“The Fallacy of Redistribution”
Thomas Sowell, doing his best Mr Bojangles, a-smilin’ and a-dancin’ for his supper:
The recently discovered tape on which Barack Obama said back in 1998 that he believes in redistribution is not really news. He said the same thing to Joe the Plumber four years ago. But the surfacing of this tape may serve a useful purpose if it gets people to thinking about what the consequences of redistribution are.
– Wait, sorry to interrupt the jig so quickly, but there’s a tape? Has anyone told Steny Hoyer? Poor soul doesn’t know of a single Democrat who believes in wealth redistribution — despite having in Congress several actual socialists, and despite the unearthing of a tape where his own party’s President spells it out. Maybe if somebody drew him a pie chart or some such.
But I digress. Dance, Mr Bojangles!
Those who talk glibly about redistribution often act as if people are just inert objects that can be placed here and there, like pieces on a chess board, to carry out some grand design. But if human beings have their own responses to government policies, then we cannot blithely assume that government policies will have the effect intended.
The history of the 20th century is full of examples of countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty. The communist nations were a classic example, but by no means the only example.
In theory, confiscating the wealth of the more successful people ought to make the rest of the society more prosperous. But when the Soviet Union confiscated the wealth of successful farmers, food became scarce. As many people died of starvation under Stalin in the 1930s as died in Hitler’s Holocaust in the 1940s.
How can that be? It is not complicated. You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth — and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated.
Uh oh. Score one for Mr Bojangles, who just accidentally stepped and fetched his way to a rather obvious point. Of course, there’s an easy progressive answer to such a seeming conundrum with built into the wealth distribution model: coercion. Morally imperative coercion. For the Greater Good. And to secure that Utopian promise of equal distribution, a benevolent police state to insure that each citizen is doing his part fairly and equally. For equality and fairness. Teabaggers — and minstrels for the Capitalists Robber Barons like this Sowell shucker and jiver — would have us believe that such a social model is somehow tyrannical. Nonsense. What it is is a system built on equal spoils, “social justice,” and a kindly and well-intentioned ruling class, along with its administrative, military, and law enforcement apparatus, installed to make sure that no citizen tries to exceed his fair share. It is the apotheosis of egalitarianism — and paean to fairness, the greatest of all the virtues.
– When fairness is conceived of as position relative to outcome; work harder or smarter than someone else and consequently produce more that people want, well, that’s just greed, presumptuousness, and ambition — bourgeois traits that a firm and fair government can help re-shape by teaching you, benevolently, that you didn’t really earn that or produce that or make that, that you are but a cog in the greater societal machine, and that your excesses can be taken from you and entered into the common weal for all to share.
Tyranny? Hah! This is merely a governmental model built to ensure conformity — the greatest manifestation of fairness that any enlightened society can hope to achieve. Sameness = equality. Individualism is anathema to the idea of egalitarianism. And we can’t have perfect egalitarianism — and a Utopian society — so long as individuals continue to act in ways that trouble the carefully wrought plans of the master progressive planners. Who, it should be said, are doing all of this reworking of the human condition for you.
And of course, the children.
So. Back to the dancing negro:
If confiscatory policies can produce counterproductive repercussions in a dictatorship, they are even harder to carry out in a democracy. A dictatorship can suddenly swoop down and grab whatever it wants. But a democracy must first have public discussions and debates. Those who are targeted for confiscation can see the handwriting on the wall, and act accordingly.
Among the most valuable assets in any nation are the knowledge, skills and productive experience that economists call “human capital.” When successful people with much human capital leave the country, either voluntarily or because of hostile governments or hostile mobs whipped up by demagogues exploiting envy, lasting damage can be done to the economy they leave behind.
Fidel Castro’s confiscatory policies drove successful Cubans to flee to Florida, often leaving much of their physical wealth behind. But poverty-stricken refugees rose to prosperity again in Florida, while the wealth they left behind in Cuba did not prevent the people there from being poverty stricken under Castro. The lasting wealth the refugees took with them was their human capital.
We have all heard the old saying that giving a man a fish feeds him only for a day, while teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Redistributionists give him a fish and leave him dependent on the government for more fish in the future.
If the redistributionists were serious, what they would want to distribute is the ability to fish, or to be productive in other ways. Knowledge is one of the few things that can be distributed to people without reducing the amount held by others.
That would better serve the interests of the poor, but it would not serve the interests of politicians who want to exercise power, and to get the votes of people who are dependent on them.
Barack Obama can endlessly proclaim his slogan of “Forward,” but what he is proposing is going backwards to policies that have failed repeatedly in countries around the world.
Okay, I haven’t much to say about this silly fishing thing: after all, we aren’t talking about redistributing boats or those big yellow rain slickers. But there at the end, that attack on Obama?
Racist. From an obvious Uncle Tom
Which is why we can safely dismiss the inauthentic arguments here and remind ourselves that, if we wish truly to get an idea what actual black folk think about Obama’s redistributionist model (and why would we: Barack Obama represents 100% of us), we can ask Skip Gates. Or maybe Matt Damon.
As for Rochester here, he should just go make Jack Benny a high ball and shut the fuck up.