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Michael Moore vs. Abraham Lincoln

Posted by Richard on March 4, 2011

Fat cat (no pun intended) movie mogul Michael Moore, interviewed on something called Grit TV, has declared that the money of wealthy Americans isn't theirs, it's a "natural resource" that the government should seize and redistribute. I can't help but wonder why the interviewer didn't ask what Moore has done to redistribute the tens of millions of dollars of this "natural resource" that reside in his bank accounts.


[YouTube link]

Moore and those like him are guilty of two egregious errors. The first is an error of ignorance (willful ignorance, I'm tempted to say). They seem to believe that wealth (or money, which they seem to think is the same thing) is just a fixed pile of stuff that somehow, magically, exists — and that all that's necessary is deciding how it should be distributed. 

The second error is even more egregious, and it rests on the first — because it requires one to be ignorant of (or indifferent to) how and why wealth is created and even of the fact that there are those who create wealth. It's the moral error of believing that it's OK to take wealth from those who've created it to give it to someone else. As I noted, people like Moore can believe and justify this because they don't view those who've created the wealth as its creators, and thus don't view them as its rightful owners. Wealth just exists, or appears magically like manna falling from heaven, so it's a "natural resource" that we all collectively own.

Peter Wehner contrasted Moore's perspective with that of Abraham Lincoln, and quoted Lincoln: 

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.

I think the public sided with Lincoln in last November's elections. I think — I hope — enough people understand that increasing the total wealth of our society depends on ensuring that people have the opportunity to create wealth. And that the redistributionist philosophy of Moore and those like him destroys that opportunity. And thus makes us all poorer in the long run. 

Besides, it's not just that it would do more harm than good — it's just plain wrong. The person who creates something that didn't exist before is the rightful owner of that creation. Calling it a "natural resource" and redistributing it is theft, plain and simple. 

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