Redistribution and self ordered societies
Posted by aogSaturday, 31 May 2003 at 13:41 TrackBack Ping URL
Armed Liberal says that, as a liberal, he still believes in the redistributive process. I think he's completely wrong but he does state his beliefs forthrightly and make an actual argument in contrast to many others who use euphemisms and ranting instead. There are a number of good comments as well so it's worth reading the entire string.

I agree with A.L.'s concerns about a persistent aristocracy. It is the potential for mobility that helps bind American society, that makes us equal in a meta-sense rather than a direct literal one (the latter being, as A.L. notes, a utopian delusion). However his choice of mechanism to avoid this is flawed. If we look at history and ask how elites have maintained their dominance what we see is that they used the power of the state to do so. It is through law and regulation that persistent aristocracies are created and maintained, not economics and business. In the old days the laws were explicit – serfs were tied to the land, only aristocrats could own weapons, only special interests could import specific goods, etc. In modern times it is much harder to be so clear and get away with it so other mechanisms have evolved. Every time a new business regulation is created it becomes that much harder for new comers to bootstrap themselves in to wealth. This is one reason why big business is often not hostile to or actually supports regulation. It may cost them something but it costs their current competition the same and imposes a much larger burden on any startup thereby reducing future competition. This tends to consolidate the power of the current elite at the expense of turnover. As more and more power is controlled by government rather than the free decisions of the citizenry being a member of the New Class becomes more important, again helping to consolidate the power of the existing elites.

Campaign finance "reform" is part of this as well. If one faces possible criminal prosecution for printing up signs for a candidate (which is in fact the law of the land) then individuals are frozen out of the process and must subordinate themselves to the members of the New Class who can navigate the thickets of campaign law. These people become the new priesthood who control the levers of power.

Because of this it strikes me as counter-productive for someone who objects to such an aristocracy to advocate strengthening their source of power (the state) in order to oppose them. One need only look at what the elites of both government and business support to see the futility of this. People frequently think that it's a contradiction for business elites to support things like the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, but it's completely consistent with their class interests. Such powerful regulation of economic activity tends to freeze existing arrangements, arrangements in which those elites are on top.

Ultimately, who cares if there are fantastically wealthy people about? The only thing that makes them a problem is the ability to pass laws to control other people. Keep that from them via a minimalist government and they're not really a threat. Put the power to control people and their propery in their hands and you've contributed strongly to creating an aristocracy. The Founding Fathers knew this which is precisely why the created a strong but minimalist federal government. Let me close by quoting the same passage A.L. does with a bit of emphasis added:

These rogues set out with stealing the people's good opinion, and then steal from them the right of withdrawing it, by contriving laws and associations against the power of the people themselves
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Tracked from Winds of Change.NET: Redistribution Part 2 on 01 June 2003 at 11:53

When I wrote, below, that some measure of enforced equality is necessary to the functioning of a democratic republic like ours, some commenters and other bloggers responded that the problem was that the elites captured