So What About You?

“Redistribution” is one of the most dangerous words in the modern lexicon. Don’t fall for it.

How Do YOU Feel About “Redistribution”?

A recent discussion at another blog has reminded me that the concept of “redistribution” – of wealth, income, etc – is a heavy, heavy burden on our thinking about politics and economics, and one that, now more than ever, we all need to get straight in our minds.

We are in a dangerous and vulnerable political period today.  A political faction in America is seeking to implement an intentionally redistributionist agenda, and in my view has been surprisingly straightforward about that.  The practices of the past – obfuscating all drives toward collectivist redistributionism with invocations of compassion and emotional anecdote – have been left behind.  Politicians on the left today are making only the most perfunctory obeisance to feel-good obfuscation, and are working – quite avowedly, in many cases – toward coercive schemes intended to accomplish redistributionist goals.

We need to armor our thoughts on this subject.  It is only going to come up more and more often, although it is likely to assume deceptive guises.  When a public official speaks, for example, of putting less of society’s resources into health care and more into higher education, he is talking about redistribution of what you produce (there exist no other “societal resources”), from the priorities you would naturally choose to the ones chosen for your society by the central government.  You may very well prefer to spend the product of your labor on health care for your parents.  You might indeed be willing to sacrifice other things – things you want, things in your own life – to provide health care for your parents.  But government officials in the US today are actually proposing to suppress or eliminate your power to use the product of your labor to demand that health care – because they want to use the product of your labor for other things.

That is one, more subtle form of redistributionism.  Less subtle, of course, is the crude idea of leveling people’s economic estate by taking from some and giving to others.  That is what most people have in mind when they hear the word “redistribution.”  As we go forward in the  national debate over what sort of nation we intend to be, I would like to advance the following propositions for consideration.  It’s essential that we sort out what we mean and how we feel about this thorny, freighted issue.

1.  “Redistribution” of wealth or income is inherently an impossible task.  There is an enduring theory in the human mind that it can be achieved, but in reality it cannot.  The reason is very simple:  neither income nor wealth is “distributed” in the first place.  Wealth is created by individuals, and income is earned.  The production of either is dependent on the attitudes and conditions leveraged by individuals.  There is no such thing as a predetermined “product” – of goods, services, wealth, or income – inherent with any particular organization of society.  Some forms of organization discourage the attitudes and conditions conducive to producing wealth and earning income.  Other forms foster those attitudes and conditions.  But organizational abstraction is not the engine of production and wealth:  people are.  Wealth and income are meaningless except in relation to what individuals have done to create and earn them.  Neither quantity was “distributed” in the first place, and neither can be “redistributed.”

2.  Taxing and spending are not, inherently, means of “redistribution.”  Be careful about your thinking if you believe these activities are such a means.  I advocate refusing to accept use of the word “redistribution” to describe the traditional activities of government, because by accepting it you are buying into a freighted concept that has other, malign meanings to various political partisans.  Buying a military with tax dollars is not “redistribution,” it is the purchase of goods and services.  The same is true of buying roads, building dams, and running public hospitals.  The same is even true of providing welfare and food stamps to the indigent.  Our intention with such expenditures is not to level incomes or redistribute wealth but to relieve suffering and prevent the public problems created by vagrancy.

We even need to keep firmly in our minds that the major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, are not intended as a means of “redistribution.”  We are not taxed to support them because we have more than someone else, nor are we made beneficiaries of them because we have less than someone else.  On not one single day since the inauguration of Social Security has that been the premise for it; and the same is true of Medicare.

3.  There is grave danger in not recognizing the meaningful distinction between taxing and spending, on the one hand, and intending to “redistribute” on the other.  Social Security is not intended to transfer purchasing power from the young to the old, on some theory that if the old use the purchasing power instead of the young there will be a better social outcome.  The fact that there is an effective transfer of purchasing power going on is an artifact of accounting and fiscal management.  It is not evidence that Americans have given political approval to the concept of “redistribution.”  We have never bought into that false idea.

4.  It is within government’s purview to decide to purchase goods and services, which is what it is doing when it pays for police and fire services, runs schools, and manages the collection of import tariffs.  We can dispute whether government should envision purchasing services like academic studies of the regurgitation habits of exotic flies, or Departments of Getting People to Drive a Whole Lot Less.  But we can probably agree that even if these are bad purchases, they are still straightforward purchases of services with tax dollars:  the exchange of money for a definable, if stupid, product.

What is not within government’s purview is imagining itself to be making allocational decisions about “society’s resources,” according to some ideological schematic.  Government should not have any actionable opinion on whether health care “should” represent less of the economy, and university research more.  Government’s attitude should be one of taxing enough to pay for what it needs – not of deciding how big sectors of the economy should be; or of deciding the maximum wealth anyone should be able to create or hold onto, or the maximum income anyone should be able to earn and retain; or of prescribing what is too much medical care for people to receive, and punishing those who provide it.

