There Is No Such Thing As Redistribution

Matt Bruenig on the logical absurdity of debates about “wealth redistribution”:

The blogosphere is ablaze with discussions of redistribution: who redistributes to who, how much redistribution is happening, and so on. The right-wing can claim we are redistributing to poor folks because of government programs. The left-wing can claim we are redistributing to rich folks because of copyrights, patents, and various forms of protectionism for high-income jobs.

The word “redistribution” implies that there is a distribution that is default, and that we redistribute when we modify the distribution away from it. This, of course, is wrong. There is no default distribution. In the United States, we have constructed and enforce institutions of private property ownership and contract enforcement. All distributions are the consequence of any number of institutional design choices, none of which are commanded by the fabric of the universe. Those institutions generate very different end distributions than we would see if they did not exist. But they do not have to exist by logical necessity, nor do they constitute the default form of economic institutions.

Given the incoherent nature of “redistribution” as an objective category, the only thing we are really left to do is debate about which distribution we want. There are millions of possible ways to distribute things in society, and we must choose the one we like. Such a choice is inherently moral, political, and ethical in nature.

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  • Ittabena

    And slowly we make the first step…  A first step which was predicted and billions and billions have been spent to avoid.  Will I live to see the logic behind Zeitgeist; Moving Forward take effect in my lifetime?  I sure hope so.  But at the very least I hope my daughter will.

    Good points that need to be considered, good post

    • Anarchy Pony

      Please, that crap is idiotic.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Please, that crap is idiotic.

      • Jin The Ninja

        i think it is not fully cogent, so i’m not in disagreement with you.
        but, i think as a paradigm (admittedly unrealised and half-baked intellectually), it
        introduces people to a number of concepts that they may not be aware of otherwise: post-capitalist economics and eco-centric worldviews.
        at the very least it could begin a discussion leading to more complete reading on economic and environmental alternatives.

      • Jin The Ninja

        i think it is not fully cogent, so i’m not in disagreement with you.
        but, i think as a paradigm (admittedly unrealised and half-baked intellectually), it
        introduces people to a number of concepts that they may not be aware of otherwise: post-capitalist economics and eco-centric worldviews.
        at the very least it could begin a discussion leading to more complete reading on economic and environmental alternatives.

        • Anarchy Pony

          It has merit, but it’s also highly flawed and mired in all sorts of nonsensical magical thinking. Also, I’m glad you’re still alive.

        • Anarchy Pony

          It has merit, but it’s also highly flawed and mired in all sorts of nonsensical magical thinking. Also, I’m glad you’re still alive.

          • Jin The Ninja

            oh i agree with you. although i find the magical thinking more amusing than offensive. i’ve been really busy, but i will try to post more often;) nice to be missed!

          • Anarchy Pony

            I dunno, magical thinking to me seems to be a dangerous distraction these days. 
            But anyway, don’t post more if you don’t feel like it. I’d hate to feel like a coercive force.

          • Jin The Ninja

            lol, i actually want to post more, but i’m trying to be conscientious of being overly redundant or overlapping with what people have already said. also a time issue. i’m less online than i used to be. as you know i am VERY anti authoritarian, peer pressure never worked on me…:P

          • Jin The Ninja

            lol, i actually want to post more, but i’m trying to be conscientious of being overly redundant or overlapping with what people have already said. also a time issue. i’m less online than i used to be. as you know i am VERY anti authoritarian, peer pressure never worked on me…:P

      • Nephilim1012

        And again, lets not discuss anything.  Let’s just sling mud right away.  Don’t you get tired of advertising how closed your mind is?  It really isn’t something to be proud of you know.  Well except for inside of FOX Corporate office building anyway.

        • Anarchy Pony

          Wow, you are pathetic. You ever think, maybe I’ve already discussed it elsewhere at length, and based on those discussions have reached my own conclusion? No you don’t, because your brain is tiny and distracted by any shiny thing that comes along. And because you assume anyone that has a differing opinion must have a closed mind, or is a troll. You don’t know who I am or what I believe, or how I came to believe it, so please FO&D, because you’re insinuations nothing but irritating.

          Oh, and the guy that wrote about HAARP that you were bandying about, has nothing but an honorary medical degree from Sri Lanka. Those sure are some impressive credentials, so I’m sure he knows all about electromagnetism and climatology and seismology and geology to the extent needed to make such assertions about an atmospheric research station that hosts summer schools from universities as well as foreign researchers, and an open house during which any civilian can visit the station. Seems a bit risky for the operators of a weapon of mass destruction doesn’t it?

          Please for your own sake, learn to use skepticism appropriately, and for mine, please remove your head from your ass.

