Opinion

Obama’s ‘Opportunity Agenda’ is a dangerous equality scheme

Daniel Garza President, Libre Initiative

While White House speechwriters were careful to remove all references to “income inequality” from the President’s State of the Union message, few were fooled: both the speech and the four-state tour that followed were thinly disguised appeals to class resentments. He may call it an “opportunity agenda,” but it’s a scheme more focused on equality of result than of opportunity — and Americans shouldn’t buy it.

It’s a familiar and disturbing political ploy, one that exploits fear and resentment by laying blame squarely at the feet of capitalism itself. However he couches it, the core of the President’s message is that the free market system itself is to blame for every economic shortcoming.

“[H]ere in America,” the President told the nation, “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”

Blaming inherited wealth for joblessness and poverty is a convenient distraction from the administration’s inability to stimulate job growth and its ineptitude in designing the Affordable Care Act, but those who cherish freedom should be deeply concerned.

The old adage about inequality remains true: if you want freedom, you cannot have equality; and if you want equality, you cannot have freedom. That’s because equality requires state coercion, ultimately even at the point of force, to achieve. Ultimately, it oppresses everyone by driving people downward, not upward.

If progressives can sell the notion that a cold, amoral capitalist system is what’s keeping the poor in a state of misery, then the response must be to rein in the marketplace, confiscate more from the affluent — and make it easier for everyone else to become more dependent on government.

Capitalism did not give rise to poverty. To the contrary, it was the advent of American-styled democracy and the development of our free market system that enabled widespread prosperity, unprecedented personal wealth and material abundance. For all our current economic woes, the United States remains by far the world’s wealthiest nation, with more capital and material wealth than the world’s four next richest nations combined.

Consider that, according to the World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, an individual earning $34,000, after taxes, is among the world’s wealthiest 1 percent; the median household income in the United States, for all our economic stagnation, is $53,046.

This is what happens when a free, industrious people take advantage of an economic system that allows equal opportunity to benefit from one’s own labor and initiative, possess private property and profit from innovations that have enriched the world.

Contrary to the implicit message of the Obama “opportunity agenda,” nobody in the free market fails simply because someone else succeeds. To the contrary, the success of any individual results in the creation of new wealth and a bigger economic pie for everyone.

That’s not true of government, however, because for all of Barack Obama’s promises, the state cannot create wealth: it can only give to Peter what it has taken from Paul, inevitably relying on government-backed cronyism and unfettered subsidies to do so. In the process, inequality is worsened, the economy is rendered listless and freedom is undermined.

The fight to end poverty — a central moral issue, to be sure — requires not a command strategy of handouts and rules, but a bottom-up approach that encourages work, self-discipline and civic engagement. Together with faith and family, these are the components of personal fulfillment and economic well-being.

Ultimately, the administration’s so-called “opportunity agenda” rewards idleness while punishing those who work and create jobs. The president’s schemes would put an even more impenetrable wall of red tape in front of job creators and surround them with an even darker fog of confusion about future tax and spending policies.

At the heart of income inequality and unemployment is a central reality: people aren’t getting hired because employers are unsure of prospects for sustained growth. With the president focused on green energy loans, corporate bailouts, Promise Zones and Obamacare, who can blame them.

To blame the free enterprise system for the malaise of the Obama economy is like strangling the goose that laid the golden egg, only to curse the carcass for not producing more.

Daniel Garza is Executive Director of the Libre Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community so it can thrive and contribute to a more prosperous America.