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The Socialist, Redistributionist Behemonth

Washington Post columnist George Will has one of his “must read” columns today telling liberals they “have a rendezvous with regret” The print column is titled “The socialist behemoth” while the online column is titled “Government: The redistributionist behemoth.” According to Will:

“Government becomes big by having big ambitions for supplanting markets as society’s primary allocator of wealth and opportunity. Therefore it becomes a magnet for factions muscular enough, in money or numbers or both, to bend government to their advantage.”

Will ends the column with the following wisdom:

“Government uses redistribution to correct social outcomes that offend it. But government rarely explains, or perhaps even recognizes, the reasoning by which it decides why particular outcomes of consensual market activities are incorrect. When taxes are levied not to efficiently fund government but to impose this or that notion of distributive justice, remember: Taxes are always coerced contributions to government, which is always the first, and often the principal, beneficiary of them.

“Try a thought experiment suggested decades ago by University of Chicago law professors Walter Blum and Harry Kalven in their 1952 essay “The Uneasy Case for Progressive Taxation,” published in their university’s law review. Suppose society’s wealth trebled overnight without any change in the relative distribution among individuals. Would the unchanged inequality at higher levels of affluence decrease concern about inequality?

“Surely not: The issue of inequality has become more salient as affluence has increased. Which suggests two conclusions:

“People are less dissatisfied by what they lack than by what others have. And when government engages in redistribution in order to maximize the happiness of citizens who become more envious as they become more comfortable, government becomes increasingly frenzied and futile.”

Thank you, Mr. Will.

UPDATE (1/11/2012): Today's Washington Post has three letters responding to George Will's column. You can read them here.

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