        • Anarchy Pony

          Wow, you are pathetic. You ever think, maybe I’ve already discussed it elsewhere at length, and based on those discussions have reached my own conclusion? No you don’t, because your brain is tiny and distracted by any shiny thing that comes along. And because you assume anyone that has a differing opinion must have a closed mind, or is a troll. You don’t know who I am or what I believe, or how I came to believe it, so please FO&D, because you’re insinuations nothing but irritating.

          Oh, and the guy that wrote about HAARP that you were bandying about, has nothing but an honorary medical degree from Sri Lanka. Those sure are some impressive credentials, so I’m sure he knows all about electromagnetism and climatology and seismology and geology to the extent needed to make such assertions about an atmospheric research station that hosts summer schools from universities as well as foreign researchers, and an open house during which any civilian can visit the station. Seems a bit risky for the operators of a weapon of mass destruction doesn’t it?

          Please for your own sake, learn to use skepticism appropriately, and for mine, please remove your head from your ass.

        • Anarchy Pony

          Wow, you are pathetic. You ever think, maybe I’ve already discussed it elsewhere at length, and based on those discussions have reached my own conclusion? No you don’t, because your brain is tiny and distracted by any shiny thing that comes along. And because you assume anyone that has a differing opinion must have a closed mind, or is a troll. You don’t know who I am or what I believe, or how I came to believe it, so please FO&D, because you’re insinuations nothing but irritating.

          Oh, and the guy that wrote about HAARP that you were bandying about, has nothing but an honorary medical degree from Sri Lanka. Those sure are some impressive credentials, so I’m sure he knows all about electromagnetism and climatology and seismology and geology to the extent needed to make such assertions about an atmospheric research station that hosts summer schools from universities as well as foreign researchers, and an open house during which any civilian can visit the station. Seems a bit risky for the operators of a weapon of mass destruction doesn’t it?

          Please for your own sake, learn to use skepticism appropriately, and for mine, please remove your head from your ass.

  • Boogie2012

    Logically this article is great college road trip talk to suck up time.  In cultural reality people are going to stick with “redistribution” as their default meaning of someone taking what they earned, or is seen as a group resource, and then forced to give it to those that most likely didn’t earn the right to posses it through a proper exchange in effort or work.  The markets determine the “logic” of what a fair distribution (salary, cost, value) is, the government (depending on its philosophy to get votes to stay in power) determines the counter balance to the markets.  There is no “fair” distribution it will always fluctuate based on the needs of those that want to be in power and those in power.

    Probably most of our lives are wasted debating and voting over fair distribution.  Or maybe the dynamic debate fuels progress, yet strife (yin and yang) to keep us all moving forward.

    • charlieprimero

       The most fair distribution system is the one which is not primarily based upon violent coercion.  Let’s try that.

      • Andrew

        Private property exists because of violent coercion.

        • Jin The Ninja

           this ^.

        • charlieprimero

           Hahaha.  You kids actually believe this nonsense.  Your booty hole is not your property.  It exists for the enjoyment of whomever would enjoy it most.

        • charlieprimero

           Hahaha.  You kids actually believe this nonsense.  Your booty hole is not your property.  It exists for the enjoyment of whomever would enjoy it most.

          • Andrew

            Your metaphor and condescending tone don’t disprove what I said.  I’m not opposed all forms of private property.  My point is that you shouldn’t automatically condemn all forms of violent coercion.

          • charlieprimero

             Perhaps you don’t understand the difference between the initiation of violence and self-defense against it.

          • Andrew

            And perhaps you don’t understand the difference between theft and violence.

          • Andrew

            And perhaps you don’t understand the difference between theft and violence.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Where’d the private property come from in the first place? It wasn’t divvied up into parcels and lots at the dawn of man. 

          • ben_b

             are you familiar with the concepts of homesteading and squatting?

          • ben_b

             are you familiar with the concepts of homesteading and squatting?

          • ben_b

             are you familiar with the concepts of homesteading and squatting?

          • Andrew

            What prevents a starving man from picking an apple on a branch extending from a tree on the other side of a chain link fence put up by someone else?  The threat of violence, backed up by the state.  Him picking the apple is not akin to anal rape.

      • Infvocuernos

         Violent coercion is needed to protect us (and our property)until such a time as there is a cure for psychopathy.  

        • ben_b

           Self defense does not count as coercion. Violence might be needed but not the initiation or threat of.

        • ben_b

           Self defense does not count as coercion. Violence might be needed but not the initiation or threat of.

        • ben_b

           Self defense does not count as coercion. Violence might be needed but not the initiation or threat of.

  • http://twitter.com/jfqbsh Jason F Quackenbush

    Redistribution doesn’t exist because the current distribution of wealth wasn’t a result of natural law? that’s idiotic. At any given time wealth is distributed in a certain way. If you dislike how that distribution is apportioned and want to alter it, you want to redistribute the wealth. this is not rocket science.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    What makes left-wing economic theories “re-” distributive is the fact that they don’t bear the imprimatur of God.  All human value judgments are open to question, and hence are of a 2ndary nature.