5.  It has made a significant difference that Americans have never agreed to an explicitly redistributionist agenda.  We have always thought simply in terms of taxing to pay for government services; and while we may tax the rich more – a practice there is debate over the wisdom of – we do not do so for the explicit purpose of making them poor so that they are not rich any more.  We don’t tax the rich because others are poor; we tax the rich, as well as the middle class and some of the poor, to pay for useful things like our military and air traffic control system, along with useless things like those on the annual Golden Fleece list.  It is because we have not demonized or prohibited wealth that we still have so much of it.

There is no question that our tax code, above a certain level, penalizes the effort that goes into creating new wealth through productivity.  So does regulation that makes American employees expensive relative to their productivity.  But these are systemic burdens that weigh down the creation of wealth – not rules that are intended to proscribe it absolutely, or control its use according to a societal vision.

The reason I make these points is that there is tremendous danger in accepting the proposition that we already have “redistribution” going on.  We do not, in fact, have “redistribution” in operation in America.  We are not already living with anything like the sort of power left-progressivists seek to wield over the product of our labors.  Agreeing that there’s some redistribution going on, and that therefore we can handle a little more, would be signing our own death warrant.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need to change anything.  The quasi-redistributionist artifact created by management of our Social Security and Medicare programs is problematic for our future, portending more and more taxation for younger people to support the beneficiaries at the other end of life.  But this is an artifact of how the system has been managed; it is not the product of a deliberate intention to transfer purchasing power between demographics.

It is the latter that is intolerable as a practice of government.  People have occasionally, through consensual processes, tweaked their governments’ fiscal management and programmatic organization enough to have a real and positive effect for individuals in the economy.  Americans have done this ourselves, as with our election of Reagan in 1980 and the overhaul of the tax code, or the 1994 Congressional election and the welfare reform it produced in 1996.  No people, however, has ever moved away from comprehensive economic dirigisme, on the part of their government, without a crisis of government in one form or another.  History makes clear that this is not a path we can go down, hoping to recover by constitutional means if we decide we don’t like it.

57 thoughts on “So What About You?”

  1. Roosevelt is dead and redistribution is a flaming fact. Find an economist saying anything other than Social Security is a redistribution,
    Sticking your head in a hole isn’t armoring your thoughts.

  2. fuster, what implications do you impute to your certainty that “redistribution is a flaming fact”? What importance does that hold for you? I’m looking for why it is important to you to see things that way, rather than considering another perspective.

  3. Primarily, I find it important that we use the term redistribution in the same way and to mean what it usually means. Anything else invites avoidable misunderstandings.
    Additionally, I think that it’s of some importance to note that the US has somehow teetered along with redistribution as part of its architecture for long before we were born. Attempting to describe it as something radical and foreign, as something that this administration is somehow imposing to tear apart the fabric of our society isn’t sound.

    I’ve no trouble in considering your perspective, opticon, any more than I was troubled by considering Marx’s. Neither are right or sensible or desirable, but contemplating them is of interest.

  4. Thanks, fuster. Your second point is very useful because it’s the key reason I regard it as important to NOT agree to the careless definition of “redistribution” that you speak of. The fact that it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not careless.

    There has never been a political intent in the US to “redistribute”; and to say that taxation, even for Social Security, IS “redistribution” sets us up for precisely the very dangerous elision you posit. We do not, in fact, live with intentional “redistribution,” nor have we ever. No one looks at your income and says “Too much! Take some away to get it down to where it should be!”

    THAT is the true intent of “redistribution.” If we use the word and agree that it’s already going on, de facto, we buy into all the implications. I don’t buy into them. Hence, I can’t go along with the careless proposition that “we already have redistribution, so what’s the big deal?”

    1. There is no intrinsic “intent” in redistribution other than to supply funds.
      Likewise, there is no implication that pointing out that we have long employed redistribution is an attempt to say that it’s no big deal.
      Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.
      Make no distinctions if you wish, but failing to do so makes you sound absurd when you attempt to use your terminology to describe the thoughts of people who do make those distinctions.

  5. You are of course perfectly correct, Fuster. All social spending is essentially redistributive. Always has been. Always will be. The US and all the other liberal capitalist democracies have a social safety net to protect the vulnerable. This is so under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The only argument is about the level and extent of this cover. For instance, we, through our legislators have decided to provide our vets with one of the most comprehensive systems of socialized medicine in the world. This is as it should be. It is paid for by taxation. The other argument is about the level of taxation needed to sustain the social net, and where the greatest burden of that taxation should lie. The Republicans believe that their rich friends shouldn’t pay anything, and because “they” don’t depend on the social net, “they” shouldn’t have to contribute towards it. The Democrats believe that those who can best afford to pay should carry the greater burden.

  6. “The Republicans believe that their rich friends shouldn’t pay anything, and because “they” don’t depend on the social net, “they” shouldn’t have to contribute towards it. The Democrats believe that those who can best afford to pay should carry the greater burden.”

