“The U.S. Government Should Not Advance Policies Aimed At Reducing Inequality” — Discuss

In response to a recent post concerning recommendations from economist Joseph Stiglitz, Rick wrote: “It should not be the policy of the United States government to reduce inequality. That is not an enumerated power.”

It is American democracy’s right and obligation to create laws and structures so that America will have the best chance of fulfilling its mission: “liberty and justice for all.”

But which comes first — liberty or justice?

For the development of American history, in my view, it would have been better if Patrick Henry would have emphasized justice, rather than liberty and  would have promulgated the idea:  “Give me justice or give me death.” Liberty has remained a driving force of American political thinking. But, when we start with the idea that justice must come first — that Justice Is A Prerequisite For Liberty — then we arrive at a philosophy of government, very different then the philosophy that starts with the idea that liberty comes first.

Although “liberty and justice for all” is our nation’s mission, we are far from realizing that ideal. The problem is, both liberty and justice cost money and in the U.S., a lot of people simply don’t have enough money. We have liberty to freely travel, for example, but, without money to pay for traveling expense, such liberty is irrelevant. We have liberty to enjoy good medical care, but it takes money to do so. We have liberty to seek justice within our legal system, but again, money is important to the whole process.

Since sufficient money is essential in order for an American citizen to enjoy “liberty and justice,” then a good question our democracy must ask and must answer is:  How should Our Society Be Best Organized So That All Citizens Have Access To Sufficient Money?

A reasonable goal is that government should be helpful, via its power to tax and make regulations, in creating a system where all citizens have a good chance of sufficient money to enjoy “liberty and justice.”  Yes, if the least economically successful among us are raised up, then inequality is reduced.  If the economic middle is strengthened then opportunities and goods previously only available to the wealthy become within reach of many more.  Inequality is reduced. If government can implement structure to create such a system, then, in a democracy, it would seem obligated to do so.

The motive for raising up the bottom or strengthening the middle does not come from class envy  and to suggest that those who seek a fair society are motivated by envy amounts to an ad hominem argument.  The motive is to make our society work to accomplish its mission:  “Liberty and justice for all.” The reduction of inequality is not the point, the reduction of inequality is a by-product of a better, a more successful, a more just society.

If a person holds to the principle that the U.S. government should not seek to advance policies that help to more evenly distribute wealth, then the most generous assumption is not that the person is indifferent to suffering or injustice, but, rather, that the person feels that the solution to inequality is through the market and through individual initiative. The second most generous assumption is that the person has irrational views — hatred of government, etc. — guided by an irrational belief system.

I recently bookmarked an article in the The American Prospect that said:

Just as serfs once accepted that their position was allotted to them by a divine order, today’s growing inequality in wealth is considered acceptable if it is the outcome decreed by the ideal, uncorrupted free market.Progressives must make it clear that they support the premise of fair compensation for the contributions of each individual, but dispute the notion that fairness is best achieved by an extreme laissez-faire version of capitalism.

I like the thought that the religion of the free market is used to justify the enslavement of the serfs of today just like religion was used to justify the enslavement of the serfs 500 years ago. Arguably, the irrational reverence shown to “the market” can be explained as evidence of indoctrination, the direct result of the relentless propaganda advanced by the oligarchy.

This religion of the free market advances the belief that given enough freedom, the market will produce a prosperous nation “with liberty and justice for all.” Regardless that this belief has been discredited by much evidence throughout history, it is interesting that millions, to their own disadvantage, continue to hold to this irrational belief as a matter of faith.

The founding fathers, I’m sure, would have been horrified to think that the provisions outlined in the 16th Amendment would ever be part of the constitution.  But the right of government to impose a system of progressive income taxation is now fully constitutional.  When Eisenhower was president the top income tax rate was 91%. Think of that.  After earning enough millions, for every additional million earned, in Eisenhower’s time the taxpayer kept $90,000 and handed $910,000 to the government.

It would be interesting to find congressional testimony that justified the imposition of such a confiscatory tax rate. I wonder if such testimony would reveal that the motive for such a radical tax policy was, in fact, driven by envy of the rich, rather than driven by a rational theory of how to create an economy where everyone is successful.

In conclusion, I agree “reducing inequality” is a poor guiding principle for public policy, and so I agree with the proposition — “The U.S. Government Should Not Advance Policies Aimed At Reducing Inequality.”

However, I support the proposition: The U.S. Government Should Advance Policies Aimed At Empowering “Liberty and Justice For All.” In other words, I support the idea that our government should advance policies whose purpose is  to increase income to all of its citizens so that every citizen can fully enjoy liberty and justice.  When successful, the by-product of these policies would be a reduction in inequality, but even if these policies were fully successful there would remain enormous differences in the wealth of individual citizens.

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5 Responses to “The U.S. Government Should Not Advance Policies Aimed At Reducing Inequality” — Discuss

  1. Rick says:

    Mike, I believe that the majority of redistributionists are motivated by envy. They belabor the evils of the rich and try to demonize them. Sorry, but that is how I see it.

    The phrase “Liberty and Justice for all” is in the Pledge of Allegiance, not the Constitution. You keep harping on justice. I see no injustice when a person is poor because of poor lifestyle choices, starting with whether they applied themselves in school. Did they work hard at their job? Did they try to improve themselves to be a better employee? Did they save money? Did they gamble? Drink away their money? Take drugs? I have savings and I don’t want it to go to someone who could have but chose to not do so.

    I believe that it would be unjust to give money to those who are poor because of their bad lifestyle choices.

