A couple weeks ago a video of Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren went viral. You've probably already seen it, but if you haven't here's the meat of her argument:
"You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "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, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did."
Of course, liberals had a collective orgasm over this - someone was finally articulating the liberal argument for taxation and the government. And good for her. Someone should be making that argument.
But someone should also be making the argument from the left, if for nothing but to remind people that liberals aren't the left. In the context of American politics, liberalism should be the center, so when someone says that X politician is to the right of liberals, they're saying she's on the right. Here's why.
There are basically two ways to earn money: through your time or through your money. Some people work, others invest.
It's a fundamental conflict that Europeans describe as that between labor and capital while Americans prefer to call it "Main Street vs. Wall Street." In the Occupy Wall Street protests it's the 99% vs the 1%. It's supposed to line up with the political left and the political right - the right protects the interests of capital (and other members of the aristocracy) and the left protects the interests of labor (and the poor).
In the beginning of her argument, Warren starts out with an idiomatic expression that's bothered me since as early as the age of nine when a friend of mine talked about how his father "built" their home. "Really?" I asked. "That's so cool that your dad built a house by himself!"
Well, no, that's not how it worked. His father just paid someone else to do it (or, more likely, paid a contractor who organized sub-contractors and workers to build the house). To me, that's a big difference. If you want to say you built something, you should actually have a hand in building it. (Also, this kid's mother wasn't dead, she raised the father's children while working full-time, and she also lived in the house, but her contribution to the building process went unnoticed.)
So when Warren starts with "You built a factory out there," she's referring to someone having paid for a factory to be built by other people, or someone who organized other investors to provide the money to build a factory. The actual acts of laying bricks, soldering metal beams, installing plumbing, and making sure the construction is up to code were all done by other people.
In our current conception of private property, the act of providing the money for a project is what determines ownership. But you can see how that formulation leaves a large part of the population out of luck. The people who actually built the factory? Well, they don't own the place. The people who work in the factory? They don't own the place. Only the people who live several states over and sent some cash (before being handsomely repaid for their investment with money that could have gone to benefit the people who actually worked on and in that factory) are said to own the factory.
That's the system we have now, and if you're going to write a comment in defense of the status quo, at least acknowledge that that's the system you're defending. It's capitalism's basic formulation - that money, not work, entitles someone to ownership of things - and it inherently places more value on having money than on actually doing something productive. Sometimes those two things line up, but not always.
There are other possibilities, and some people might see property as just one of many tools used to equitably distribute resources instead of a relic to be worshipped at an altar, and that collective ownership of things like factories makes sense if it provides more people with better lives than our current dominant ideology that says, "If I paid for something, then I alone am entitled to the good that something provides."
Moreover, even though Limbaugh-type conservatives peg someone like Warren as a radical, but they should remember that her argument leaves the fundamentals of capitalism in place and isn't calling for any sort of radical change to the way we run this country. Calling any sort of taxation "socialism" or "communism" betrays a lack of understanding of what socialism and communism actually are.