Both Michael Moore and former labor secretary Robert Reich have done us the favor of speaking candidly about their economic views. If you listen to both men, you’ll gain a fairly good insight into the modern liberal worldview.
It consists of several elements. The first, as articulated by Moore, is that money you earn is not really yours; it’s a “natural resource” that belongs to others. That is the basic starting point for those like Moore. Second, the collectivist impulse among the left is extremely powerful. Third, higher taxes have almost talisman-like powers. Regardless of our economic circumstances — whether we’re experiencing strong growth or a nasty recession — higher taxes are always called for. Fourth, liberals view higher taxes first and foremost as a matter of “fairness” rather than growth. One cannot help but conclude that many liberals would accept lower growth rates and fewer jobs in favor of more redistribution of income. And fifth, America is a nation seething with class resentments. “An angry population and an angry populace could just as easily turn their anger toward the very rich,” according to Reich. “Again, it is in the interest of the people at the top to actually call for a more equitable distribution of the gains of economic growth and a better tax system: a tax system that is fair.”
As against the views of Moore and Reich are the views of Lincoln. “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed,” he said. He went on to say:
I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. …. I want every man to have the chance — and I believe a black man is entitled to it — in which he can better his condition — when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.
Allowing individuals the chance to better their condition is a legitimate moral claim that citizens demand of government. Government’s goal should be to ensure equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome; to work toward a society where everyone has a fair shot rather than one where government enforces equality.
This issue — equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome — is one of the great dividing lines between modern conservatism and liberalism. If given the choice between the philosophy of Michael Moore and the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln, my hunch is that the public will side with Lincoln.