The Morality of Redistribution - A Final Thought

I have a book review on Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution coming soon (I'm about 80% through the book and pushing hard toward the finish).

In the meantime, my attention was recently directed to this thought provoking article from David Brooks on the morality, or lack thereof (i.e. the wrongness), of government-sponsored wealth redistribution. I think it's a fitting addition to my earlier discussion about capitalism.

While I think the title of his article The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism is overstated, he nevertheless makes a couple noteworthy points that aren't getting nearly enough publicity or discussion in my opinion. Among them are the damage that gets done to liberty when too many citizens are exempt from paying taxes (if you don't see the connection, which I didn't at first, read the brief article!). Currently over half of Americans pay no or almost-no income taxes at all, and under the president's recently-released plan that percentage will climb to 60%.

What will the results be to society, and specifically to freedom, if this trend continues? Read Brooks' article at the link above and let me know what you think.


Mitch said...

I'd love to read the article, but your link is broken. Oops!

Matt Guerino said...

he, he... ooops.

try it now.


Luke said...

Focusing so much attention on tax policy distracts us from the real issue. While I believe that social engineering via tax policy is immoral, the real issue is spending. Most, if not all, tax policy discussions agree on one thing: revenue neutrality. This means that nearly all arguments in favor of changing tax policy boil down to decreasing taxes on one group of people (those proposing the change, or their constituents) and increasing taxes on everyone else. Let's stop arguing about who should pay for these government programs and start cutting the programs themselves.

Matt Guerino said...


Welcome to Perspective From The Summit, and thanks for your comment. As a fiscally conservative proponent of smaller government I certainly won't argue with the idea that much government spending is questionable, wasteful, and worthy of the axe.

That said, Brooks' point in this is a bit more philosophical than simply "more people should help pay." He's arguing that when a majority of the electorate pays nothing, they feel no resistance to taxing the bloody daylights out of the minority who still do pay. That's what Brooks meant by his comment that some fiscal progressives are fighting a war of attrition using economic weapons.

Put another way, the fewer people actually pay taxes the less incentive there is for the majority to rid the government of wasteful spending as you suggest. After all, the majority isn't paying for the waste (and may be benefiting from it). So why bother?

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