    This is demonstrably false peterwise. You’re starting to sound like one of those fanatical Kos kids. For starters, the “rich friends” out there identify more and more often with the Democratic party. But never mind that now. I have never heard of any Republican who thought that their “rich friends” should have to not have to pay “anything” because they don’t use the social services.

    The arguments that people like myself have against the rich paying *more* taxes than they already do has to do with A.) Wanting the govt to stay out of our private lives as much as possible (liberty), and B.) Believing that the citizens of this country will all be better off if govt leaves private citizens and their earned money mostly alone so those private citizens can expand their businesses, invest their money, etc… which will expand the economy and thus employ more citizens which will obviate the need for more tax money to go to various social services to assist those with lower incomes.

    You can disagree with me and have a different view of how to best assist the citizens of this country who are on the lower end of the economic spectrum, but to say that Republicans don’t want the rich to pay “anything” because of a desire for their “rich friends” to stay as rich as possible, or that they shouldn’t pay because they don’t use the social services for which they are paying, is over the top. I can hardly believe I saw those words from you.

  7. I think JED’s point is that Americans are quite willing to pay taxes to relieve the indigent, and also quite willing to fool themselves that the Ponzi scheme of Social Security is actually a pension that they have paid for themselves, but they are not in favor of a plan whereby whatever someone owns over a certain amount is confiscated in order to bring others up to a certain amount.

    One of the undesireable consequences of a steeply graduated income tax and of a liberal pursuit of social engineering is that they set up incentives and opportunities for the richer to shelter income from taxes, and sometimes for the poorer to pay taxes to fund things for the wealthier. For instance, in Chicago, owners of bungalow houses can get $2000 toward home improvement of repairs. This is paid for by taxes on people who live in apartments. Some direct redistribution would actually be fairer in this case.

    Something the settlers at Jamestown learned years ago is that the more redistribution of goods takes place, the fewer goods there are. Few people are willing to go the extra mile inwork to earn money for someone else, especially when the someone elses quickly realize that going less than the extra mile will gain them goods without effort.

  8. And of course J.E., I understand what you are saying if fuster does not.

    fuster, “Redistribution” as posited by JE here is intended to refer to the desire by the govt to *punish* the ones who have *too much* money (because capitalism is evil or some such inane sentiment). It reminds me of the line that candidate Obama said in an interview when told that lowering the cap gains tax will actually INCREASE govt coffers. He said the cap gains taxes SHOULD be raised nevertheless because it was “fair.” (I wouldn’t be surprised if this line by Obama was responsible, at least in part, of this posting by JE).

    “Redistribution” per both you fuster and you peterwise, is what’s been going on in this country to pay for “routine” services that we’ve become accustomed to having the tax payers pay for (Medicare, etc…). JE was pretty clear about the distinction I think.

  9. Ritchie, I understand perfectly well what she means by redistribution.
    I’m repeatedly offering reminders that economists don’t use the word the same way and that freighting it with that meaning is going to lead to making errors about other people’s intent when they use the word and mean to say something different, something not necessarily implying gross confiscation.
    She was very unclear early in the discussion and made the unfounded assumption that someone advocating a redistribution was intent on a coercive agenda.

  10. This discussion illustrates beautifully how correct the people were who argued, 75 or 100 years ago, that setting up public income support programs would condition citizens to think that “redistribution” was taking place, that it is a benign concept, and that benefits programs fall under it as well as centrally-directed collectivism.

    fuster and peterwise are excellent examples of the power of that idea, which has been one of the main subjects of classical-liberal arguments against the slippery slope of “soft socialism.” Turns out it IS a slippery slope.

    It is not, in fact, the same thing to, on the one hand, tax the people to pay for income-support programs, and on the other to act from the premise that some have too much and others too little — or that some societal interests have too many resources going to them, and others not enough.

    Nor is it the same thing to, on the one hand, say “We don’t put enough resources into X; we must put more into it,” and on the other hand say, “We put TOO MANY resources into Y; therefore we must put fewer into Y and more into X.”

    The first statement is not inherently prejudicial to Y, but the second one is. Now, people who have allocation between X and Y in their purview make decisions that are “prejudicial to Y” all the time, as when Mom decides that less of the household budget will go to ice cream and candy, or a busines owner decides to spend on advertising instead of repaving the parking lot.

    But who is the “authority” who is empowered to decide that Y is getting too many resources, and specifically must be shorted to give X more, when Y is what the American people voluntarily put into keeping themselves warm in the winter, and expect a certain return from, and X is a set of “green jobs” programs?

    The whole concept of “redistribution” posits that there is such an authority, one that holds de facto entitlement to everything we produce (there is no “resource” outside of what is produced by all the individuals who make up a citizenry), and is empowered to decide how it is to be “used,” “allocated,” and/or “distributed.”

    Now, maybe fuster and peterwise DO see things that way, and do believe in the theoretical existence of such an authority over us. My point is that the existence of the Social Security program is not evidence that all or even most Americans do.

