1/23/2008

Yes, Income Redistribution is WRONG.

Commenters on my last post had some great input about how income redistribution is wrong. Yes, I agree.

It is wrong for the government to coerce the rich to give to the poor, and it is wrong when the government is set up as a plutocracy to redistribute wealth away from the rest of society for the benefit of the rich. Here's some words from a new book for us to ponder.

We now have almost three decades of experience with the idea that markets will solve our problems. The promised results are not there and there is no reason to believe that they are over the next horizon, just a few more subsidies away. Elec­tricity costs more and its delivery is less reliable. Many hundreds of billions of tax dollars have been diverted to the rich, leaving our schools, parks, and local government services starved for funds. Jobs and assets are going offshore, sometimes to the detriment of not just the economy, but national security.

We have layered subsidy upon giveaway upon legal absolution for reckless conduct in a chaotic attempt to protect jobs, and it has not worked. We pour billions into subsidies for sports teams and golf courses. Our health care system costs us far more than that of any other industrial country and yet we live shorter lives than the Canadians, Europeans, and the Japanese. We stand alone among modern societies in making tens of millions of our citizens go without health care, many of whom die or become disabled because of this nutty idea that medicine is a business, not a service. We have erected obstacles to the earnest but poor who seek to better themselves through library study and higher education.

And our politicians in both parties are hypocrites of the first water, nearly every one of them. They vote to make the poor sacrifice again and again so that the rich can have more, yet they run for office handing out photos showing that they regularly attend religious services. To those who do not get this last point, take a moment to ponder the inner thoughts of the Pharisees. Do you think they thought themselves evil? Of course not. In their own minds, they had justifications for what they did, assuring themselves that they were the most moral of men.

Except for our technology, our electricity and powerful motors, we are the same as the ancients. And like great societies that we can look back upon, which reached a high point and then headed down the road to oblivion, we too are taking from the many to give to the few. “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want,” it says in Proverbs 22. Wise words to memorize.

We have become a society in which this injunction, and many others like it, is ignored. Even when we seek to help people, as with the drug benefit for older Americans, the mechanism often is designed first and foremost to take care of the corporate rich. The net effect of our policies, the evidence for which is overwhelming, is that we are redistributing income up. Through subsidies and tax cuts and rules that depress the incomes of most workers, the immediate future looks very bright for the already rich. Indeed, to borrow from the song, their future’s so bright they gotta wear shades.

Excerpted from Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston (January 2008).


Let's honestly dialogue with the viability of the idea that the American political system is becoming increasingly corrupted by what Johnston is identifying here.

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12 comments:

No Name Preacher said...

The giveaways that seem to be focused on are those directed to the poor. These are actually a small part of the overall federal budget But they are an easy target. The poor have no power. No one is looking out for them .

I am for stopping welfare but let's start at the top and work our way down. When we have stripped the fat cats of their dole then we are ready to deal with the poor.

Scot McKnight said...

O Bob, that widget with the rotating book list is so cool.

RonMcK said...

Bob
I agree with your general point of your post, but the first sentence that you quote is clearly wrong.

You have not had three decades of experience with allowing markets to solve the nation's problems. America has had nearly one hundred years of experience living in heavily regulated and politicised economy; and for 50 years before that, the government was strongly involved in regulating trade. Most of the anti-trust laws actually benefited big business, so what you are talking about is not somthing new.

A political system is really rotten when politicians are more attentive those they owe favours than they are to justice.

The sad thing is that most of the people have been happy to have it that way. The reason is that most Americans benefit in some way from pork barelling. No doubt the city where you live has received "pork" from time to time. So it is not just the rich who are guilty here. The are just better at playing it, but everyone is in on the game, because political bribery is so pervasive.

A major problem is that as the government has become more and more involved in every area of life over the last century and budgets have grown enormously, the potential for politicians to engage in this stuff has also increased exponentally. This is just one more piece of evidence that politics power is not a gift from God, but is a false saviour. Samuel tried to tell us that many years ago, but we are slow to learn (1 Sam 8).

Jason said...

Bob,

I'm really enjoying this little series. Thanks for your passion about the subject. I'll admit, I was rather surprised to read this sentence:

"It is wrong for the government to coerce the rich to give to the poor..."

Really? Well, I agree, but I'm surprised to read that in your post (only because I made all kinds of assumptions...sorry). It seems to me the general drift of most post-evangelical (or whatever) movements for social justice end with a call to greater taxation of the rich or the middle class for the purpose of creating additional government services for the needy.

But isn't such taxation a form of coercion?

Or are you simply for the elimination of corporate welfare and tax subsidies for the wealthy? Regarding that particular point I think the author is spot on (though I'm with Ron on the "markets" sentence - we've certainly not had anything near a free market for a very long time); the "free lunches" given to the wealthy and the corporate in this country are shameful. A truly free market would force bloated corporations to sink or swim on their own merits...much like the impoverished and working poor are forced to to every single day.

Still, I'm highly skeptical of championing taxation and govt. services as a valid expressions of the theological mandate to care for the poor. While I'm highly committed to assisting the poor, I think being so is a mandate incumbent upon the people of God and not on anyone else - including secular governments.

Besides, from a strictly practical standpoint, government completely botches every service and industry it gets it's hands on. But hey, just IMHO.

RonMcK said...

This verse somes up the situation well.
Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow's plea come before them. Is 1:23

Bob Robinson said...

No Name,
Some call our current situation "Welfare for the Rich." I find it interesting that, so often, those who are the most adamant to stop welfare for the poor are not willing to take the road that you are advocating.

Bob Robinson said...

Scot,
Just click on the book and buy it at Amazon...
...and I get a little bit of $ back from Amazon in the deal!

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK,
Thanks for the input. But to say that "this is just one more piece of evidence that politics power is not a gift from God" is like saying "since so many people have illicit sex, and since rapes happen, these are evidence that sex is not a gift from God."

Bob Robinson said...

Jason,
The idea that taxation is a form of coercion is an intriguing one. The case can be made that taxation is for the common good and that those who choose to live in a society are therefore submitting to the taxes for the sake of the "common wealth. "If, however, we have "taxation without representation," then we have injustice. And, I would add, if we have "taxation with over-representation" or "under-representation" we have injustice.

RonMcK said...

Bob
Your analogy does not really work. There a plenty of marriages where sex is a noble thing as God inteneded it to be.

There are not good examples of political power. It always ends up abusing people, because that is rooted in its nature. Thats why we need the gospel.

Bob Robinson said...

RobMcK-
Okay, that may be the case with political "power." So if that's what you're saying we're on the same page.

But political "authority" is a gift from God, and just because some abuse that authority does not negate the goodness of it.

RonMcK said...

Bob
I am not clear what is the difference between political power and political authority. I think you need to define more precisely, from the scriptures, this gift that God has allegedly given us. Most of what I see looks more like the other chap.

In your response to Jason you refer to that old chestnut about “no taxation without representation”. I think you mean “without potential representation.”

If the candidates, I supported do not get elected, I do not have anyone representing my views. Since I have no representation does that make my taxation unjust and therefore coercive?

I suppose that I have the hope that my candidate will do better in the next election or in 2050, but that is only potential representation. In the interim, I will be coerced into paying taxes by people who do not represent me for what they believe is the common good (including what they think is good for me).