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At what point does the production of wealth create a moral obligation to be happy about having some of that wealth plundered by the “enlightened progressives?” For years, classical liberals have crafted sensible arguments for the sanctity of private property on moral, economic and practical grounds. These are ignore, no matter how sound they are. One reason I suspect they are ignored is that we are really rich now. Two thoughts on that.

  1. The classical liberal ideas from the Enlightenment and its predecessors (Spanish scholastic for example) were formulated at a time when nearly everyone in the world was poor, and suffered through a miserable existence. Not only did these ideas “win the day” for the most part, but allowing them to “win the day” led to precisely the amelioration of the worst suffering of mankind in a way that was unimaginable when these arguments were first crafted. If rejecting classical liberalism is done on the grounds of helping the poor, how can critics ignore this history, or worse yet, the “success” of non-liberal attempts to help the poor?
  2. Which leads me to my question. What is the “magic number” upon which the enlightened progressives argue that “I have enough stuff” (e.g. big enough TVs, enough vacations to Canada, etc.) and can justifiably have my property confiscated at the point of a luger in the name of a more just society? Surely if I am at the point of starvation the enlightened ones would argue that I have a right to someone else’s stuff. And surely if I am Bill Gates the looters claim that everyone else has a claim on my stuff. So there must be some sweet spot in between where I turn from leech to leeched. What is it? Who gets to make that call? Why? And what are the long term impacts for society of adhering to such a rule?

We’ll add to this discussion a great deal in the future, but this is perhaps best done in little bits.

3 Responses to “Looting, Wealth and Freedom”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    >> “At what point does the production of wealth create a moral obligation to be happy about having some of that wealth plundered by the “enlightened progressives?” ”

    You needn’t bother yourself with such questions. Just continue toiling, our betters will come and take what they deem appropriate, as appropriate.

  2. Harry says:

    What gives enligtened progressives any right to determine any number?

    You nailed it when you talked about the point of a gun. It is no accident that in all totalitarian regimes, at least those I can think of, that there is ultimate gun control. Beyond force, what are the other arguments that let them decide?

    But you asked about a number. Robert Bartley, and other economic writers on the Journal editorial page, have observed that there is a point, around 18 to 20 percent of GDP (assuming a few extra percent for state and local taxation, plus a few extra percent for other taxation) beyond which wealth does not grow. Part of the reasoning is that we cannot afford to give wise men too much to spend on their ideas without impoverishing us all.

    But the question is not merely a utilitarian one, or about maximizing revenues; it is not simply about selecting the right point on the Laffer Curve, which is somewhat West of where we are now.

    We classical liberals, at least some of us, would argue that we have natural rights to life, liberty, and property that cannot be usurped even by a democratic majority, or a king, or a commisar, or anyone with a gun. Some of that is axiomatic, some analytic, some empirical.

    It is at this point that the enlightened progressives try to change the subject, not offering anything beyond their first axiom, which is a six-shooter, that gives them the right to decide the number.

  3. Harry says:

    If this were Ash Wednesday, we might hear a sermon about the likelihood about a rich man getting to heaven, and the likelihood of a camel fitting through the eye of a needle, but when I last checked that was our choice. If that’s the argument of secular progressives to move the federal tax rate to 39.75%, let’s have at it debating the size of the needle and the size of the camel, having defined the size of the rich man.

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