  11. fuster — again, the statement that “economists” use the term “redistribution” in a certain way is much too broad. Economists in the Marxist and Keynesian traditions use it the way you indicate, but there is a whole school of economics in which “redistribution” is not used to refer to all forms of government taxation and expenditure (or even just those that go to social programs).

    Mainstream liberal economists are economists in the Marxist and/or Keynesian traditions. Marx is mainstream today, and has been since the 1940s. Use of the terms “capital” and “labor,” and the industrial model of business/capital and labor/wage-earning/consumption, ARE invocations of Marxism. That these concepts have been widely accepted in the last century doesn’t mean they aren’t “Marxist”; they are.

    1. MOST economists and MOST people using a word a certain way is what MOST people call general usage. When attempting to divine the meaning behind the use of a word, it makes for a convenient starting point.

      And of course there is an authority for redistribution, in the Most economist and Most people sense, within the sovereign power of the government of the United States.
      If you confine yourself to arguing that the sovereign authority doesn’t extend to certain types or instances or modalities of redistribution, we can agree on that.

  12. “The whole concept of “sovereignty” does also posit authority, opticon.”

    a. Mixing the terms of international relations practice with the terms of domestic authority.

    b. The existence of the terms sovereignty and authority doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on what is included in them. The state of California has the authority to require me to have a driver’s license, but that doesn’t mean we all agree it has the authority to proclaim that I’m getting too much medical care, and that whatever I was spending on that must be redirected to paying for solar power arrays.

  13. Sarah Brodsky — welcome to the blog! You’ve correctly interpreted what I’m saying about the “redistributive” idea as it relates to income and wealth. Your point that conscious attempts to redistribute, as practiced by some of our early settlers (I believe it was in Massachusetts colony rather than Jamestown), quickly demonstrated the fallacy of the whole concept. Producers stopped producing when their work was considered the property of the collective — and there was less and less left to “distribute.”

  14. fuster — there have been a number of things “most” people said and thought over the years that they turned out to be wrong about, like “the sun revolves around the earth,” or “a judicious bleeding will rid the body of toxins.”

    It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying; and I even agree that it has force in a number of situations. But there are also situations in which what “most” people say or think requires a challenge.

    I don’t actually agree that there’s a meaningful sense in which we can say MOST people are darn sure what they mean when they say “redistribution,” or what they think they’re hearing when someone else says it. But even if we could say that, my point would be that this complacency about the term requires a challenge. That’s fair, you know. It’s allowed in human discourse.

  15. I think on this point both JED and Fuster may be correct in a broad sense. There are certain ways in which public payment for services is redistributionist in nature. Police service is a good example: everybody gets the same basic service or at least the potential for it, while paying sometimes vastly different amounts. On the other hand there is a kind of public expenditure which is directly beneficial to the poor while the burden is borne mostly by the wealthy-enough-to-pay-taxes. I notice JED and Fuster depart on whether the public mind is accepting of this as a principle or simply tolerant of it as a consequence. It seems to me there are a large number of people, sorry JED who accept this as a principle for reasons of self interest or out of some moral allegiance/guilt/ideology.
    However fusters point that the country seems to have rocked along on this road well before we were born is unpersuasive to me. Thats maybe 70 years? 30 in earnest? As Nassim Taleb points out, a turkeys life is about 1000 days of unbroken peace and well being at the hand of human kindness and benevolence……. until Thanksgiving morning.

    1. For the heck of it, I’ll say since 1862.

      But I understand and agree with the idea that our having lived under the system doesn’t make for it being optimal or even good.
      I’ve not really advocated redistribution here, merely attempted to promote understanding of it.

  16. I really don’t know whether some of the people here are being deliberatly disingenous, or incapable of calling a spade a spade.

    You either accept that we as a political society have some responsibility towards our weakest members, or you believe that we have no such responsibility, and the only rule is “everyone for themselves” and the devil take the hindmost. It is a vision of humankind which is deply antagonistic to Christianity and its political offspring, the secular Western social democracy.

    I guess it all comes down to whether or not you believe in the concept of “society” and “community”. F.A. Hayek, the great Austrian economist/philosopher, who provided the intellectual underpinning of modern conservatism and its basis in an individual-rights ontology had no difficulty in accepting the role of the state in providing an ultimate safety-net. In particular, Hayek identified healthcare, education, and defense as areas where the state had an inherent role. Roman Catholicism, the largest and oldest Christian religion, is unequivocal in its social teaching that we, both as a society and a political community, share a common responsibility towards each other. It is telling how the extreme right dines a-la-carte on Catholic teaching – invoking it when convenient (opposition to abortion) and ignoring it when inconvenient (the death penalty and the social net).

    There is now abroad a bastard child of Nietzsche and envy which tries to equivocate community with communism, and taxation as theft. Thankfully, most Americans take their references and social morals from sounder sources.

  17. Just a correction–the Sarah Brodsky above was actually me, using an away computer.

    Peterwise, you insist on equating a “safety net” with “redistribution,” inspite of the clear distinction JED made above. Why do you do this? Who has commented that they don’t want a safety net? I certainly didn’t.

