In the Aesop Fable "The Grasshopper and the Ant," there are moral, economic and political lessons for our time, or any other.
As the story goes, the lazy grasshopper wiles away his summer days singing and hopping and having an all-around good time while industrious ants work and march and struggle to carry kernels of corn to their anthills, storing up for the winter to come.
Let's begin with the political lesson. Government, the grasshopper in this little morality tale, is constantly trying to get its citizens, the ants, to cough up more and more of what they've earned by the sweat of their brows so that it might pay for its own needs.
The latest of many recent examples occurred last week in Maryland where the majority Democratic legislature passed another tax increase on "the rich."
Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley and the legislators have lowered the definition of "rich" from the arbitrary $250,000 established by President Obama, to $100,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples filing jointly. Maryland residents will now be slapped with a new tax on top of already high state and local taxes, tying the state's new state-local tax bracket, according to the Washington Post, with that of "...the District's for fourth-highest in the nation." Especially in the expensive Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., incomes of $100,000 and $150,000 are barely middle class.
The tax hike caused the Democratic comptroller, Peter Franchot, to protest. Franchot told Washington radio station WMAL his fellow Maryland Democrats "try to be loyal and want to be supportive of their party, but they're becoming very frustrated with this long list of almost indiscriminate tax increases that we're faced with on an annual basis."
Only if the tax-and-spend "grasshoppers" start feeling the heat from the taxpaying "ants" are they likely to reverse course. Some of that heat may soon be coming from people who are fed up enough to act. There are reports of wealthy individuals and some businesses from states with high taxes, including Maryland and certainly California, moving to states with a lower state tax, or no state tax at all.
The economic lesson is this: Human nature has demonstrated that if government can squeeze more money out of its citizens without having to cut wasteful spending, it will; and if citizens can get other people's money without having to earn it, they will become addicted to government and come to regard the sustenance as an entitlement.
Compare the huge number of ineffective and wasteful government programs with The Marshall Plan of 1948, which established the Economic Cooperation Administration, the intent of which was to provide $13.3 billion in U.S. aid to Western European countries to rebuild industry and put people back to work after World War II. Much of Europe is in crisis today because it has become a victim of its own welfare state. Instead of industry, there is indolence. Economies are in trouble because government, not the individual, has become supreme. France just elected a socialist president, rejecting necessary austerity. The European gravy train has derailed.
In America, too, many of our domestic programs merely sustain people in poverty rather than help them to become self-sufficient. Liberal politicians, especially, think this is perfectly fine because addiction to government means addiction to them and to the perpetuation of their liberal agenda.
The moral lesson is this: When government takes money from people who earn it, government has a responsibility to spend it wisely and in ways that achieve the ends set down in our founding documents. Chief among these is that noble sentiment found in the Preamble to the Constitution about promoting "the general welfare." By "spreading the wealth around," rather than teaching and encouraging individuals to build wealth for themselves, government robs people of the joy produced by human initiative; indeed it takes from them one of the building blocks that makes us unique among living things: the dignity and reward of work.
The moral, political and economic lessons of the past are in fables and reality to teach the present and ensure a better future. By ignoring them, Europe and America risk repeating costly mistakes and suffering the consequences.
(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.)