The Moral Stakes of Dayton’s Shutdown

Everything happens for a reason. In the wake of Minnesota’s state government shutdown, many reasons have been offered to explain the impasse between Governor Dayton and the Republican-led legislature. Most seem to center around the notion of compromise.

On Friday’s Almanac, DFL party chair Ken Martin sparred with MN-GOP vice chair Michael Brodkorb over which party was to blame. Each accused the other of refusing to compromise. While there is certainly an instructive argument to be had over which side has been more willing to negotiate, it defers the important moral consideration which will inform any deal.

Martin evoked that consideration on Friday. “I ask you… Why is it so important in this state to protect 7,700 millionaires at the expense of 99.9% of Minnesotans?” Almanac co-host Cathy Wurzer summarized the DFL talking point as “millionaires over Minnesotas,” as if earning a certain amount of money is a renunciation of one’s residency and citizenship.

Martin advanced the Left’s moral argument, which they are confident the public will embrace. The conventional political wisdom is that “defending the rich” is a losing strategy. Conservative politicos are therefore reluctant to do so. At some point however, it becomes necessary to address the moral argument. Make no mistake, the bickering over who is willing to compromise won’t hold a candle to the most compelling reason.

The Left’s offered reason is simple. Being a millionaire is a crime against the public. Private wealth cannot be tolerated in the face of public need. That is the DFL position, as reported by the Pioneer Press on Friday.

“I cannot accept a Minnesota where people with disabilities lose part of the time being cared for by personal-care attendants so that millionaires do not have to pay one dollar more in taxes,” [Governor Dayton] said.

He said he also could not accept a state where young people can’t afford rising tuition, widows are denied in-home services they need to stay in their homes or special education is cut so millionaires don’t have to pay more taxes.

When you distill the essence from the rhetoric, the talking point is quintessential Marx. To each according to their need, from each according to their ability. So let us confront it. Let us answer Martin’s question. Why is it so important to protect 7,700 millionaires? Perhaps a better question is: why is it so important to protect one? Why is it so important to protect any individual against the encroaching need of others? At what point does an individual earn so much that they no longer have a right to it?

It should be self-evident to a party which claims to defend minorities. It is important to protect 7,700 because it is important to protect each and every individual in the state. It should be self-evident to a party which claims to revere equal protection under the law. Such protection requires a just blindness to the economic status of individuals under threat.

People either have a right to earn and own, or they do not. If the right to earn and own is arbitrarily capped, if we place a ceiling upon the amount of productive activity we are willing to reward, then we cap the amount of productive activity which will take place.

That, by the way, happens at the expense of 100% of Minnesotans, especially those who make their living in the employ of millionaires – the middle class. Don’t try telling government unions though.

As the talks fell apart, more than 500 people gathered on the Capitol steps with speakers criticizing Republican refusals to tax the state’s highest earners to help erase the projected budget deficit.

“It seems that legislative leaders really do not understand the value that the public sector gives to creating a quality of life in this state where businesses want to locate, people want to raise their families and senior citizens want to retire with dignity,” said Jim Monroe, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.

If anyone believes that the quality of life is enabled by anything other than the productivity of life, they are invited to demonstrate how. Until then, it seems that Mr. Monroe is saying people come to Minnesota to enjoy a quality of life provided by the productivity of others. They had a word for that back in the 19th century. They called it slavery. It too was justified by dehumanizing a minority in order to serve the majority. Those who lost the battle to preserve slavery would be proud of their modern heirs, who have merely reversed the roles and placed wealthy slaves under poor masters.

The question for Minnesotans is this. Is there any circumstance under which slavery is okay? Is slavery wrong only when the slaves are poor? Or is there a fundamental reason why any man, rich or poor, is entitled to the product of his mind and the sweat of his brow? How we answer will provide the reason for compromise, and determine the victor in this fiscal and moral standoff.