I'm still filled with wonder and astonishment at Mr. Romney's recent remarks about people who don't pay income taxes and how they are being led astray from a virtuous life through dependence on the federal government. The statement is at best only half true. Last year, according to an article I read in the Los Angeles Times
, there were about 47 percent of the people who didn't pay any federal income tax. That number varies from year to year. Among non-taxpayers are retired people living on Social Security alone, students in universities and others with incomes too low to pay taxes, some millionaires with enough special millionaire deductions to pay no tax, and others. Perhaps Mr. Romney himself was among the 47 percent of non-taxpayers.
It appears to me that behind the inane and politically damaging remark is a belief in "conservative values." These are moral "values" spouted by some ideological conservatives. Some of the past remarks of such conservatives include these gems:
- Unemployment insurance is harmful because it encourages laziness by the unemployed workers.
- It is not a proper function of government to provide health care for people. People should live healthy lives, eat healthful food, avoid habits that undermine their health, etc.
- People should work hard and save their money (and not depend on an old age pension).
- We believe in a country in which everyone takes care of himself and works hard to make a good living.
- Government has no right to take what is mine and give it to others.
- Greed is good.
- It is wrong and immoral for poor people to be jealous of rich people. Poor people are responsible for their own poverty just as rich people are responsible for their wealth.
- If you were born rich and powerful, enjoy it. It's obvious that God wanted it that way.
There have been many writers and other notable persons who have advocated one or more of these conservative ideas. Some of them have been very influential in the thinking of others. Two that come to my mind are Ayn Rand and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz.
Ayn Rand, born in Russia in 1905 as Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, wrote novels (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, others) and advocated a philosophy she called objectivism. In her philosophy the only thing that mattered was your own individual interest, or greed. I believe this belief was her reaction to Communism.
To me as a physicist, Leibnitz was important as one of the three historical inventors of calculus. The other two were Archimedes and Isaac Newton. Leibnitz created the notation we use today in calculus. I respect him as a talented and original mathematician. However, he didn't make a lot of money inventing calculus. He made his money by comforting rich people by assuring them they needn't feel guilty about being rich. He used an argument from the calculus of variations, one of his mathematical creations, that the world was the way it is because of natural causes. Hence, it is the nature of some to be rich and others to be poor. Voltaire, in his novel Candide, satirized Leibnitz in the character Dr. Pangloss, who went about assuring everyone that this is the best of all possible worlds. Bernstein took Candide and made it into a musical comedy which many of you have seen and enjoyed.
I have to suppose that Mr. Romney subscribes to the objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand as well as the "best of all possible worlds" of Leibnitz. That's the only way I can make sense out of his gaffe about the 47 percent who don't pay any federal income tax.