In his NYT column (Jan 14, 2011), Paul Krugman explains why he believes we are a “deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time.” He sees a moral divide that admits to no middle ground. He writes:

“One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There’s no middle ground between these views.”

Krugman may be right in his observations but is wrong in his conclusion. There is a middle ground between the two extremes he presents.

The Right is not averse to all taxation. They do not advocate anarchy, but rather limited government that provides for the national defense and the provision of social services such as fire and police protections, the road and transportation systems, the judicial system, et. al. In addition I suspect most on the Right are perfectly willing to provide modest transfers to people in need ( a safety net) via a progressive taxation system … the so-called compassionate conservatism discussed in years past. For example, most on the Right are unlikely to support a complete dismantling of the social security system.

What the Right is most vocally opposed to today, especially the Tea Party, is the excessiveness of government taxation. The moderate and restrained taxation of limited government would not be considered theft, but current taxation levels that seem to be growing uncontrollably are increasing viewed as theft by those on the Right.

The current economic slowdown has increased the tension between the Right and Left largely because the Left has used the crisis to support an even faster expansion of the role for government in the lives of people, using the arguments that it is only right (i.e., correct) for wealthier people to help out those that are less fortunate. The Right sees unprecedented Federal budget deficits, a ballooning national debt, State governments on the verge of default, government pension obligations that are enormously generous, and commentators on the Left like Paul Krugman continually arguing that all of this extra government spending has been much too small!!

The middle ground that Krugman can’t see is a system that does include government and taxes, that does protect people via a national defense and a social safety net, that is compassionate to the needs of the less fortunate … but at the same time does provide people with autonomy and freedom to control and affect their lives as they see fit. There is a compromise position that a majority of people would be very comfortable with. Unfortunately that compromise position is not even on the radar screen for commentators like Krugman on the Left and others on the Right. For them there is no happy medium, and unfortunately it is they who get most of the attention.