    But that isn’t to say that the Massachusetts Bay Colony/Jamestown effect doesn’t happen with our safety net. Years ago I wrote a book about vocational rehabilitation of the handicapped. The disincentive problem of Social Security disability was frequently commented on by experts in the field. As a society,we are willing to accept some of these side effects. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be blind to the damage these side effects do to the recipients of the “safety net.” And when the taxing of wealth-producers and the payments to non-producers both become very high, We can expect to see a drag on the economy that will mean that we all have less wealth.

    1. And, with the greatest respect, you are performing verbal gymnastics to avoid the obvious: that the taxation necessary to pay for the safety net is inherently redistributive.
      The essential difference between Western democracy and Marxism is that in the former redistributive taxation is an incidential implication of the social contract which underpins decent societies. In the latter, redistribution is the system. It is a world of difference.

      As for the thesis that the safety net is inherently corrupting: There is no doubt that a small number of people will exploit the safety net. However, this is a price a civilized society balances against the far greater number of people for whom the social net is a genuine necessity. There is an analogy in the justice system in advanced democracies – the presumption of innocence and the necessity of the State having to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt results in a certain percentage of criminals escaping justice. It is a price society pays for the greater good. Of course in both cases we have laws to minimize abuse by the few. But abuse by the few is not an argument to abolish the safety net nor the presumption of innocence.

      One thing I should say here is that the Western democracies all have safety nets. The societies of the EU, North america, Japan and the Anzacs all have much more in common than divides them. They all have government by the people and for the people, the rule of law, and government subject to that rule of law, including strong protections of private property and individual rights. If the Europeans want less government, they have the power to so decide. If we want more government (or less), so do we. I live on the west coast of France where I help run a small leisure-marine business. We import from, and export to, the US. As a business, the real world issues we have to deal with on both sides of the pond are not dissimilar. American exceptionalism is a myth. So is French exceptionalism (but don’t say it to the French!).

  18. To the point that when we want less government we can so decide: When 63% of the population pays no federal income tax, the concept of “we” can start to become a bit strained.

      1. I almost put in a disclaimer that I was not advocating such a thing but thought based on my reading of the commenters to this blog that it would come off as condescending. Like explaining to an old man that when I said a quarterback was “sick”, I didn’t mean he had an illness.

    1. I’m not a fan of redistribution beyond maintenance of a very limited safety net; but it’s misleading to simply state that 63% pay no Fed’l income tax without mentioning that virtually every worker pays 15+% of their income up to $106K in Social Security and Medicare taxes. Most don’t realize it because they only see half of that percentage as a deduction on their pay stub; but the employer portion ends up being reflected in lower wages. For incomes well up into what most people consider middle class SSN and Medicare taxes are actually more burdensome than Fed’l income tax. Property taxes are similarly regressive, and so are state and loval income taxes.

  19. I don’t get your point. Are you saying that only payers of fedral income tax should have the vote? I can imagine that a lot of our pensioners mightn’t be too happy with that proposition.

    1. I don’t see how to make the point any more concrete. If you believe that 10 people voting 6-4 that 4 will pay for the community need is not a problem or at the least will not concede it contains the seeds for a future problem then it is unlikely we can exchange ideas meaningfully.

    2. I make that argument whenever anyone on the left makes the “chickenhawk” argument re involvement in military decisions. It’s a silly argument in both cases. Your earlier assertion that the rich are soley associated with the Republican party was equally silly. The very rich, indeed, are now all on the Democrat side because that is where the power is to be bought. And the very rich can understand that the democratic side bias of the major news media (owned and/or closely controlled by the ultra rich by the way) makes it less dangerous to buy democrat politicians than republicans ones.

  20. There are rays of hope. I work at a state owned hospital where our president is a big lib. We actually get very little in tax payer support and that continues to get cut.
    Well the boss has finally figured out the best way for us to remain viable is to become self-sufficient and position ourselves to eliminate the need for tax dollars altogether! Imagine, actually relying on market forces and our own abilities!

  21. Margo — got it, thanks. Sarah Brodsky your alter ago shall be. Both of you make good points.

    TJ — with some of our commenters here you court backlash no matter what you say, but I think most of them do understand that your “6-4” illustration of principle is not intended as a specific policy recommendation.

    Since no one here is arguing that there should be no social programs, peterwise’s disquisitions attacking People Who Hate Social Programs are really beside the point.

    “The essential difference between Western democracy and Marxism is that in the former redistributive taxation is an incidential implication of the social contract which underpins decent societies. In the latter, redistribution is the system. It is a world of difference.”

    Everyone recognizes the schematic dichotomy you outline here, peterwise. That it exists was already my point. What I am doing is challenging the formulation “redistributive taxation.” You have not written one word that JUSTIFIES viewing what we in Western democracies do as, explicitly, “REDISTRIBUTIVE taxation.” You have merely stated that the dynamic IS seen this way.

