Let’s try to extract the smart conversation from the contretemps over President Obama’s comments on the debt entrepreneurs owe to society. There are two questions worth thinking about here:
1) What do entrepreneurs owe the society that created the conditions necessary for their success?
2) What level of public investment is consistent with the maximum amount of new firm formation?
The first conversation is interesting, but ultimately unanswerable. After all, while entrepreneurs owe much to societies, societies also owe much to entrepreneurs. Untangling that web of obligation, gratitude and dependence is probably impossible.
The second conversation is more useful, and more relevant to the actual choice voters are being offered in this election. Mitt Romney’s claim, broken down to its core components, is that the path to broadly shared economic growth is to reduce public investment in order to further cut tax rates, and so his policy proposal is to slash public investment and cut taxes. Obama’s claim is just the opposite: He thinks we have too little public investment in order to assure broadly shared economic growth, and so he would raise taxes on high-income Americans to protect public investments.