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Post No. 71 (Redistribution)

February 3, 2012

I came across this.

I’m not one to favour exploitation and extreme poverty, however I  think that ‘forced’ redistribution of wealth is a form of stealing. I can’t agree with the author of the post about  the reason he proposes why redistribution is wrong. The chances that he’s right are greater than those of me being right, but still…

He suggests that redistribution is wrong because if A earns less than B because A made a free choice to have more free time and work less you can’t force A to “become richer” by giving him some of B’s money. Of course I can’t think of many As who would refuse more money for the same work. That is, if the redistribution is enforced by an outside agent. I can think of quite some As who would refuse B’s money on the simple grounds that B earned it, not they. If on the other hand B decides to give some money to A to help him out a bit, who’s to stop him?

Even Christ acknowledged and seemed to accept uneven distribution distribution of natural resources in the parable about the talents.

Redistribution is an unnatural system on every level. Even nature “abhors” an evening out of resources. How would you explain biodiversity and evolution otherwise?

Toodle-oo.

 

 

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From → Misfires

15 Comments
  1. “Redistribution is an unnatural system on every level. Even nature ‘abhors’ an evening out of resources. How would you explain biodiversity and evolution otherwise?”

    True enough. But the natural system is one based on exploitation and domination. The strong exploit any and all advantages when competing for the same resources. These advantages aren’t temporary or reversible. There are no comebacks or do-overs.

    If we lived in a society based on natural principles, where money/energy wasn’t redistributed through taxation, you’d find the number of “winners” quickly outpacing the losers, with income inequality increasing exponentially as the ownership of wealth is limited to a smaller and smaller number of individuals.

    Human society is intended as a means to escape the harsher realities of nature. Some realities are inescapible, but let’s not delude ourselves into believing that we do this because it’s natural.

    • I beg to differ. Evolution allows organisms to occupy practically every conceivable niche and habitat. There is high specialisation. You can’t have, eg. all conceivable organisms eating grass.Had that been the case the world would have been one huge green planet. When the grass runs out so does every other organism.
      Taxation as redistribution of wealth goes exactly against what the author was saying in his post, viz. that somebody who earns little chose his lifestyle such that one of the trade-off was lower income for more “me” time.
      Let’s say that there will be a time when all the money is owned by a few corporations.Everybody else will have to work for them or be unemployed. Assuming that there is no exploitation of workers, there is nothing wrong with this scenario. Why shouldn’t the rich get richer? (as long as the poor don’t get poorer) Wouldn’t you if you could?
      I don’t know exactly what you mean by redistribution of energy. But the second law of thermodynamics states that entropy increases in a closed (as in isolated) system. This means that differences in temperature, pressure and potential difference will eventually even out. But the operative word here is closed. There is nothing in creation so far that favours evening out of anything. Had that been the case there’d be nothing and we wouldn’t be here to talk about it 🙂

      Why that should be the case is something else entirely, and given my Catholic frame of mind I don’t think you’d want me to go into that 🙂

  2. “You can’t have, eg. all conceivable organisms eating grass.Had that been the case the world would have been one huge green planet. When the grass runs out so does every other organism”

    The grass is an organism too. Despite the specialization on how to obtain it, we’re all competing for the same basic resources, required to sustain life. Likewise, we’re all competing for a piece of the same pile of currency. It’s hard for me to think of a scenario where the rich get richer without the poor getting poorer (or at least less enfranchised, or less free).

    Whether or not redistribution of wealth is natural, or whether nature discourages an evening out of things, is not relevant. When human beings form a society, we’re doing it based on values, not natural principles. We like to live in a place where rape, murder and theft are rare. We also like to live in a place where we’re reasonably assured of finding employment, and having ready access to necessary – or frivolous (MUST HAVE IPHONE 5!) – goods. Even if we’re not the fittest.

    I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting more money, rich or poor. And, I also agree that there’s an element of injustice in taking more from the wealthy. But, I guess I’m saying that we do this for a “greater good” than what is natural, or what is good in principle.