    I say, to the contrary, that what we are doing is taxing ourselves to provide relief and/or a minimum safety net for others. I am saying that this is NOT equal to, or the same thing as, “redistributing” anything, because two essential elements of “redistribution” are missing:

    1. The prior existence of a dynamic of “distribution.” Nothing that is valuable is “distributed” by some cosmic force. All things of value are created. They cannot be “redistributed.” They can be taxed — in a democracy, the creator consents — or stolen — the creator does not consent.

    2. An absolute authority, over everything we are and do, to whom we entrust either distribution or redistribution: a prescription of what our livelihoods, lifestyles, and opportunities should be, such that this authority decides no one can be allowed to keep income above X amount, or that the provision of health care must not exceed Y percent of our aggregate economic activity.

    As you correctly state, Marxism posits precisely these two conditions, and proposes to act as if they are to be taken for granted. This is why “redistribution,” the concept, is inherently Marxist.

    The adherents of Western liberalism should not accept the use of a word that carries these implications. It’s likely that I won’t get a lot of people to join me in repudiating the word, with all its freight, any time soon. But if at least some people are now thinking about the distinction I’m making, that’s a good thing.

    1. I think you have confused yourself. If you actually read what I said rather than getting yourself tied up in jargon like “schematic dichotomy” you would see that I merely argued that taxation tends to be redistributive in its effect. However, its purpose is not to redistribute but to fund what the legislators elected by the electorate deem appropriate.
      Your argument, such I as can understand it, seems to be that because it tends to be redistributive in its effect, it is Marxist.
      Unfortunately, your point of view (and that is all ascribing motives to other people is) does not become a convincing argument just because you use capital letters and pseudo theology with a final triumphant QED. Modern social democrats do not consider themselves “Marxist”. In Europe, at least, Christian teaching has been a far greater influence on the development of modern social capitalism.

  22. KTH — that’s great news. I wonder if you’d share, when you have time, what steps are being taken to wean your hospital off of public funding.

  23. I would surely like to hear about that also.
    Most interested in the number of beds, specialties, and some information about the catchment area population.

  24. The plan is to grow the hospital business by at least 5% and research funding (yes, I know most of that comes from tax dollars but it is not directly from the state’s general fund) by 10%.
    We have started a new ad campaign to tout our areas of expertise and advance technology.
    Internally, quality and customer satifaction is heavily stressed – just as if we were a private enterprise.
    We have about 425 beds with 18 practising specialties and serve an area of nearly 20 counties.

  25. KTH — I always hate to make obvious jokes, but does growing hospital business mean beating the bushes for children with sore throats to to de-tonsil, and unwitting diabetics to hack the feet off of?

    Since I know the medical profession doesn’t actually operate that way, I hope you know I’m not serious. I see hospitals advertising all the time and am neither offended, nor brainwashed by such advertising into thinking I need a lot of procedures I don’t. I suppose the campaign to grow business will be along the lines of the generic advertising we see around us.

    It’s interesting that you’d only have to grow business by 5% to cut the public funding vulnerability. Or maybe the 5% number will reduce it to a level the manager is more comfortable with?

    One reason I’m interested is that our local hospital here is a public one, and ballot measures to sell it to private management have been defeated three times. But the public funds are simply running out (property tax revenues are down catastrophically), and we have another chance to vote to sell it on 3 Nov. Unfortunately, the bid this time is from a consortium of local physicians rather than a hospital management corporation with a proven record. We can certainly hope that the level of demand for hospital services — with our area still growing — will make it viable under private management. I’m interested in what other hospitals are doing, however, to shift from the public umbilical cord to more sustainability as private enterprises.

  26. Medicaid fraud, taking in charity patients and selling their organs, refusing to provide certain services in exchange for donations, baby auctions…

  27. peterwise, you keep asserting that taxation tends to be redistributive in effect. That is true because our system of taxation, at least a first glance, was designed to be so. However, the purpose of the taxation remains to create a safety net, rather than to equalize outcomes among all the members of society.

    The question JED raises has to do with our stand on redistribution per se, not tangential redistributive effects.

    In fact, some forms of taxation, while intended for the “rich” actually miss their mark and hit the “poor.” The corporate income tax is to a great extent passed to consumers, and for many products those are people with modest incomes, or even on welfare. This fact, that those with great means are usually able to avoid taxes in perfectly legal ways, is for me another reason to oppose attempts at redistribution.

    1. I agree with your first paragraph in its entirety. Only someone who is a Marxist fringe or from the “government is tyranny, and taxation is theft” fringe would disagree. Of course, taxation should be proportionate and progressive. Sometimes, because of the resources available to the rich to minimize their exposure to taxes, the burden falls lower down. This is a problem all advanced societies face when trying to fund necessaries such as the social net and defense. Countries with a low sense of social solidarity, or community values, such as ours have a particular problem in this respect because everyone resents contributing towards services they don’t personally use or need. We usually change our tune when we (or our loved ones) become old or sick or unemployed.