    Or is the thought here that you’ve conclusively proven the non-existence of a being who, by its very nature transcends the laws of physical reality that are your starting point? That line of thinking is just a continuation of the go-nowhere debate about the existence of God.

    I think what you want to point out is that there is NO economic system which is NOT “re-” distributive. The orderly allocation of resources requires application of some human interpreted rules which are at least partially arbitrary.

    Even if you live in a theocracy, interpretation of the rules will always require the intervention of fallible human beings. Let’s be upfront about that.

  • Andrew

    Let’s talk about “wealth” “redistribution” after we have acknowledged that money is not objective wealth but merely a medium of exchange.  Then we can base our discussion upon something approaching reality rather than a left/right mind game.

  • guest

    Until corruption in government is eliminated then all redistribution efforts only make those in government rich, and eventually the effort will swing back to protect the’re wealth and continue as they find new ways to redistribute money though government always taking a cut. 

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    the idea of wealth distribution/redistribution is delusional
    real wealth and real freedom are not commodities that can be distributed
    but if you think they’re commodities
    you’re stuck in their game
    and have to play by their rules & covet their stuff

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S44FHKC2JIS3HFQNFWBGFWTIEU mark

    This would fall into the category of “missing the forest for the trees”. Do people have rights to things is the point. The Bill of Rights says rights are what you are protected from the government to do, or not, as you wish. Fraudulent demagoges  like Clinton and Obama run around proclaiming “rights” to health care, etc. without specifying this means the output of someone else’s labor is automatically claimed to give them that right. (Didn’t they used to call that slavery?) Here comes the globo-state, which most will probably accept like a bridle with a bit in the mouth (especially in San Francisco): you don’t have rights in the first place, you get them from the government, which gives you things, the next poison which will soon dominate the Supreme Court is, you get said things based on your group identity (the Supreme Court is poised to pretzel logic their way to give “minorities” in Texas (who actually outnumber the whites right now) a  “group right”  to preferential treatment in admissions to the university, this will be taken and run with everywhere else until you’ll probably have separate drinking fountains. (they have segregated dorms–“theme houses”–right now.) Bosnia/Rwanda/Cambodia/Armenia soon to follow.
    The Democrat party is the socialist party, it believes in rights to things. That it does not acknowledge this, nor does the slime in the media raise the point, is one of the most spectacular mind control manipulations of our time (along with making the duplicitous behavior of “capitalists” with “communists” be defined as non-existent in history books. Look up the works of Prof. Antony Sutton, chillingly his final work was on the Skull and Bones. )When you give people rights to things it means someone else is obligated to provide them. That is the point, that is redistribution. There is a big difference between this and acting voluntarily to provide things to people who don’t have them. We are at the tipping point where a majority expects thinks it has rights to things. Too bad Romney apparently lacks the sense to make this simple premise clear. 

  • godozo

    The problem with this essay is that there IS a Default Distribution, complete with a level of flows of wealth and power, that societies tend towards when unimpeded by countervailing forces. We calla historical form of DD “feudalism” (although the European societies lumped under that term turned out to be more dynamic than we think), in India it’s known as the Caste System, and many other places past and present (Pre-Chinese Tibet amongst them) there was/is no name because it was/is known, to quote Rush Limbaugh, as “The Way Things Ought To Be.” Even Jesus talked about it, in The Parable of The Talents.

    In these systems the flow of wealth and exchange to the uppermost classes is limited only by the limit of what was below, and flow of wealth and exchange downward was controlled. A few were able to open the spigots to themselves, most took what they could in return to working as much as they had to, and “charity” was tightly constrained by rules and customs to a limited amount of commodities that could only be used (usually right away) and not saved or converted (no trust ever given to the poor, especially in these societies). Taxation usually was greatest on the bottom peoples, becoming reduced   as the classes/castes rose until you get nearly no regular taxes placed those on the highest rungs of the ladder (Usually related to the religious elite, as they held power over the next life and thus were given powers in the present).

    Redistribution is, by default, any attempt to break this default distribution pattern through laws, persuasion and/or force. Progressive Taxation is one form of redistribution, as a government able to lay heavier taxes on the rich is likely to work towards making life for the poorer peoples better. War can be seen as an attempt at redistribution as usually the armies are attempting to lay claim to the wealth of other peoples/nations and thus redistribute wealth from one group of people to another (and people willing to go out to settle newly conquered land tend to be poorer people with ambition enough to rise up, class-wise.