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Rick, I am saying that if the U.S. had a mission statement it would include the often repeated phrase found in the pledge, “Liberty and Justice for all.” I can’t tell if you agree with that notion or not. My point is the U.S. is a system and every system must have an aim/mission. If not “liberty and justice for all,” what do you think fits better with the Constitution (and amendments to the Constitution)?

    The actual aim of a system can be light years away from the stated aim. As I point out here, the actual aim of the U.S. seems to center on giving more advantage and privilege to those who, by reason of their wealth, are in power. The big redistributionists are not the poor, nor those who advocate for the poor, the big redistributionists are those who already have plenty, but who want more. The deadly sin at the heart of our social injustice is not envy, but greed.

    Your concern about giving money “to those who are poor because of their bad lifestyle choices” is a reasonable concern. But I think it would be good to balance that concern with a concern about giving money to the rich — simply because the rich have gained power and control of the political system. If we could somehow make an accounting, I’m sure we’d find that the total of the unfair or unjust entitlements given to the rich far exceed the unfair entitlements given to the poor.

    What is interesting — and what nobody seems to talk about nor notice — because of the exponential explosion of technology, we are in possession of an incredible wealth producing machine, and our capacity to produce untold wealth will continue to increase. As a society, we are using only a tiny fraction of our potential to produce wealth. We do not need to be arguing over the finite wealth available — because the truth is, there is an almost infinite potential of wealth that is available. We only need to develop it. The big question: As a society, are we smart enough to organize ourselves so that this potential wealth will in fact become actual wealth used to advance our society — not simply as entitlement to those already in power — and will be used to meet our mission: “liberty and justice for all”?

    Somehow, we need to see the big picture. This is not the 19th century. We do not need to argue over an economy of scarcity because there is plenty of wealth that is available to us, if we choose to develop it — enough so that everyone could have the material basis needed for a happy and successful life. What is hindering us from reaching our potential is bad thinking and blindness to reality.

    Here are two previous posts that address to this general topic:
    Why Are We Rich? from October 10th, 2007
    How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All”? from February 5th, 2009

  3. Bryan says:

    You say: “In other words, I support the idea that our government should advance policies whose purpose is to increase income to all of its citizens so that every citizen can fully enjoy liberty and justice.” I would say that instead of establishing policies aimed at a desired outcome(increasing income), the policies should focus on increasing economic opportunities.

    A good mission statement could be a combination of the pledge of allegiance and the declaration of independence. ‘…life, liberty, justice for all, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The pursuit of happiness in this case being economic opportunity.

    In many ways, I believe that US policies have restricted economic opportunities available to the vast majority of the population. So much so, that it has increased opportunities for the wealthy and continues in an increasing cycle. There is no doubt the public interest is served by preventing toxic chemicals from being dumped in rivers, but are they served by requiring florists to undergo testing, licensure, fees, and continuing education (as in Louisiana)? Is there a reason vehicle licenses need to be renewed every year or why individuals should be barred from offering owner financing when selling their home (currently under consideration? Do these laws serve a very legitimate, universal public interest or does it reduce economic opportunities for citizens? or unfairly benefit one person/company/industry over another?

    There is a tipping point, where exactly I don’t know, in which policies go from serving the public interest to restricting economic opportunities available to citizens. Some regulation good, too much regulation bad. Large businesses/the wealthy are often already positioned at an advantage to comply with an almost never-ending stream of new, complicated policies, where your average joe trying to start a business out of a home is not. In some cases, it is the wealthy that are making or heavily influencing laws that by design provide them an advantage and/or to put the general public at a disadvantage. So how can we increase economic opportunity in a system that, in my opinion, is increasingly putting more and more limits on economic opportunities available to citizens?

  4. Rick says:

    Mike, when you use the word “liberty” you use it with a different meaning than what was meant in the Pledge or by Patrick Henry. This other meaning means the absense of constraint, of being free, the ability to make choices. Your meaning is a redistributionist meaning, whereby the government takes what actions it deems necessary to allow an individual to make he kinds of choices the Government thinks that individual should be allowed to make.

    To me, justice is seeing that a person gets what that person deserves. If a person has made a lifetime of bad choices, justice demands that the person be made to live with the consequences of those bad choices.

    Your view of justice is redistributionist, meaning that money from the most economically successful to support those to whom the governments deems worthy to receive such support. Case in point, on a per capita basis, the twice as much stimulus money was spent in states that voted for President Obama than those that did not.

  5. Mike Bock says:

    Bryan, the question you ask — “So how can we increase economic opportunity in a system that, in my opinion, is increasingly putting more and more limits on economic opportunities available to citizens?” — is the same question I am asking: How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All”?

    We need a grassroots movement to generate possible answers and to generate public support for those answers. It is interesting that all of the political energy seems to be coming from the Tea Party type of thinking — less government, more market freedom, etc. — but this energy is certain to fizzle out in face of the reality that the thinking really doesn’t work to make a better life for the ordinary citizen.

    Rick — I agree it is important in any conversation to somehow come to an agreement about the meaning of the terms that one uses. My understanding of “liberty,” is pretty much the same as the definition that you give, “absence of constraint, of being free, the ability to make choices,” etc. My understanding of the term, “justice,” is “fairness.” It’s a big question for our republic, one that deserves a lot of thought: “How do we make our system more fair?” And, of course, there is a long history concerning this question that has resulted in big changes to our constitution. The consensus of this history is that in order to bring more fairness to the system, there must be some constraints on individual “liberty.” We no longer allow the individual to exploit children nor willfully pollute, and we have a system of taxation that the founding fathers, I’m sure, would find shocking.

    Can you believe it is Christmas eve already. Lots to do today. Here is wishing you both a great Christmas and a great new year and I hope we can continue this conversation into 2011.

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