Now that we have big governments and high taxes, we don't need private charity. Long ago, if your conscience dictated that you should help the poor you would have to take some personal responsibility for your own moral code. Whether you helped or not would depend on your own personal character and integrity. This was very inconvenient, because you'd have to make the effort of finding avenues to do your bit in contributing to society. Worse still, you'd have to be a Good Samaritan, and you'd have to notice people suffering around you and personally stop to help them. How embarrassing. Surely it's better to just raise the tax rate, because that way you can leave the matter to your accountants and never have to help anyone yourself. That's why helping the poor is now done through taxes. If you're a billionaire and you want to help more, all you need to do is campaign for the government to raise taxes.
The great hero Robin Hood took from the rich to give to the poor. Fixing inequality within the local surrounds of Nottinghamshire was clearly achievable. All it took was a straightforward system of mandatory redistribution enforced by a band of merry men. But today it is often said that foreign aid programmes take from the poor in rich countries, to give to the rich in poor countries. Inequality between countries is therefore a complex thing to fix. Poor people in poor countries are increasingly better off as they close the global inequality gap, but poor people in rich countries (so, not poor poor in a global sense but poor by rich-country standards) are falling further behind their wealthy neighbours in the local inequality stakes.
There are many branches of liberal thought, and much disagreement on how to classify the different liberal perspectives. One way to distinguish between them is by the importance they attach to private property.
We live in an age where it is accepted that being selfish is very very bad. Everyone should care about other people in society. You should share your toys with the other children and play nicely together. You should put your neighbour's interests before your own. You should love your friends enough to lay down your life for them. You should be happy to pay higher taxes, so that those poorer than you can have a bit more money.
There are two kinds of equality – formal equality and substantive equality. The idea that all men are born equal expresses formal equality, and everybody agrees with that. But the idea that everybody should have the same amount of wealth expresses substantive equality, and that's a bit more difficult to justify. Why should people be equal in relation to the amount of stuff they have? Why is it unfair for someone else to have more stuff than you? Why do you get to specify exactly how much more they're allowed to have, before you start feeling that it's 'too much'?
Many people today assume that life is ideally supposed to be fair, so they take it as self-evident that others must be forced by law to provide various things from within their own resources, in order to make everything fair. In other words, everyone has to share nicely with those around them even if they don't want to. In the pursuit of fairness, other values such as liberty and the freedom to choose are relegated to the sidelines. This results from measuring the value of how much you've achieved by reference to what others have achieved.
There are many reasons why foreign aid and handouts do not succeed in lifting anybody out of poverty, but one of the main reasons is that progress requires effort. Sadly, there is no effort involved in being the recipient of a handout.
The idea behind trickle-down economics is that wealth gradually percolates down through the various layers of society and eventually everyone is better off. This theory does not tend to commend itself to those concerned with inequality. First, trickles are by nature far too slow and inadequate for anyone in search of quick solutions. Since inequality is viewed as an 'urgent' problem, solutions that require time to become entrenched are by definition unsatisfactory. Second, trickles of wealth are unpredictable and uncertain - it is difficult to get a clear picture of how matters will unfold and you can't really target the gains in any particular direction.
Justice and equality are excellent ideals to aspire to. Since these ideals are offered as the reason why we pay taxes - to collect donations from the rich and use that money to provide resources for the poor so that it's more Just and Equal - nobody can credibly disagree with the need for taxes in a civilised society. The only trouble is, nobody really questions what is really meant by the concepts of Justice and Equality in the first place.
In a modern welfare state, pay has nothing to do with work or productivity. It has more to do with income inequality. Poorer people should have more money so that they are able to live more like richer people. This is quite easy to achieve, through redistributive taxation. Rich people will be happy to pay higher taxes because that way they won’t feel so guilty about being rich, and the 99% will be less angry about inequality and hence less likely to take to the streets in the summer, rioting and burning stuff to show how angry we are.
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