I was at a party last night when a total stranger struck up a conversation with me. He didn’t know who I was, or that I had a blog. The crowd was mixed (by political persuasion), so there was no reason for this person to presume I would be sympathetic to conservative thoughts.

The conversation got around to the economy, and his comments went something like this: Since when have people who create wealth become the enemy? I started and grew a business, and thought this is what people were supposed to do. I thought I was one of the good guys, but this administration doesn’t see it that way.

When I then told this person about my blog, well you can imagine where the conversation headed. But what is significant is that a total stranger felt comfortable expressing what a lot of people are feeling these days, that the current administration has a warped sense of cause and effect.

Economic success by one individual (provided the success is achieved lawfully) does not deprive any other individual of success. The economy is not a zero sum game. In a capitalist society, there is not a finite amount of economic activity which needs to be divided among a finite population. Growing the pie is possible with free markets and incentives for individual success. In a command economy, by contrast, the budgetary process focuses on dividing up and allocating finite resources (hence called a “five-year plan” and so on).

It is clear that Obama instinctively views the economic system in finite, command-economic terms. This attitude was most clearly revealed in Obama’s unplanned question-and-answer session with Joe the Plumber:

“Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”…

“It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Most commentators focused on the “spread the wealth” language used in Obama’s response, arguing that Obama sought to use the tax code to redistribute wealth. That observation has proven to be true. Yet in my own commentary at the time, I noted that the “spread the wealth” language was the symptom, not the disease:

The key wording in Obama’s response is “I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too.”

The disease is that Obama sees the economy as a zero-sum game, where one person’s success deprives those “behind” him of success. The only way to ensure the success of those “behind” is taxation of those “ahead.”

Obama doesn’t seem to understand that Joe the Plumber’s success does not deprive anyone of anything. To the contrary, the success of Joe the Plumber helps the economy, helps his employees, helps his customers, and keeps all their families from seeking government handouts. Success is not a crime which needs to be punished, provided that the success is achieved lawfully.

And so it remains. Obama still doesn’t understand. Business owners and those who create wealth are not the enemy. Punitive taxation of the “top 2%” for the purpose of “fairness” not only will result in less economic production, it punishes people who did nothing wrong. Just ask Joe the Business Owner.