    • Perhaps I hadn’t made my premise clear – that the basic “moral” rules may not be broken.
      Let me illustrate with a banal example.
      We’re playing snakes and ladders. It doesn’t matter if you beat me because you kept rolling 6s and I kept rolling 1s only as long as the dice weren’t loaded and you didn’t cheat in any way. Nature is what it is and we’re part of it.
      Morals and/or ethics do not concern the workings of nature. On the other hand they cannot contradict the mechanics of nature. By “mechanics of nature” I include everything from subatomic mechanisms to population patterns e.g. vole population cycles. Human beings are directly or indirectly affected by nature’s fluctuations and may even be subject to them.
      On the other hand we are also rational creatures and our actions are regulated by a moral/ethical framework – the first and foremost consideration of which should be respect for the human person’s dignity.
      So, if we have 2 unequally talented e.g. writers who live in the same city and spend exactly the same amount of time writing a novel with the “naturally” obvious outcome that one will sell better than the other. One will obviously become wealthier than the other. I wouldn’t even blame their publisher for pushing the better novel – only as long as to push the better novel more he doesn’t “take” money from the “less good” novel’s publicity budget. I’m sure you can think of other examples.
      Winding up. My point is that all human activity – although blessed with free will is ultimately subject to the workings of nature and has to be taken within this context. Our morals are only there to help us discern which applications of said workings are “good” and which aren’t. (“Just because I can run over a person with a car, doesn’t mean I may” sort of thing.)

  3. First of all – sorry my response took so long.

    I follow what you’re saying, I just don’t understand your point, at least when it comes to the mechanics of nature.

    If you’re merely saying that redistribution is wrong because it’s stealing: well, that’s one thing. I would disagree, but I have nothing to dispute about your argument.

    It’s your invocation of natural mechanics that confuses me. You seem to be counting as a point against redistribution, the fact that nature won’t allow homogeneity in the long term. While that’s true, it’s also completely beside the point. Many human endeavors, moral or amoral, go against nature. It’s like arguing against a water-pump fountain by saying, “Why expend the energy to do that, gravity will just cause it to fall down.” Wealth will constantly flow into the hands of the meritous, lucky and priviledged – no doubt of that. Advocates of redistribution, my self included, don’t delude ourselves into thinking that we can make things even forever. That’s not even the aim of redistribution. The aim is to keep the money flowing, so it doesn’t sit still and stagant in the hands of a few.

    • Your water-pump analogy helps my cause, I think.
      In building a water-pump you know that it’s a contrivance to suit the here and now of your needs. Nothing wrong with that – on the contrary – it’s an admirable result of the inquisitive human spirit. It combines other natural phenomena – or “laws” – to produce something that is needed but that does not occur naturally.
      Redistribution, to my mind, is a similar contrivance. It is “temporarily allowed” within the existing framework, but needs “fuel” to subsist. Which is why I call it “unnatural”.

      Mathematical models have been devised that can predict – with reasonable accuracy – various seemingly “chaotic activities” such as market booms and crashes, traffic flow, behavioural trends etc. These in turn are based on more fundamental “natural laws”
      What I’m trying to say is that if aspects of human activity can be described and modelled mathematically, it follows that they are subject to “natural laws”.

      I hope I haven’t fudged the issue further …

  4. Sure, I follow what you’re saying. You can’t defy the natural workings of a system without putting in a little more energy than you get out in the end. A “surcharge” or “cost of doing business”. In other words, the “fuel” in the pump, as you were saying.

    But many folks would find that to be an acceptable expense, for the cause of avoiding some of capitalism’s less desirable natural effects. I’m of the opinion that laissez faire has a tendency to begin as a meritocratic system, but eventually end as more of an aristocracy, as wealth/power eventually becomes concentrated in a small upper-class. I think laissez faire capitalism is, strictly speaking, fair. However, it’s effects don’t reflect all of my values (equal opportunity, merit-based rewards, compassion for the unfortunate or stupid, etc). I realize the redistribution messes with the nature of the system, but since I don’t have an alternative system to offer, I’m forced to fudge with capitalism.

    Are you trying to say that fudging with the rules of the system will have unintended consequences that proponents of redistribution aren’t aware of?

    • “Are you trying to say that fudging with the rules of the system will have unintended consequences that proponents of redistribution aren’t aware of?”

      Without the shadow of a doubt. Natural systems can only be stretched so much. You never know what to expect when they spring back – or even break. One can’t tinker with what hasn’t yet fully understood. Redistribution goes against the ‘grain’ of human nature, as it were.

