• Jim Kelly

Redistribution: piercing an Orwellian euphemism

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Can a policy be so good that we must shroud it in deceptive language?

Consider the case of redistribution. In terms of dollars, it is Washington's primary occupation--clipping the paychecks of the young in order to provide Social Security checks and Medicare subsidies to generally wealthier seniors.

To think clearly about the subject, first think carefully about the word. To distribute is “to deal out or apportion.” To redistribute is therefore “to deal out again.” The implication being the government had previously distributed the money to the rich and is now calling it back for a redeal.

As a factual matter, that's just incorrect. Jeff Bezos got rich by creating net wealth. Amazon provided us services that we valued more than they cost us. We ended up better off, and in exchange we made him better off.

The government's role in the process was and is primarily extractive--taxing every transaction Bezos and Amazon and we engaged in all along the way. When Amazon created a job and provided a paycheck to someone, the government demanded to be paid as well because reasons. When you and I ordered something from Amazon, we had to pay sales tax because the government wanted more money. To the extent Amazon was frugal and provided more value than it consumed in the process, it showed a profit, and the government demanded a share of that.

To be sure, the government turned some of the money it took into public services Amazon has benefited from. Quite a bit of it, though, went into services most of us would consider odious--conducting countless wars, herding up peaceful citizens caught smoking the wrong thing, paying off bankers. We pay Amazon for its services because we prefer to keep using them, and we pay the government because otherwise we'll be thrown in prison. That fact alone proves most of us perceive negative net value from government services.

But even if we were breaking even in what we pay for government services, Bezos isn't. The top 1% pay as much federal income tax as the bottom 90% combined. He is certainly funding more than he's receiving.

So where's the "redistribution?"

Nowhere, of course. The word is simply the first of many ruses deployed by politicians who have caught the scent of Bezos's sweet, sweet money in their nostrils.

And they get worse. Obama's "you didn't build that" claim was bad enough. Bernie Sanders has done him one better with his naked demonization of "millionaires and billionaires."

Though since Bernie's book became a best-seller, he's found it in his heart to raise the limit. Now it's just billionaires who are the problem.

The Beginning of Wisdom

Words matter, because propaganda is a game of inches. Today we let slide the distinction between "redistribution" and "taking other people's stuff." Tomorrow they'll be renaming the War Department the "Department of Defense," if you can imagine. These are among the thousands of Orwellian euphemisms the government uses to distract us from what's really going on.

This particular bit of fraud covers up a fundamental misunderstanding of how society develops. Bernie has spent his whole life working for the government. I don't think he understands what creates wealth--that profit is not the result of plunder, but the very opposite: the thank-you notes you get because you solved problems for other people. And I don't even detect much curiosity on the subject.

If a legislator can make a more fundamental or more important error, I can't imagine what it could be. Criminal negligence? Or is Bryan Kaplan's "evil" verdict closer to the truth?

Two roads. Down one awaits growing prosperity, where people profit in proportion to how much they help their neighbors. And where therefore millions compete to provide more help than the next guy. Where a few do that exceedingly well and profit handsomely, and even the poorest get fatter every year.

Down the other lies the land of the fixed pie, in which one eats by "redistributing" from other people's tables and--through the use of tools from deceptive language to ravenous prisons--pinning the theft on someone else.

Identifying which is which seems pretty important, wouldn't you say? At the very least, you don't want to vote for someone who has them reversed.

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