Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More on Conservatism and Economic Luck

In response to Mike.

This isn't an argument exactly. It's more of a challenge. I am trying to raise some questions about the absolute sense of ownership that conservatives often appeal to when they oppose even modest redistributionism.

The graduated income tax is already a little bit redistributionist. Obama made a comment about "spreading the wealth around" but McCain did not come out for a flat tax, and along with Obama and the Bush administration signed the bailout package. So by the time McCain started using the "Joe the Plumber" anti-redistributionist argument, it seems to me he was being a tad hypocritical. But one can be a more consistent conservative than McCain is.

If you read what conservatives often say, the implication is that redistribution of any kind takes money from those who merit and and places it in the hands of those who don't. I am asking whether this is a bit of a naive picture, given all the effects of economic luck which result in my having more than the Smiths but less than the Joneses.

Conservatives have to either say:

1) There is no economic luck. (Not plausible).
2) The extent of economic luck is overrated. Differences in income reflect differences in desert to a much larger extent than liberals are willing to admit.
3) Economic luck is real, but the losses incurred when you use government to correct that economic luck are not worth it.

By the way Mike, I am glad someone finally tackled this.


Mike Darus said...

You still be assuming that economic luck should be "corrected." The luck of inheritance, gambling winnings, family fortunes, birthplace, a family that encourages and supports success are not factors that necessarily impinge on the right of ownership. What is the basis of government confescating wealth obtaine by luck?

Victor Reppert said...

Well, it's going to have to do some compensating in order to provide roads, schools, police and military protection. Why not tax the beneficiaries of economic luck first.

IlĂ­on said...

Why not simply simply tax justly, irrespective of "luck?"

Who are *you* to determine that Person A was "lucky" (and thus. apparently, "undeserving"), while Person B was "deserving?"

And, how odd is it that, somehow, you are not "lucky," but "deserving" ... and therefore have the moral right to think yourself unjustly taxed? Whereas that fellow over there, does not?

As I've asked previously: Who died and made you God?

Victor Reppert said...

Well, not me, but whoever has the responsibility of maintaining our roads, schools,police and military is "God" insofar as they've got to figure out some way to collect the necessary taxes. Someone has to make the decision.

Your conception of justice needs a little clarification, Ilion. Dollar amounts are just numbers. 10% taken from a person who is on a subsistence budget who is spending money for food, clothing, and shelter is very different from 10% out of someone who can afford many luxuries. The personal sacrifice is far greater.

One response to that is to say that the person who has more luxuries deserves more, or perhaps merits more. But do they? The argument from economic luck is a defeater for this kind of argument.

Of course, everyone is trying to be just. Exactly what justice amounts to is precisely what's at issue here. I take it you are advocating a flat tax, but on what grounds do we consider that to be just? It's simpler, but I think it is far from just.