Redistribution

Error: The belief that redistribution is somehow a solution to what appear to be overwhelming problems about the growing wealth and income gap, not a sometimes justifiable expedient to address a dire emergency as a stopgap on the way to developing and implementing a real solution.

 

Truth: Many people agree that something must be done, and done now, about the growing wealth and income gap. When you add other problems, such as the mounting debt crises (government, student, and consumer), the alleged “recovery” from the “Great Recession/Depression,” spreading political instability, and a host of others, you end up with a seemingly hopeless situation.

 

In response, many people and organizations advocate a basic change in human nature, and distribution of the world’s goods on the basis of need (pseudo charity), rather than on the relative value of inputs to production (distributive justice). This puts charity and justice into conflict.

There is no real problem per se with programs advocating redistribution to address extreme material needs. The problem is that the world today is plagued with some fundamental differences on basic concepts, especially the rights of life, liberty, and property, the nature of the common good as institutional (not an aggregate of individual goods), humanity’s nature as what Aristotle called “a political animal,” the principles of economic justice and social justice.

 

Many, if not most, advocates of redistribution, knowingly or not, are locked into a labor-centric and past savings view of the world.  They don’t sufficiently appreciate the necessity of widespread ownership of productive or creative property (capital) to generate an adequate and secure income.  Consequently, they try to bypass or ignore the free market, generally through the ever-increasing coercive power of the State. This is key because Say’s Law of Markets is a statement of the application of justice in the marketplace. This “law” gives the fundamental principle of participation in the economy: you can’t consume what is not produced.

 

There are only two ways to consume as a participant in the market (not as the object of charity or redistribution, which is a separate issue). Either you produce for your own consumption, or you produce to trade with others to obtain what they produced for your consumption. This is the functioning of the moral virtue of justice and an application of humanity’s natural right to liberty (freedom of association/contract).

 

Viewing redistribution as the solution to the world’s growing problems attempts to bypass fundamental principles of justice and implement results directly. This contradicts the laws and characteristics of social justice, the goal of which is to reform our institutions to provide the environment within which people can obtain desired equal opportunity results by their own earnings, not as an imposition from above. The demand for redistribution as the solution confuses what is allowed as an expedient in an emergency (redistribution in many forms), with the solution: restructuring the social order so that unjust barriers are lifted to enable every child, woman, and man to become productive and meet his or her own needs by his or her own earnings.

 

Michael D. Greaney, Director of Research, The Center for Economic and Social Justice, Arlington VA., September 23, 2014

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