A very thoughtful commenter, and fellow blogger (Brucetheeconomist’s Blog) who calls himself a “disaffected conservative,” appended the following to a piece I wrote on Mitch McConnell’s characterization of liberals as being “interested in wealth destruction” :
Saying liberals want to destroy wealth is absurd. I do think it is fair though to ask how much flattening of the income and wealth distribution should be a goal.
I’d like to see improved opportunities for those at the bottom of the ladder more than for those at the top rather than redistribution. That said the use of progressive taxes and social benefits for the poor is appropriate if all else fails to avoid the distribution of wealth being too inequitable.
If we could get the distribution of wealth back to where it was say in 1990 that would seem an appropriate goal to me. I don’t think any sensible person wants to perfect equality.
Any thoughts on this anyone else.
Liberals love wealth. We want a lot of Warren Buffetts running around, making money, helping the country, and, uh, paying taxes.
The opportunities you (and I) seek “for those at the bottom of the ladder” can only come through investing tax dollars to create those opportunities, most of which come via education or job training. And since we have to get the tax dollars from those who have the money, “redistribution” is inevitable. How much? how much from whom? is fair to ask.
Apparently, we both agree that a grossly inequitable distribution of our nation’s wealth would not be a good thing. What about a moderately inequitable distribution? What, indeed, is a reasonable level of wealth inequality?
I don’t favor progressive taxation because I am a liberal. I am a liberal because I favor progressive taxation. I favor it because of my guiding concept of fundamental fairness (those that benefit the most from society should pay the most to maintain it as a civilized one—by 21st-century standards) and because, as I said, we need the money to do things we agree need done. And rich people have more money to spare than the rest of us.
I don’t know what a reasonable or realistic goal for national wealth distribution would be, only the ideal: a relatively equal distribution. I know that such a thing is not now, nor will ever be, possible to achieve, for a lot of reasons, including that some folks will always work harder than other folks and thus deserve more. How much more do they deserve? Beats me.
I only know that in order to provide the opportunities you and I agree are necessary, it costs a lot of money. It also costs a lot of money to keep the government doing other things for us, like inspecting our food and water; funding basic scientific research, supervising air travel; protecting us from enemies abroad and criminals at home; and keeping poor children, the sick and disabled, and the elderly from dying in the streets. In short, it costs a lot of money to keep America a desirable place to live for all.
And it is only fair—only fair—to ask those who have the resources, who for whatever reason have benefited the most from this bountiful land, to pay higher tax rates than those who have benefited less. How much higher? That is, inevitably, a political question that will always have evolving answers because of a changing polity.
But I suggest that we pay more attention to the growing divide between wealthy Americans and everyone else while there is still time to narrow the divide without recourse to more drastic measures, which will undoubtedly come when social instability becomes impossible to manage with a simple tweak of the tax code. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously said,
We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
The relatively tiny progressivity involved in the restoration of the Clinton high-end marginal tax rates—which irritates Mitch McConnell so much he feels it necessary to slander liberals—is just one fix among many that should follow.