Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Wealth Redistribution

David Bernstein has an excellent post on the Volokh Conspiracy about Barack Obama's views on Constitutional law. Bernstein, who's a very reliable libertarian-conservative legal scholar, raises a rather interesting point about the political smears Obama is taking for his comments about redistributing wealth.

At least since the passage of the first peacetime federal income tax law about 120 years ago, redistribution of wealth has been a (maybe the) primary item on the left populist/progressive/liberal agenda, and has been implicitly accepted to some extent by all but the most libertarian Republicans as well. Barack Obama is undoubtedly liberal, and his background is in political community organizing in poor communities. Is it supposed to be a great revelation that Obama would like to see wealth more "fairly" distributed than it is currently?

It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.

There are certain connotations that "wealth redistribution" invokes, but as a practical policy matter, Bernstein is right on the money. To get more overtly political, why are the specific policies that literally result in wealth redistribution that John McCain supports any different from Barack Obama's calls for more fairness and equality. In a way, one could argue that the real world impact of support for specific programs has more of a real world effect than any of Obama's broad platitudes.

I don't want to get into the issue of whether Obama or McCain is worse, because I really don't care. But Bernstein's point does highlight yet another uncomfortable feeling I get from the McCain campaign and it's willingness to obfuscate the truth and pander to talking points. If Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr wants to call out Obama for talking about wealth redistribution, than so be it. But to hear the very same coming from a guy who's personal hero is the original progressive Teddy Roosevelt, a guy who's made a career of redistributing wealth in the Senate, it just comes across as disingenuous.


Anonymous rose said...

Good points, but:

During the dem primary, Obama was pressed about his plans to raise the capital gains tax to 28%. An interviewer explained the laffer curve and that historically, tax revenues have actually fallen at rates that high.

Obama's response was that tax revenues were less important than the issue of fairness. In other words, capital gains taxes at 28% for the wealthy was not aimed to generate and maximize tax revenue, but rather as a punitive measure to make things more fair. That is unbelievable!

Its this class warfare that Obama espouses that makes his redistributive policies so bad. Taxes aren't just a means to an end. It stems from and is consistent with the views of his buddy J. Wright and many others Obama has associated with. The rich white people of the US are evil and need to be punished.

Taxes and redistribution should be a means to an end. That end should never be to bring down the employers and producers of the country.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

MR. GIBSON: You have however said you would favor an increase in the capital gains tax. As a matter of fact, you said on CNBC, and I quote, "I certainly would not go above what existed under Bill Clinton, which was 28 percent." It's now 15 percent. That's almost a doubling if you went to 28 percent. But actually Bill Clinton in 1997 signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20 percent.


MR. GIBSON: And George Bush has taken it down to 15 percent.


MR. GIBSON: And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, Charlie, what I've said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.

That's the difference LL. Punitive taxation. You have to get the difference.

12:35 PM  

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