  28. JED,
    We too kind of chuckle about ‘growing the business’. I envision us flagging down passing ambulances on their way to other hospitals.

    I guess the pc way to account for the anticipated growth is that they want to make people believe they can get a great level of care here without going to a medical center in a larger city. They also emphasize our strengths as the area top provider for stroke and cancer treatment.

    The 5% + 10% increase in research will eliminate our need for tax dollars. We are required to abide by all of the state regs as if we were fully funded by tax payer money but we receieve less than 10% of our spend from the state.

    We will continue to be a state agency to take advantage of the ability to issue bonds and such.

  29. and are you assuming large amounts of debt of late, either through issuance of bonds or in other ways?

  30. ““Redistribution” of wealth or income is inherently an impossible task…Wealth is created by individuals, and income is earned.”

    Under Mao, the Chinese came pretty close to achieving it. But it is not possible to achieve complete parity of income.

    Socialist/liberals simply assert that just societies cannot allow income disparities to widen to the point where the basic needs of all its members are not met. They are arguing that health care is a basic right, positing new ‘economic rights’ exist and that any society in which members don’t have at the least basic health care is one in which those basic needs are not being satisfied. Thus the safety net must be increased and the methodology many advocate is wealth redistribution.

    Liberal dogma disputes that wealth creation is created solely by individuals. That dogma asserts that other individual’s assistance is critical to the creation of that wealth and that capitalism, in particular, facilitates the ‘unfair’ accumulation of that wealth by human greed. Thus it is posited that the ‘creative’, entrepreneurial individual is NOT ‘earning’ all that he in fact, unjustly accumulates under a system like capitalism.

    Greed is certainly common among human beings. People act ‘unfairly’ every day. Self-centered actions are prevalent and some individuals in a capitalistic system will ‘game’ the system, using subterfuge and economic leverage to take advantage of others and withhold the just compensation due those who have assisted them in the process of wealth creation.

    All that said, no other economic system known surpasses capitalism in the creation of economic wealth, both for the individual and the larger society.

    That is because Capitalism embraces natural economic principles and human nature.

    One of those profoundly important principles is that wealth is created through the acquisition of private wealth pools of investment capital and the use of those to create profit.

    In any society, a rising generational quality of life is not possible without private pools of wealth.

    The Chinese, under Mao, proved that assertion, they experienced generational economic stagnation until they adopted a form of capitalism.

    Capitalism conforms to reality and that is the heart of the matter.

    Liberals at heart are outraged at the essential unfairness of life and life itself IS unfair. Thus, they reject a fundamental aspect of the outer reality within which they exist and many thus reject Capitalism which economically, conforms to reality.

    To do so might be initially considered a form of insanity but it is rather a case of arrested emotional development. This immaturity is evident for anyone who has heard the plaintive wail of a child’s expression, “It’s not FAIR!” Just as a toddler, immersed in its stage of emotional development is ‘immune’ to reasoned persuasion, so to do liberals protest and refuse to accept life’s essential unfairness.

    They do so because they fail to understand a deeper aspect of reality.

    What liberals ‘don’t get’ is that ‘unfairness’ (not criminal unfairness, we all object to that) is inherently necessary to life itself.

    It is necessary to progress and even evolution, both physically and socially. Without life’s inherent ‘unfairness’, there is only stagnation and social entropy because it’s life’s inherent unfairness is the fuel and impetus that drives achievement, both individually and socially.

    I suspect that 99% of conservatives don’t intellectually understand the necessity of life’s inherent unfairness either but they emotionally accept it, as a fundamental aspect of reality, that must be accommodated, in order to function within that reality. A case of, “you play the cards you’ve been dealt” because whining about it is ultimately self-defeating.

    It’s not a case of we shouldn’t try to make the world a ‘kinder, gentler place’… it’s a case of even while we try to leave a better world for our children, we realize that there’s only so much we can do, a balancing act, because without losing there’s no winning and a world in which there are no ‘winners’ is a world in which, ultimately we are ALL losers.

    That is the existential reality within which we exist. Counter-intuitively, it’s a better universe because ultimately it’s better that there IS unfairness. Within natural limits, it’s necessary for the greater good!

    1. I guess you like it in the shallows, Geoffrey.
      Try not to ascribe the simplest aspect of liberalism to the majority of liberals.
      That’s usually good advice when you take it upon yourself to assert other folk’s immaturity.

  31. “Socialist/liberals simply assert that just societies cannot allow income disparities to widen to the point where the basic needs of all its members are not met.”

    Geoffrey, this reminds me of the classic lefty talking point that “the gap between the rich and poor is widening,” which means that the rich must be taxed more so the poor can receive more and the “gap” can be closed. Of course, there’s never any context given to what “widening gap” means. If a rich guy makes $100 and a poor guy makes $20, and then next time around the rich guy makes $130 and the poor guy makes $30, that sounds to me like everyone is going in the right direction. However, we’ll hear about the unfairness of the “gap” which will be followed by attempts to tax more of that $130. peterwise, commenting above, used similar lefty boilerplate claiming that R’s didn’t want more taxes because they didn’t want “their friends” to have more of their cash taken elsewhere by the govt. These accusations are standard fare for the left, but they come closer to demagoguery than to reasoned argument.

