One of the central themes that recent and, at least foreseeably, future politics represent in this country is whether or not Americans are willing to tolerate, or in fact embrace, a federal government that acts as an agent of forceful redistribution of material wealth. Never mind the fact that the Constitution quite clearly addresses this issue when it articulates that no one may “be deprived of… property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” the cries for a federalized Robin Hood nonetheless continue in certain circles. Even the Constitution’s author, James Madison, remarked that “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
But for sake of the immediate argument let us put aside the fact that such policies ignore constitutional respect for individual private property rights. When government seeks to subjectively determine who receives what moneys – or other property – which it must necessarily derive not from its own creation* but through confiscation from its citizens and residents, it ceases to function legitimately. Rather than upholding individual rights “retained by the people” and providing “equal protection” for all citizens, redistributive policies by definition endorse discrimination.
The political/economic theorist Frederic Bastiat noted:
The delusion of the day is to enrich all classes at the expense of each other; it is to generalize plunder under pretense of organizing it. Now, legal plunder may be exercised in an infinite multitude of ways. Hence come an infinite multitude of plans for organization; tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities, encouragements, progressive taxation, free public education, right to work, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit, etc., etc. And it is all these plans, taken as a whole, with what they have in common, legal plunder, that takes the name of socialism.
But how is [legal plunder] to be distinguished? Very easily. See whether the law takes from some persons that which belongs to them, to give to others what does not belong to them. See whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen, and, to the injury of others, an act that this citizen cannot perform without committing a crime.
And in practice these policies are not discriminatory solely to the “haves” at the lone benefit of the “have nots,” as populist myth would have us believe. Given that such policies are most often pandered and enacted for political gain, these policies are often giftwrapped in the naïve shroud of philanthropy but are more routinely used to fuel property reallocation from the middle and lower classes – those least able to shield themselves from resulting higher taxes, lower wages, higher consumer costs, etc. – to the very class of people that were purported to be the targets of these policies in the first place.
Additionally, redistributive policies inherently create factions and social strife – sometimes by design. By keeping the “peasants” squabbling over table scraps that are not theirs by right in the first place, the oligarchy can peacefully continue to rob us, our children, and grandchildren blind with debt-ballooning, inflation-inducing unconstitutional spending. There simply is no way to take the fruits of one’s labor for another’s enrichment without inviting deep-running resentment, anger, and discord from the targeted group. You would think the lessons associated with American slavery would illustrate this well enough for posterity.
It is well known that progressive redistributionists like to use the Robin Hood analogy to rationalize their nonsensical “rob from the rich, give to the poor” ethos. But in doing this they generally fail to recognize one key historical distinction between the Robin Hood legend and today’s political usage: He did not rob from more prosperous private citizens to redistribute that wealth to the poor so much as he stole from the rich government oligarchs (e.g., feudal lords and church magnates) to return the unethically confiscated fruits of the commoners’ labor back to them. Viewed through this more accurate prism, I agree with the Robin Hood approach myself.
If a group of people – particularly the young – is so willing to dismiss basic ethics to better their own conditions illegitimately, without heed to personal accomplishment, responsibility, and accountability, then I recommend instituting redistributive grade policies in all higher education institutions in the land. It is interesting to see how many college students are willing to sacrifice the academic results of their hard work from nights spent responsibly studying instead of partying, all for the “greater good.”
Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek made this observation in his classic The Road to Serfdom:
They do not realize that democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable, but that to strive for it produces something utterly different – the very destruction of freedom itself. As has been aptly said: “What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven.
* The point here is that government does not produce anything from its own capital as individuals, businesses, and organizations do. Government must draw its capital from the public treasury which is, as its name clearly indicates, capital primarily obtained through various taxes. Of course, the government can create cash without taxing anyone – figuratively, out of thin air – by monetizing the debt through Federal Reserve loans but that is a destructive topic for a different post.