Questions for redistribution's proponents
Here are some questions for proponents of using government to redistribute income.
• Do you teach your children to envy what other children have? Do you encourage your children to form gangs with their playmates to “redistribute” toys away from richer kids on the schoolyard toward kids not so rich? If not, what reason have you to suppose that envy and “redistribution” become acceptable when carried out on a large scale by government?
• Do you not worry that creating government power today to take from Smith and give to Jones — simply because Smith has more material wealth than Jones — might eventually be abused so that tomorrow, government takes from Jones and gives to Smith simply because Smith is more politically influential than Jones?
• Suppose that Jones chooses a career as a poet. Jones treasures the time he spends walking in the woods and strolling city streets in leisurely reflection; his reflections lead him to write poetry critical of capitalist materialism. Working as a poet, Jones earns $20,000 annually. Smith chooses a career as an emergency-room physician. She works an average of 60 hours weekly and seldom takes a vacation. Her annual salary is $400,000. Is this “distribution” of income unfair? Is Smith responsible for Jones' relatively low salary? Does Smith owe Jones money? If so, how much? And what is the formula you use to determine Smith's debt to Jones?
• While Dr. Smith earns more money than does poet Jones, poet Jones earns more leisure than does Dr. Smith. Do you believe leisure has value to those who possess it? If so, are you disturbed by the inequality of leisure that separates leisure-rich Jones from leisure-poor Smith? Do you advocate policies to “redistribute” leisure from Jones to Smith — say, by forcing Jones to wash Smith's dinner dishes or to chauffeur Smith to and from work? If not, why not?
• Surveys show that Americans in general are not as bothered by income inequality as are academics and media pundits. Are the many Americans who don't suffer deep envy of others' monetary incomes naïve? Do the professors and pundits who fret incessantly over income inequality know something that most Americans don't? If so, what?
• You allege that great differences in incomes are psychologically harmful to poor people even if these poor people are, by historical standards, quite wealthy. So how do you explain the great demand of very poor immigrants to come to America — where these immigrants are relatively much poorer than they are in their native lands?
• Do you believe that someone to whom government gives, say, $100,000 year in and year out, simply because that person is a citizen of the country, feels as much psychological satisfaction as that person would feel if he learned a trade or a profession at which he earns an annual salary of, say, $80,000?
• Would you prefer to live in a society in which everyone's annual income is $50,000 or in a society with an average annual income of $75,000 but in which annual incomes range from $10,000 to $1 million? And regardless of the choice you would make, do you think others who choose differently are in error?
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Weather closes Penn State for first time in 8 years
- 11 Ligonier Township residents rescued by boat from floodwaters
- PA Turnpike reopens between Breezewood, Carlisle after crash is cleared
- Shania’s first tour in 11 years includes Pittsburgh stop
- Penguins need trade-deadline acquisitions to bring toughness
- Artist born without arms, legs gives Hampton students peek into her world
- ‘Time for bold change,’ Wolf says in outlining $30B state budget
- Blue Jays’ Martin has ‘nothing but praise’ for former Pirates teammates
- Safety Vinopal, former teammates perform for NFL scouts at Pitt’s Pro Day
- Police at Uniontown solve 1970 cold case homicide of 17-year-old, but suspect has died
- McCandless man, Heidelberg police chief settle civil rights lawsuit