Some random thoughts on redistribution


This post is inspired by a conversation started over at Chris Kirk’s blog. Check it out.

I’m not a full-blown Libertarian, as much as I like to pretend that I am – both in real life and on my Facebook page. I think that philosophically, I align with many of their beliefs, but on a practical level, I have a problem with a number of their stances. Particularly I think abortion should be illegal (you know, the whole “murder” thing) and hard drugs (pretty much everything but Marijuana) should probably just stay out of my local Wal-Mart.

But one area where there is no questioning an alignment between my ideological and practical beliefs is the Libertarian stance on personal property.

Sharing the wealth sounds really noble. There are very poor people and there are stupidly rich people and that’s not fair. We should remedy this by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. That is fair. Right. Just. Patriotic.

But what about the work it takes to achieve wealth? What about the personal time and material investments that were required to make money? Is it fair to steal the results of hard work, exceptional brilliance or even blind luck?

Despite claims otherwise, taking money from people who have more is punishing them for being successful. And, the result (goal?) of punishment is changed behavior. Rather than work to improve their standing, people will start making business and financial decisions that limit their penalties rather than enhance their success. It might sound ludicrous, but I think people will change their behavior to avoid success.

And that’s the LAST thing we need in this current economic climate.

No, it’s not fair that there is such disparity between wealth and poverty. But the government is not the solution. Higher taxes are not the solution. Forced “sharing” is not the solution. And, based on our history, it appears that the church won’t be the solution either.

So what IS the solution?

Obviously, I don’t have a clue. I think the Fair Tax would help. I think a greater emphasis on personal and corporate responsibility is a start. Not bailing out companies who make foolish business decisions while we allow individuals who are just as foolish to flounder would be a smart PR move.

But that’s all I’ve got. What do you guys think?

NOTE: The winner of the caption contest will be announced on Monday. There is still time to get your entries in, so let’s be clever folks!

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  1. October 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm — Reply

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. October 24, 2008 at 1:28 pm — Reply

    The only problem with your hypothesis (“I think people will change their behavior to avoid success.”) is that it assumes we don’t already have wealth redistribution in this country. Which we do – quite a bit of it, actually. So do you think people are changing their behavior to avoid success already?

  3. October 24, 2008 at 1:34 pm — Reply

    I do. I think that there are conscious decisions made with the goal of limiting the tax penalties they will receive versus smart money-making and business-building decisions.

    This is all relative, of course. People will still be successful, but I think they won’t shoot for the levels of success possible because the penalties will be too great.

  4. October 24, 2008 at 1:48 pm — Reply

    Here’s something interesting…studies have shown that the conservative / libertarian folks (ie. the ones generally against redistribution) are more likely to give to charity than the democratic / socialistic folks who tend to be for redistribution. This is particularly true regarding our two current presidential nominees. You would anticipate that the folks who are most vocal about helping the poor would also give the most, but apparently that’s not the case.

    Now obviously we can’t just folks…and I’m happy to assume that everybody gives much more than they claim on their tax returns…but it does make you wonder…

    For me, I’m not sure I believe in mandating that the government follow out the principles of Jesus. There’s no question that God’s heart is with the poor, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, but I don’t think he instructed government to be the hands and feet of Jesus. No, I think that’s our job, and we can do it regardless of government policies.

  5. October 24, 2008 at 2:17 pm — Reply

    Hey Todd. People want to see other’s helped…but they are generally lazy. Much easier if “someone else will do it”. Anyway, on the subject of this election, I think this website has it right for how to make a change happen:

    Great blog!

  6. Austin Conscience
    October 24, 2008 at 8:10 pm — Reply

    One cannot use the word “fair” in this discussion. The world is not fair. When a parent tries to make things “fair” things just blow up. There are too many variables to be considered: 1) a parent must ascertain intelligence, motivation, age, maturity (totally different), the parent’s own prejudices, etc. 2) a country must do all the above plus ascertain history, race, income, location, ….. . OK, now who gets to make decisions based on this short list of variables? Even your definition and mine of “fair” are different. Fair is unattainable.