      So there you are, working as hard as you can and earning a commensurate salary. Then I come along and demand that some of your legitimately earned money is passed on to me for whatever reason. Wouldn’t that take the wind out of your sails? And it would be “institutionalised”, bear that in mind. This is not the same as you taking a portion of your earnings and giving it to me because you think I could do with some help.

      I live in Malta where we are blessed/cursed with a good welfare system. The abuse of the system is something that has to be seen to be believed e.g. people going to sign for their unemployment benefits in cars that I wouldn’t afford to run (let alone buy). The government has been trying to clamp down on such abuse with moderate success.

      As I said in a comment earlier on, however. I believe that redistribution is wrong where everybody plays by the rules. On the other hand, if I see somebody who earns much more money than I do, I can’t immediately assume that s/he’s bending a rule somewhere.

      On the other hand, Virgil said – and this must be music to your ears – Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Or was it Ovid?

  5. “Natural systems can only be stretched so much. You never know what to expect when they spring back – or even break. One can’t tinker with what hasn’t yet fully understood. Redistribution goes against the ‘grain’ of human nature, as it were.”

    What would you propose as an alternative? Or do you feel that the negative effects of a pure capitalist system aren’t as worrisome as I’ve painted them?

    • The way I see it, capitalism is but a step along the way to something else. Much like our present biosphere. Most other manmade systems have fallen along the wayside, so there must be something that makes “capitalism” the best system under the present circumstances.

      It’s obviously not perfect, but what is?

      What I’m imagining you mean by “the negative effects of a pure capitalist system” is tantamount to not eating because food can cause various diseases. Either way we’re going to die, so may as well enjoy getting there. 😉

      • Not at all. I think you’ve got me pegged as a radical who is resentful of the rich industrialists and wants to sabotage the “evil” capitalist system. Not so. I enjoyed “The Fountainhead” 🙂

        We’re both in agreement that capitalism is the least worst system (I think I’m paraphrasing churchill here) of all of the known systems. Good, even great. But obviously not perfect.

        My point is, if we aren’t allowed to tweak our economic system, won’t we just eventually ride this strange torpedo out to it’s natural end?

        In the interest of… well, self interest.. shouldn’t we attempt to get at what is optimal?

  6. I can’t help equating what you’re saying with training a gazelle/impala/whatever to run faster to avoid capture by a cheetah.

    In “tweaking” an obvious parameter you may (or may not) be affecting something a few links down the chain.

    All systems propose a number of alternatives. The one best suited to the “environment” – for whichever reason – prevails. dc vs ac power supplies , VCR vs DVD, CD vs casette tapes, CRT TV vs LCD TV … the list is endless.

    We can’t – out of sympathy with the underdog, or even pity, fiddle around with the knobs in the hope of getting a result that, a prima facie, seems sensible to our sensibilities …

    You may think I’m drawing the evolutionary comparison too much, but I have yet to meet a better application of the “trial and error” method.

  7. “We can’t – out of sympathy with the underdog, or even pity, fiddle around with the knobs in the hope of getting a result that, a prima facie, seems sensible to our sensibilities”

    Yeah, you keep saying that, rearranging your words each time. We’re covering the same ground over and over.

    We can “fiddle with the knobs” of our own economic systems. We set them up, with a system of laws and governance to organize them. They reflect nature, they aren’t inalterably bound to them. By altering the laws, the boundaries of the system, we can alter and optimize the system as a whole for the sake of societal goods. You keep weaving in and out of the “natural” and the “moral”, using one to justify the other, then the reverse, then claiming they are separate and distinct. Are we talking about what’s possible, what’s practical or what’s right? Again, I’m no closer to understanding even the context of this limited discussion.

    I feel I’m being rude. I came here as a guest, uninvited. I just don’t feel like either of us is really getting anywhere with this. Either I’m not expressing myself well, or we’re just on two incompatible wavelengths.

    What do you think?

  8. I don’t think you’re being rude, but I do agree that our positions are diametrically opposed.

  9. Well then, I want to thank you for a friendly, and thoroughly engaging conversation. I invite you to drop in to my blogspot place, dungyblog.blogspot.com if you’re ever inclined. I’m in need of more Catholic representation, and you’re more than welcome.

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