Moving the Wealth Around

I’ve noticed lots of people grabbing onto the mantra “Obama is a socialist”  and “look how he wants to redistribute the wealth.”

Why does it only count as redistributing when a Democrat wants to change the status quo?

Why doesn’t it count as redistribution when a Republican wants to mantain things?

Here’s the bottom line for me: every economic decision we make takes money from some people and gives money to somebody else.   To make the point more concretely: Yes, Barack Oboma seeks to raise taxes on businesses which make over $250,000.  Yes, he is moving wealth from the businesses to others.

But here’s the thing: Mccain is also redistributing wealth.  Choosing to not tax someone is effectively asking somebody else to pay more.

There are several responses to this criticism.  I don’t think that they are valid.

The first response is that it’s redistribution in Obama’s case and not in Mccain’s case because the money of the wealthy is not the government’s to take.  The problem with this line of reasoning is that the money of the non-wealthy isn’t either.  Mccain shifting tax burdens around doesn’t solve this problem.  

The second response is that it’s redistribution in Obama’s case because Obama is the one making the changes.  The problem here is that Obama is not reversing some trend that’s written in the constitution.  He’s simply reversing the excess of a couple decades.  Taxes under Obama’s plan look a lot like taxes under President Nixon’s plan. 

The third response is that it’s not redistribution if we lower government spending and lower the taxes on everybody.  The problem is that this is not what happens.  The last several decades demonstrate a pattern.  Presidents who campaign on promises to cut taxes have been unsuccesful.  But they haven’t succeeded in cutting the budget proportionally.  They have simply taxed like stereotypical Republicans and spent like stereotypical Democrats.  In the short term, this has made everybody quite happy.  It’s a bit like a family with enough credit cards.  In the short term, they can make as little as they want and spend as much as they want.

Living on a deficit is still redistributing wealth.  It is distributing from the future into the present.  It wouldn’t be any different, really, if we had a time machine, took it into our children’s future, threw much of their wealth inside it, and then took it back to our time so that we could use their wealth.  Perhaps even more disturbingly, it puts us in a very unwise relationship with countries like China who buy up our debt.

Even if Mccain succeeded in cutting taxes without running a deficit there is still a problem.  That problem is that those who are wealthy currently have risen to their positions of wealth and power within the current system.  The current system has major problems.  I have said before and I will say again that the playing field is far from level.

It is real socialism and a very bad idea to try to give everyone equality.  We can not and should not give everyone the same ammount of money.

It is justice and the best things about this country to give everyone equality of oppurtunity.  We have an obligation to give everyone an equal shot.

Leveling the playing field is a legitimate use of tax dollars.  It might be the most legitimate use of tax dollars.

Someone who is currently wealthy was able to rise to this position because the playing field was level enough to allow them to rise to the “top.”  At some point in this person’s past (or his family’s past), wealth was distributed in a way which benefitted him.

Perhaps it was public education.  Perhaps it was food stamps.  Perhaps it was government-funded financial age to college.  Perhaps it was WIC when the person was a baby.  Perhaps it was some sort of business loan or home loan that was backed by the government.  Perhaps it was simply that his money was safe because it was backed by the FDIC.

There are other reasons for many of these programs.  But one good reason for them is that they promote equality of oppurtunity.

There are basically two possibilities for anyone who is currently rich:

A) Some of the wealthiest people (or their ancestors) benefitted from this equality of opportunity.


B) We have so little equality of oppurtunity that it actually hasn’t changed anything at all. 

If A) is the case, then these people benefitted when wealth was distributed to them.

if B) is the case then that’s all the more reason for us, as a society, to get our priorities straight.


I’m just about ready (as you can probably see) to start talking and writing about political stuff.  I’m probably going to blog at some point soon about this little sabattical I’ve taken and some of the things I’ve learned.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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