, need to be kept as low as possible. The whole idea of “human capital” being a national asset worth cultivating–a universally accepted notion in the 1990s–has all but been lost on the right.

Accordingly, if you don’t fall into the charmed circle of “job creators;” if you don’t own your own business, or have enough wealth to make significant capital investments; then your job, it appears, is to bear down, shut up, and do what you can to make life easier for your bosses. Abandon that union; stop asking for pay increases; gracefully accept that shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions, or from any pension to none; pay your taxes and stop worrying about the tax rates paid by your superiors–you’re lucky they pay them at all, given the fact you already owe them your daily bread, everything you own, and your very life.

It’s hard to figure out whether this attitudes is the product of a serious economic POV or just a long-building psychological backlash against “collectivism” by wealthy people who feel underappreciated and think they should enjoy a lot more wealth and freedom than is currently available to them. That their relative wealth has steadily increased for decades now, and has continued to increase even as all those wretched “takers” out there have been suffering through the worst U.S. economic calamity since World War II, seems immaterial.

So whatever else it represents, the Boca Moment provides a glimpse into the unsavory world view of people who look at their own employees, not to mention other folks with few capital assets, with what can only be described as contempt–as cannon fodder for the great competitive struggle in which they, the “job creators,” are the only fully human figures.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.