    Justice and the proscriptions of the Constitution are attainable. Obviously, Marxism is now the feel-good route. Please understand, Marxism is not about fair, it is about dependency and power. Spreading the wealth is not about sharing, it is about equalizing the “workers” and making them dependent upon the centralized government to provide our needs. Once taxes become so oppressive they take away entrepreneurial incentive, investments and jobs will decline. We have history to prove all this: history of socialist nations and history of the Kennedy, Reagan and Bush — yes, Bush — tax cuts.

  7. October 24, 2008 at 10:27 pm — Reply

    You are correct in that many work really hard to earn money, and we should not de-incentivize them to do so. However, here are couple factors you may want to consider:

    * Most of those who are the richest of the rich did not start out on an even playing field. They were priviledge by family, by race, by gender, and by the long-lasting effects of colonialism and slavery. Did they still work hard? You bet. But, to claim that they deserve it because they work harder than anyone else is not necessarily true.

    * Greed is just as much a disease as poverty. It’s worse than obesity or nicotine or all the other public health issues we address as a society. How, then, should we address the greed of these billionaires for their own benefit, as well as the benefit of the whole?

    Good post, my friend.

  8. October 25, 2008 at 12:37 pm — Reply

    You make some excellent points, & on an ideal level I agree with you. On the level of reality though I think ChrisKirk is right to point out that most of the very wealthy started out on a higher level. Now, one can certainly make the case that if they started out higher up then it is because their parents, grandparents, etc… worked hard to make that possible. But let’s all be honest about something here. We keep talking about working hard. If wealth was directly proportional to the amount of time & energy a person spends working, then we would have a lot more millionaires in the world. Hard work has a little bit to do with wealth. Wealth, for most every person in the world, has a great deal more to do with things that are completely out of their hands. Being born in the right place to the right people is by far the largest deciding factor contributing to wealth. So, whatever we decide to believe about what should be done, let’s not make it about who has “earned” what. The great majority of the wealthy haven’t “earned” what they have any more than the people born in the Sudan have “earned” their extreme poverty.

    Another point to consider is that our society places higher value on certain types of hard work, & that value is not necessarily based on the importance, or even the difficulty, of the work being done. I’m a school teacher. Obviously providing quality education to the youth of the nation is very very important. When done well, it is also very very difficult. I, however, will never be wealthy. I’m not complaining. I knew full well going in that this would be the case. I do, however, find it frustrating when people want to let Terrel Owens keep all his millions for himself because he can catch a football while I’m here doing very important & difficult work & still barely paying the bills.

  9. Austin Conscience
    October 26, 2008 at 8:21 pm — Reply

    It still comes back to who is to make the decisions as to whom is too rich, how much too rich, how much greed made him that rich, how much greed is acceptable, how much his greed is dependent upon his employees’ effectiveness. Do we let our greedy, secular humanist government make these decisions?

    What then do we do with the confiscated wealth? How much confiscated wealth actually gets to worthy causes? Whose worthy causes? What priority of worthy causes? Which worthy causes were made worthier by the amount of greedy wealth (lobbiests) paid to greedy officials(legislative branch)?

    Looks to me like the government should stay out of redistribution, and let us find our own way.
    That erases at least half the greed.

  10. October 27, 2008 at 7:16 am — Reply

    […] 27, 2008 · No Comments This post is part of a discussion about redistribution of wealth and the incentive to succeed. You can join in the discussion at the […]

  11. Sam's Dad
    October 27, 2008 at 11:23 am — Reply

    The U.S. Government does two things well, if not efficiently. Namely, building roads & buildings, and making war. They should stick to those functions, collecting enough taxes to do so. Now, THAT’s Libertarian, my friend.

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Some random thoughts on redistribution