    Once a government stops seeing its legitimacy as coming from the lower classes tends towards a system that supports the Default Distribution. That tendency becomes a headlong rush as those who can intellectually justify the tendency towards the Default Definition do so in the search of wealth and exchange. The Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics, as well as Randian “Objectivism” come most clearly to mind, though any form of Politics/Economics (separate or together) not grounded in respecting certain rights towards the poor (Theoretical Marxism is an example of this) tends towards supporting the Default Distribution.

    One could make a case that religion has within it redistributive tendencies (zagat, dictates towards charity towards beggars, Matthew 25:31-46 come to mind). This may explain, in part, the present phenomenon of many religious groups losing members – get rich enough and you start disdaining the poor, enough people get rich and you get a movement towards the support of Default Distribution – and away from the belief in God through religious systems (and their requirement to give a sizable amount of alms to the poor and those who support them).

    Again: There is a Default Distribution and it skewers towards given those with much more and taking from those already without. Redistribution is (IMHO) an attempt to reverse this Default Distribution…nothing more, nothing less.

  • godozo

    The problem with this essay is that there IS a Default Distribution, complete with a level of flows of wealth and power, that societies tend towards when unimpeded by countervailing forces. We calla historical form of DD “feudalism” (although the European societies lumped under that term turned out to be more dynamic than we think), in India it’s known as the Caste System, and many other places past and present (Pre-Chinese Tibet amongst them) there was/is no name because it was/is known, to quote Rush Limbaugh, as “The Way Things Ought To Be.” Even Jesus talked about it, in The Parable of The Talents.

    In these systems the flow of wealth and exchange to the uppermost classes is limited only by the limit of what was below, and flow of wealth and exchange downward was controlled. A few were able to open the spigots to themselves, most took what they could in return to working as much as they had to, and “charity” was tightly constrained by rules and customs to a limited amount of commodities that could only be used (usually right away) and not saved or converted (no trust ever given to the poor, especially in these societies). Taxation usually was greatest on the bottom peoples, becoming reduced   as the classes/castes rose until you get nearly no regular taxes placed those on the highest rungs of the ladder (Usually related to the religious elite, as they held power over the next life and thus were given powers in the present).

    Redistribution is, by default, any attempt to break this default distribution pattern through laws, persuasion and/or force. Progressive Taxation is one form of redistribution, as a government able to lay heavier taxes on the rich is likely to work towards making life for the poorer peoples better. War can be seen as an attempt at redistribution as usually the armies are attempting to lay claim to the wealth of other peoples/nations and thus redistribute wealth from one group of people to another (and people willing to go out to settle newly conquered land tend to be poorer people with ambition enough to rise up, class-wise.

    Once a government stops seeing its legitimacy as coming from the lower classes tends towards a system that supports the Default Distribution. That tendency becomes a headlong rush as those who can intellectually justify the tendency towards the Default Definition do so in the search of wealth and exchange. The Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics, as well as Randian “Objectivism” come most clearly to mind, though any form of Politics/Economics (separate or together) not grounded in respecting certain rights towards the poor (Theoretical Marxism is an example of this) tends towards supporting the Default Distribution.

    One could make a case that religion has within it redistributive tendencies (zagat, dictates towards charity towards beggars, Matthew 25:31-46 come to mind). This may explain, in part, the present phenomenon of many religious groups losing members – get rich enough and you start disdaining the poor, enough people get rich and you get a movement towards the support of Default Distribution – and away from the belief in God through religious systems (and their requirement to give a sizable amount of alms to the poor and those who support them).

    Again: There is a Default Distribution and it skewers towards given those with much more and taking from those already without. Redistribution is (IMHO) an attempt to reverse this Default Distribution…nothing more, nothing less.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Quite the contrary…there has never been anything BUT forms of redistribution. What shape they take, what organizations or individuals guide it, and what impact, good or ill, they have is variable…but every culture since the dawn of what we term civilization has indulged almost instinctively in redistribution of ‘wealth’…whether the wealth was mere foodstuffs, kine and hides…or actual hard currency.

    Once one grasps that there has never been anything except various forms of redistribution…all that remains is to select those methods and forms which do the least harm to greatest number of people, and which strengthen rather than weaken a nation-state. Unfortunately…this rarely leaves room for defending mass-hoarding of enormous quantities of wealth/capital for exclusively private gain. That conduct, left unchecked, has only ever weakened nations, harmed people even just by default, and contributed to a slow spiral away from growth and into collapse. The more permissive a society has been about that degree of hoarding…the closer it has been to its inevitable crash and rebirth as something new. 

    • Policycles

      If I get to choose what to come back as, I’d pick Bonobo.  I here they get laid left, right and center.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        As random unrelated responses go…that one was the MOST awesome ever!!! :-) Deadly serious man…smilin from ear to ear right now.

    • Policycles

      If I get to choose what to come back as, I’d pick Bonobo.  I here they get laid left, right and center.

  • Scary

    This article is fatally flawed.

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