    “I guess you like it in the shallows, Geoffrey.
    Try not to ascribe the simplest aspect of liberalism to the majority of liberals. That’s usually good advice when you take it upon yourself to assert other folk’s immaturity.”

    fuster, Geoffrey gave a pretty detailed analysis of his opinion of what the difference between a liberal and a conservative is. I, for one, would like to see a refutation from you rather than a mild insult and advice about how to conduct himself.

  32. Ritchie, when Geoffrey is able to bring forth a clearer distinctiion between liberalism and socialism,
    and weans himself from the milk of fantasy that he burps back about the emotional underpinning of ideas, then he’ll merit more.

  33. Ritchie,

    It is a classic lefty talking point. Which is not to claim that it has no validity.

    It’s effectiveness is that no one in our society advocates returning to the literal abandonment of the old and infirm, as for instance the plains Indian tribes had to do, as a matter of group survival.

    Since we’re all in agreement that we have a societal obligation to take care of those, who cannot take care of themselves, the disagreement centers upon how large the disparity we should allow.

    Many of the liberal persuasion are asserting that in a modern wealthy society a basic standard of living is essentially everyone’s ‘right’. A moral obligation is one thing, asserting it to be a right is quite another.

    Historically, that is revolutionary. Nowhere in the US Constitution are there enumerated ‘economic rights’.

    Food, shelter, clothing, education and health care are the basic rudiments for survival in a modern society.

    What level of assistance and to whom assistance shall be provided to by society is wherein the dispute lies.

  34. fuster,

    Did I hurt your feelings?

    Get over it. I don’t need to prove I’m right, it’s an observation which I conclude to be true. Just as I don’t need to prove that a temper tantrum is a sign of psychological immaturity.

    Respond to the premise, extensive logic and conclusions. Trotting out dismissive labels only demonstrates your inability to engage in debate. Which incidentally changes the veracity of those observations… not in the least.

    To reiterate:
    Life’s inherent ‘unfairness’ is philosophically, liberal’s greatest outrage, it is their fundamental protest and it underlays all of their premises, ‘logic’ and conclusions with which we disagree.

    This is in my view of profound importance, as what liberals ‘don’t get’ is that ‘unfairness’ (not criminal unfairness, we all object to that) is inherently necessary to life itself.

    I realize that looking in the mirror can be difficult but as an adult in a participatory democracy, that’s a moral obligation of citizenship.

    If you can’t or won’t do it, philosophically you remain in the children’s sandbox, whether or not you acknowledge it.

    “Intellectual honesty is not an option. It is the coin necessary to gain the right to sit at the table of debate.”

  35. Geoffrey, you remain shallowed.
    Feelings, again?
    If you can neither imagine nor posit adults holding views opposite of your own, it’s probably too late for you to develop.
    You should have grown wise before you reached the rocks, nuncle.

  36. Much as you might wish it were so, the simple accusation of shallowness does not make it so.

    You’re the one whose response indicates hurt feelings fuster. That’s called projection.

    On my part, it’s not an unwillingness to entertain the notion that others might honestly disagree with views contrary to my own, as I certainly accept that.

    I even realize and freely acknowledge that on some issues, I in all probability am, at the least, somewhat mistaken. I certainly have before and no doubt will again be in the future.

    But your imagined categorizations of me aren’t the issue. The issue at hand is my stated observation and premise that, liberal premises are based in an immature inability to emotionally accept a fundamental aspect of the reality of life; life’s essential unfairness.

    You still haven’t addressed that premise and until you do, dancing around it merely leaves you in the children’s sandbox, secure in your comfort zone.

  37. Geoffrey, my “feelings” aren’t engaged, aren’t hurt, and aren’t relevent.
    Neither is your analysis of liberalism when you base it on the perception of the character of whatever liberals you’ve met, rather than the idea of liberalism.

  38. About the widening gap in wealth: I think we can expect this to widen forever as long as our society becomes wealthier. The minimum a person can have is $0 (especially when transfer payments are not counted, as they are not in the statistics on income and wealth), while the maximum a person can have can keep growing.

    The wealth gap had much more importance in more primitive societies. In medieval England, for instance, the poor owned nothing, and a few nobles and the crown owned not only most of the land and capital goods, but also powers over the poor–the ability to sit as judge and executioner over them. This kind of power attached to wealth is inconceivable now, though Marx envisioned capitalist bosses exercising it over the proletariat.

  39. “Neither is your analysis of liberalism when you base it on the perception of the character of whatever liberals you’ve met, rather than the idea of liberalism.”

    I think the *idea* of liberalism, at least in the classical sense, has been abandoned by today’s liberals and the mantle picked up by today’s conservatives.

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