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Before announcing her bid to unseat Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown, Democrat Elizabeth Warren delivered impassioned remarks on the social obligations of successful entrepreneurs.

Speaking to a small gathering, she insisted that private prosperity rests upon pillars of public investment. "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody," said Warren, a Harvard law professor, formerly a presidential adviser on consumer finance, and one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010.

You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate …. Now look, you built a factory and turned it into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Warren's comments went viral on YouTube. Bloggers and pundits pronounced on her argument from every angle. Conservatives spied a worrying pretext for saddling wealth creators with burdensome new taxes, while liberals cheered a full-throated defense of government's role in promoting the common good.

We do not wish to referee this dispute. People who share our core theological convictions can have different opinions on the scope of government. Except by insinuation, Warren's reasoning does not entail expansion of federal taxation. Many commentators construed her remarks as endorsing tax hikes, but she articulated nothing beyond the general principle that public expenditure facilitates private enterprise. That corporate titans owe something to satisfy the "underlying social contract" ...

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No Taxpayer Is an Island
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December 2011

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