For me, the “makers and takers” theme that emerged from the 2012 election was both sour and unseemly. The argument goes that people can be separated into two fundamental categories: makers, the productive and worthy, and takers, those who feed off the fruits of others’ labor. Or, as Ayn Rand – author of the novel “Atlas Shrugged” and godmother of this particular worldview – calls us: “creators and parasites.”
I think it takes some intellectually and morally bankrupt reasoning to lay that sort of judgment call on roughly 300 million people whose lives and histories you know nothing about. In my own life, I’ve occupied both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been strong and weak, healthy and unhealthy, capable and incapable, wrongheaded and wise. Sometimes I have extended support and resources, sometimes I have used them.
Of course there’s the question of balance, and I’d like to think that I contribute more to the world than I subtract. But having no precise way to assess ultimate positive and negative impact, I’m not keeping score. What would be the point? And what degree of self-obsession and self-importance would the analysis require?
What really bugs me about the makers-takers theory is more than just the potential inaccuracies in evaluating who’s who. It’s demeaning to pit people against one another in that fashion, like we’re brutish gladiators in a Roman circus. The deserving vs. the undeserving, the great vs. the sub-par. Human beings are both beautiful and flawed. Better to honor everything, fix what you can and forgive the rest.
That said, I believe policy arguments about tax, welfare, entitlement and immigration reforms and the corruption inherent in each system are legitimate. But we could discuss them without bloviating in overly simplistic and high-handed terms.
And let’s remind ourselves that one of the reasons the United States of America is such a successful group of 50 individual states is that for every dollar they fork over to the federal government, Alaska gets back nearly two, while New Hampshire gets approximately 70 cents. In other words, regularly and without recrimination, we allow richer states to subsidize poorer ones.
The ultimate irony is that those who carp most about individuals sucking off the government teat are generally the ones who live in states that pull out more federal dollars than they actually put in. But right or wrong, fair or unfair, this is what we do, and our union appears stronger for it. The European Union, for example, has no such tradition or policy of funneling euros from one country to another, so its current debt crisis is a management nightmare. Prosperous, disciplined Germany can’t help but balk at salvaging hapless, irresponsible Greece. But neither can it ignore the fact that if Greece sinks, the entire system may go down with it.
While it is difficult to negotiate unity amid diversity, it’s none too easy to go it alone, either. If we are indeed attempting to achieve that more perfect union in this country, we can struggle with balance and fairness while allowing everyone some dignity. It just takes a little humility.