Saturday, February 7, 2009

Does the government create wealth or redistribute it?

I recently received this e-mail containing a quote by the late Dr. Adrian Rogers (1931 to 2005) Memphis, TN, that seems particularly appropriate in light of the Obama election.

You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the rich out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

The government cannot give to anybody anything the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend is about the end of any nation.

You cannot multiply the wealth by dividing it.

While I agree with this sentiment it will most likely carry little or no weight with those who, like Obama, want to “spread the wealth” as he said in the famous exchange with “Joe the Plumber” during the election. I’m sure Obama and Democrats don’t argue that the government creates wealth. Instead they feel it is the appropriate vehicle to redistribute wealth.

A key premise behind redistributionism is the idea that the free market unfairly distributes the wealth, that businessmen and the wealthy ultimately don’t deserve what they have, that they succeeded by exploiting others. (In other words, they hold a form of watered-down Marxism.) Therefore redistributionists believe it is moral to use progressive taxation and other measures to right past wrongs and to create a more egalitarian society.

So in order to make any kind of impact on those who argue this way is to show that:

  1. The free market isn’t rigged to exploit the lower classes and that everyone has an equal chance to succeed.
  2. The distribution of wealth is such that you could tax the top earners at 100% and still not make a major impact on the people at the other end of the income spectrum.
  3. It is moral to pursue one’s own interests as long as you don’t violate the rights of others.
  4. Perhaps most important, it is immoral to take what one has earned by their own efforts and give it to others.

Obviously accomplishing all of this is more than I can cover here. I’d recommend sites like the Ludwig Von Mises Institute for the economic counter-arguments and the Ayn Rand Institute for the individualist defense.

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