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I am opposed to coercive redistribution on both moral and practical grounds. However, suppose a bleeding-heart were to convince me that it is “just” to stick a gun in my face and force me to part with my earnings, and further, that they were to decide how to be charitable on my behalf and that they would do so honestly, without influence, without wasting anything, or without any special agenda. (stop laughing, this is a Gedanken experiment).

So I agree that you should tell me how to be charitable. Why do we focus so much on political boundaries when it comes to forced charity? The poorest in America, those supposedly deserving of our help, are tens of times wealthier than even “average income” families from the poorer parts of the globe. Is there not something wrong with an ethical redistributive system that takes income from a middle class American and gives it to an “upper class” citizen of the world (that’s how rich a poor American is)? Would the world not be much better off if the redistribution was done in a true Rawlsian sense? In other words, send our funds to those who truly lost the birth lottery?

Many might say yes. But if you agree that it “might” be morally preferable to redistribute to the poorest of the world, could it be possible for you to also be an ardent protectionist (anti-free trader)? Most of the people I know that purport to love the poor and tell me I have signed the social contract to help them are also moderately to seriously skeptical of the case for free trade. But their opposition to trade rareful if ever considers the needs and conditions of the world’s poorest. When I buy a pair of shoes manufactured in Vietnam, or book a flight from someone in India, I am improving their lives substantially. Why should I be prohibited from engaging in these peaceful exchanges (perhaps to save the jobs of some middle class Americans) that would clearly help these poor foreigners, but at the same time, on Rawlsian grounds be told that by virtue of winning the birth lottery I should have income redistributed to those very poor people?

To repeat, the true bleeding heart tells me that I should, by force, give up income to help the poorest among us. But these same bleeding hearts tell me that I should not, peacefully, be permitted to exchange income for goods produced by these very same poor people. I can’t even fathom an ethical system that could reconcile these positions.

So, take my income. But be consistent and give it to the folks that truly drew the shortest straw. Not only would that satisfy our utilitarian notions of efficiency, it would be morally better, and I argue would end up creating an incentive structure here in the U.S. that would make us all more prosperous.

2 Responses to “Cosmopolitan Redistribution”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    >> “I am opposed to coercive redistribution on both moral and practical grounds.”

    When I am looking at any policy or action I consider it by asking three questions:
    1. Is it moral?
    2. Is it Constitutional?
    3. Is it economically sound?

  2. Larry Arbeiter says:

    This is a thought-provoking post, Mike. I’m intrigued by the metaphor you use to describe “coercive redistribution,” namely “stick a gun in my face.” Sometimes the use of the strongest possible metaphor signals doubt in one’s argument. At the least it can be divisive. If you have a strong case here, perhaps there is no need for overstatement?
    You describe persuasively some ways in which “redistribution” may be inequitable and therefore unjust. I wonder if one could make similar arguments that “distribution” can also in some cases be inequitable. If it is always perfectly just, then no imperfect redistribution could improve it. But until we all agree on that–and I suspect we do not–then perhaps we could also ask not just whether redistribution is imperfect, or even to what degree, but whether in combination with imperfect distribution it on balance can sometimes lead to more or less “justice.”
    Thanks again,

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