One of the major themes of this blog is the individualist conviction that your life belongs to you—and that in morality and in politics one must never forget that fact. If you want an unforgettable example of what it means to forget (or evade) that fact, check out this recent New York Times editorial, “The Real Spending Problem.”
What is the real spending problem, according to the Times? Believe it or not, it’s your freedom to spend your own money. No, seriously.
Each year, the government doles out tax breaks worth $1.1 trillion. That is more than the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined. . . .
Tax breaks work like spending. Giving a deduction for certain activities, like homeownership or retirement savings, is the same as writing a government check to subsidize those activities. Functionally, they mimic entitlements. Like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, they are available, year in and year out, in full, to all who qualify. Yet in budget talks, Republicans ignore tax entitlements, which flow mostly to high-income taxpayers, while pushing to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Now, if you found those paragraphs baffling, it’s probably because you’re thinking that there’s kind of a big difference between tax breaks and entitlements: tax breaks involve the government taking less of the money you’ve earned through blood, sweat, and hard work—while entitlements involve seizing more of those earnings and handing them out to other people.
But the Times’s argument becomes graspable once you realize that the left doesn’t look at things that way. It looks at everything from a thoroughly collectivist perspective, where all individuals are interchangeable, their wealth is pooled, and what matters is “society” and its representative, the state.
From that perspective, it’s true that there is no essential difference between entitlements and tax cuts. They are both “costs” to the government: Tax cuts leave resources in the hands of “society” rather than moving them into the pockets of the state, while entitlements shift resources from the pockets of the state back to “society.” Different process, same result.
But the individualist and collectivist perspectives are not “equally valid.” The left’s collectivist perspective is totally false—there is no entity “society” made up of interchangeable units. And it’s totally evil—because pretending that there is a collective means, in practice, treating actual individuals as if their lives and rights don’t matter.