Should the Government “Share” Your Wealth With Others?

Senator Barack Obama says that we need to “spread the wealth around.”  But whose wealth, and to whom?

A cynic once observed that a politician is a man who boasts about taking money from the few to give to the many, while actually taking money from the many to give to a favored few.  Obama’s proposals would do that, by enriching wealthy trial lawyers by promoting lawsuits than do more to enrich lawyers than their clients, and by radically increasing the size of government (government employees are much better compensated than private-sector employees, especially with regard to employee pension and health benefits).  On the other hand, Obama’s proposals would also help welfare recipients by giving them refundable tax credits — more welfare — even if they do not pay any income taxes to begin with.  And he would allow deadbeats who have been living in big houses they bought in the real estate bubble to avoid foreclosure for months, even if they refuse to make their mortgage payments and have little equity in their home.

Why redistribute wealth in the first place?  Liberal politicians claim that social inequality is much greater in America than other Western countries.  But that’s not true.  Living standards are already far more equal in the U.S. than they are in most of the European countries that liberals wrongly idealize as egalitarian paradises.

Most Americans below the poverty line live better than the average Western European, and possess things — like air conditioners, cable TV, and dryers — that many European households lack. Moreover, 46 percent of them own their own homes, typically, a three-bedroom house.   By contrast, my brother, a millionaire who works in New York City, lives in a home with three bedrooms, while my own home has only two bedrooms.  But then, our family isn’t on welfare, and doesn’t get any handout from the taxpayers.

Poor people live much worse in Europe.  My wife, who is from a working-class French family of modest means, had to share a French home no bigger than our current house with seven or more relatives, and didn’t even have a bed — just a mattress on the floor — for part of her childhood.   She certainly didn’t have a room of her own.  The income of different social classes may technically be closer together in many European countries than in America, but living standards are further apart in Europe, because it typically costs more in Europe for basic necessities, like housing and household appliances, than it does here.