Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ant, grasshopper fable offers lessons today

In the Aesop fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” there are moral, economic and political lessons for our time, or any other.

As the story goes, the lazy grasshopper whiles 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.

As you would imagine, the inevitable happens. Come winter, the ants have plenty of food to see them through the cold, fallow months. The fun-loving grasshopper has nothing. The grasshopper begs the hardworking ants to share their bounty, but they refuse.

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 General Assembly passed another tax increase on “the rich.”

Democratic Gov. 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.

The tax hike caused the Democratic comptroller, Peter Franchot, to protest. Franchot told Washington radio station WMAL that 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.

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, America risks repeating costly mistakes and suffering the consequences.