"Going Over" Their Heads?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Sunday edition of the Houston Chronicle kicked off its unnamed lifestyle/leisure section with the following headline: "Who makes $250,000? And how do higher taxes go over?" Given where the article resides and its folksy aimlessness, it would be easy to dismiss it merely as a puff piece. It is a puff piece, of course, but it is thought-provoking for a couple of reasons.

First, puff pieces are meant to flatter, and newspapers frequently place "human interest" stories in their leisure sections. With its solicitations of the opinions of six of the "richers" Obama is about to persecute with higher taxes, the article is clearly meant to flatter, but why?

Second, with "tea party" style protests breaking out all over the country, why was the noun, "right" entirely absent from this story? Perhaps, feeling that readers are in no mood for controversy on a Sunday morning, Claudia Feldman (or an editor) swept a real malcontent or two under the rug. (None of the six spoke of "going Galt", even if to dismiss the idea.) Or perhaps Feldman did not find even a single richer willing to speak up for his right to the fruits of his own labor.

Considering that a quick search of the archives at the Chronicle for the phrase "tea party" yielded no news results (although I know of at least two being planned here), I lean towards the former explanation, which fits in with the purpose of writing a leisure section puff piece about the likely future victims of a government-organized mass theft, rather than a stinging editorial call-to-arms in their defense located in the opinion section.

Human interest stories often attempt to draw the reader's attention to the humanity of someone else he may not have otherwise given a great deal of thought about. The subject may be obscure to most readers or, alternatively, a great deal of recent news coverage might have made the subject seem distant to the average reader. Properly done, a human interest story helps readers understand why they should care about a given item of news. One can easily imagine, during the Jim Crow Era, human interest stories concerning discrimination helping an average white reader stop for a moment and think something like, "You know. These are human beings who are getting threatened and beaten just because they want to vote! This really is important."

Here, we certainly see the human side of the six richers being interviewed, and we even get dissenting opinions from some of them, although on the flimsiest, pragmatic grounds. None contends against the assumption that the government can take from them whatever it wants, and all agree with the altruistic moral premise behind the welfare state. The whole "debate" is mere quibbling over how much the government should take. One richer who does not want his taxes raised cites as his proudest achievement, "Setting up a leadership program for area teens called Youth Leadership America."

The clear impression one gets from the piece is that these richers our government keeps talking about in the abstract are real human beings -- and that they really care about their fellow man, as evidenced by their having no moral objection to what the government is about to do to them. In so far as the article is also a puff piece, it is also directing kudos to any richers who decide to read it.

Unfortunately, taxation is not voluntary, and no matter what some of its victims might think about its propriety, the fact remains that it is a violation of property rights. This article is an attempt to excuse massive theft by the government -- the entity that is actually supposed to prevent it -- by giving the impression that the richers don't really mind, and that stealing the fruits of their labor is for the best, anyway. As icing on the cake, its altruistic back-patting might cow a few of the uppity troublemakers from their ranks into shutting their traps about rights and opening up their checkbooks at tax time. Rights, after all, aren't even a blip on this human interest radar.

And that's a pity, for if there is one thing of urgent human interest, it is rights, including the right to property. As Ayn Rand once put it so succinctly, "Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

Rand's argument hinged on a revolutionary view about morality, but our society is reaching the point where her view will soon be the only one that can make sense out of what our government is preparing to do. If stealing is wrong, by what right does the government do it? There is no such right, and it is appalling that a "human interest" story about six hapless richers would fail to mention that.

-- CAV

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