Redistribution means taking from some to give to others. But from whom, and in what proportion? And to whom, and in what proportion? How much? These are incredibly obvious questions but nobody asks them, let alone answer them. Why not? For two different reasons.
Those who support redistribution tend not to ask or allow others to ask basic questions about it, out of feelings of guilt and shame. Redistribution needs to be believed in and if you question it in any way there must be something wrong with you.
Those who oppose redistribution simply view it as stealing, and asking these questions is akin to asking what optimal amount of mugging should be tolerated in a city. It’s repugnant.
But let’s you and I think about it a little bit, on this April 15th day of taxes and spending. Most of the federal budget is spent on redistribution in various forms: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance, and many more. Let’s be a little abstract so that we can distance ourselves both from the guilt and the repugnance that quashes our natural curiosity. Let’s ask some basic questions.
How much money should be redistributed from the wealthy to the poor? Is it a fixed number that depends on the needs of the poor, or is it a variable number that depends on the profits of the wealthy? What does it mean to be wealthy, high recent income or lifetime accumulated assets?
How should the largess be distributed? Equally to everyone below a certain threshold? Should those who are poorer receive more? What does it mean to be poor, low recent income or lifetime accumulated debt?
How often should the redistribution took place? Once, to account for past injustices, or repeatedly, like clockwork?
Most importantly, how can we objectively think about these questions without resorting to character accusations?
One approach is to proceed by analogy. Start with your body. Just about everybody has extra blood. By all of the standard arguments for redistribution — need, excess wealth, not the result of hard work, fairness — blood should be redistributed. Along with your 1040, you should send along a baggie of blood. Should everybody be forced to redistribute blood?
People need blood. According to America’s Blood Centers, someone needs blood every two seconds. One in seven people entering a hospital will need blood. One pint of blood can save up to three lives. Here, the redistribution questions are easy: everybody who needs blood for medical reasons should get all that they need, whenever they need it.
Only a small minority have the appropriate blood. Only 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible. And everybody in that blood-wealthy group can spare a little. The amount of blood to be redistributed depends only on the amount needed to save people, not on the amount the donors can spare.
Your blood type is not the result of hard work or ingenuity. Taking some of your blood, unlike taking some of your money, won’t affect your incentive to work. Therefore, we could redistribute this repeatedly.
It is only fair that those who have better blood through no credit of their own and who could safely give some of it up, be forced to do so, to redistribute it to those who need blood through no fault of their own and whose lives could be saved.
Blood is better than money because politicians can’t even pocket any. All of it goes to the intended recipients.
Do you support forced redistribution of money? Do you support forced redistribution of blood? If your answers to the two questions are not the same, you have a problem on your hands.
This article originally appeared in the Fairfield Weekly.
Dr. Phil Maymin [send him mail] is an Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free Your Inner Yankee and Yankee Wake Up.