Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Immorality of Using Government to Redistribute Wealth and Income

Associated with the recent compromise in the United States Congress in which the “Bush” tax cuts, which were set to expire on December 31, 2010 were extended for individuals and couples of all income levels. That was essentially what the Republican Party wanted. The Democratic Party wanted the tax cuts extended only for individuals making less than $200,000 per year and couples making less than $250,000 per year. What made it a compromise was that to get the Democrats to agree, the Republicans gave up on their opposition to another extension of unemployment benefits. One of the arguments against extending the tax cuts for higher income households was that the “rich” can afford the higher tax burden and that it is unfair for them not to pay their “fair” share. Supporters of tax cuts for the higher incomes have been attacked as selfish and immoral. Arguments in favor of “soaking the rich” include biblical references to a duty to help the poor and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. I am not a scholar of the Bible, and I am not even particularly religious, but I do know that the Bible places the duty to help the poor on individuals and not on government. It does mention a duty to pay taxes (“render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”), but says nothing about what tax policies should be. The Bible is about the responsibilities of individuals and not of governments.

The thing that distinguishes a government from any other organization is that it is considered to have the legitimate right to use force and coercion to get some people to do things that they would rather not do or to refrain from doing things that they would rather do for the benefit of society as a whole. Since government is fallible and made up of fallible human beings, its use of force and coercion should be restricted to the legitimate functions of government. People may differ about what the legitimate functions of government are, but in my opinion, the legitimate functions of the federal government are pretty much those described in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence says that the purpose of a government is to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that the people have a right to alter or get rid of any government that is destructive of those ends. The “enumerated powers” of the federal government are listed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Redistributing wealth and income is not among them

The use of coercion to redistribute wealth when done by any organization other than government is usually considered to be robbery. From a moral standpoint, it is robbery even when the government does it. All that keeps it from being robbery from a legal standpoint is that the government defines what the law is and it does not tend to make its own actions illegal. The Bible has something to say about robbery; it says, “Thou shalt not steal.” It also has something to say about desiring the property of others; it says, “Thou shalt not covet.” I submit that the promotion of the use of government as a tool to redistribute wealth and the envy of the rich that progressives in this country promote is stealing and coveting and is immoral.

I and other critics of government redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor may be accused of being heartless and having no sympathy for the poor, but concern for the poor does not require acceptance of any and all means to help the poor, and one of the ways to help the poor is to help them avoid dependency on government. If they believe that they are “entitled” to relief from the government just because they are poor and therefore society owes them a closer approximation to equality of income and wealth, they are less likely to develop habits of self-reliance that tend to get them out of poverty and to keep them out without dependence on others. Studies sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute have indicated that conservatives (who tend to oppose the use of government to redistribute wealth and income give far more to charity (and real charity, not just contribution for fancier church buildings and things such as art galleries and opera houses) than do liberals, who tend to view helping the poor as a collective responsibility rather than an individual one. Want to help poor people? Then do it!

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