Frankness About Wealth Redistribution
Tibor R. Machan
When taxation is part of government, wealth redistribution goes hand in hand with it. Taxation was what feudal systems used so as to pay rent to the monarchy. The monarch, after all, used to own the realm. All of it. So just as owners of apartment houses, monarch’s collect rent from those living in there.
The meaning of this is that members of the population got to live in the country by permission of the government, be that a tzar, king, pharaoh, caesar or some other ruler who had nearly absolute power to run the place. It is still so in many regions of the globe. The people aren’t deemed to have rights, including private property rights. That emerged late in the history of Western politics, mainly within the philosophy of the Englishman John Locke and his followers. They defended the idea of natural rights against those who championed the divine right of monarchs.
With the American revolution the Lockean system started to be implemented, though by no means fully. This abolished serfdom or involuntary servitude but didn’t quite manage to abolish taxation, namely, the confiscation of people’s resources, although in principle that should have followed the revolutionary turn of events. If citizens own their lives–have an unalienable right to life–they also own the fruits of their labor. (And such fruits did not need to be created by them from scratch as Mr. Obama suggested with his misguided remark that “You did not build that.”)
In any case, when governments confiscate resources from the people via taxation, the sort of wealth redistribution that Mr. Obama and other statists are avidly defending cannot be avoided. Taking their wealth and handing it out to some citizens for various purposes simply involves redistributing that wealth, period, be it justified or not.
Government’s redistribution of the citizens’ wealth is unavoidable unless taxation is abolished. Even the most minimal of taxation brings about such redistribution.
But in systems of limited government such as what the United States of America was supposed to become, the wealth redistribution was supposed to be minimal! That is where Mitt Romney is basically correct while Mr. Obama is wrong. It is under collectivist kinds of statism, in which the wealth of a country is deemed to be owned by the government exactly as Mr. Obama and those who support his political philosophy see it, that citizens do not have the right to private property but merely get to dispose of some property that the government allows them to retain from their earnings and findings. (Yes, Virginia, some private property is found, meaning it isn’t built from scratch but arises from good fortune, like the wealth one gains from one’s talents or good looks!) But just because one doesn’t build one’s wealth it doesn’t follow that government owns it. That is rank non-sequitur. (After all, one doesn’t build one’s pretty face or good health either, yet it doesn’t belong to Mr. Obama!)
The real issue is whether the wealth one owns is to be distributed by oneself or others! Extensive taxation assumes that it may be distributed and redistributed by others, specifically by the government–politicians and bureaucrats. Not only that, but that these latter actually own one’s wealth, including one’s labor just as is believed under socialism wherein all the major means of production, including human labor, is collectively owned and administered–distributed and redistributed–by government officials. (Several major American political theorists, like Thomas Nagel and Cass Sunstein, argue for exactly that idea.)
This is the issue that could be debated in the current presidential campaign. Who is to do the distribution and redistribution, the citizenry or the state? In a free society it is the former that gets to do the bulk of the distribution and redistribution as it spends funds in the marketplace, gives some away, etc. In a welfare state and especially in the full blown socialist society, it is government, with the people left “permitted” to make some decisions about the allocation of resources.
Which is it to be in America? Why and how? That is what could be fruitfully debated now! But instead the campaign is bogged down in moronic trivia and detail. It should be dealing with the fundamentals of the nature of free government–at least a substantially free government!
No. The Democrats refuse to admit that they really favor the socialist alternative, basically; and the Republicans lack the philosophical savvy to stand up for a truly free system of government, wherein the latter is seriously limited in its powers.