The Empty Promise of Socialism
Published on The Stream March 7, 2019
Socialism is getting a lot of attention these days. It is alarming to hear wild-eyed politicians describe half-baked schemes for getting their mitts on the wealth of those wealthy Americans they would have us despise and blame for all of our woes. This, they would have us believe, is the key to lifting the poor out of poverty and otherwise curing the nation’s ills.
The idea may sound nice--at least as long as we think of the “super-rich” not as people like you and me, but rather as some sort of evil, conniving villains. But let’s take a closer look at some pretty major flaws with these calls for a “wealth tax” on the rich.
Some of these proposals are barred by the Constitution. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for instance, wants Congress to impose a tax on the super-rich equal to 1 percent of the nation’s annual gross domestic product. But, with the exception of income taxes, the Constitution requires this type of “direct tax” to be apportioned among the states based on their percentage of the population. It does not allow for a direct tax to be imposed evenly upon rich people nationwide.
But let’s assume for a moment that enough Americans got behind this plan to really stick it to the rich, because, well, we think they can afford it. And we think we need it. Let’s assume that we amended the Constitution so that Congress could impose this type of tax. Or that we just settled for raising the income tax on the rich to 70 percent. It would still be wrong.
While laws can serve as important guides to moral behavior, passing a law that does something immoral doesn’t make the thing moral. There is a universal moral law that precedes and transcends the laws we enact. And there is no way to escape the fact that it is wrong to use the force of the state to plunder what one person has earned and produced, in order to give it to others who did not earn or produce it.
Of course we should all pay taxes to fund the legitimate work of our government. The trouble is, equalizing wealth among citizens is not a legitimate task of government. Put simply, this is just a form of stealing, perpetrated by public officials. It’s wrong.
And finally, for those who can find ways to justify wealth redistribution policies morally, let’s consider the fact that they just won’t work anyway. Money is no magic bullet for society’s brokenness.
America was shocked to learn this back in 1966, with James Coleman’s release of his report on “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” better known as the “Coleman Report.” Many researchers expected it to prove that school funding was the key factor for student success. Those who were intellectually honest had to admit that the mountains of data had proven that prediction wrong.
The study showed that the quality of children’s families was the best predictor of a school’s outcomes. It showed, too, that the values, habits, and ambitions of a student’s classmates were a major factor. The implications were clear: dumping more money into schools wasn’t the right solution. The right solution--strengthening families--is not one that government is equipped to produce.
Because the schoolhouse is, for most, the path that leads from private live into society, the findings of the Coleman Report have broad application. The findings tell us that when we look to public funding schemes and other government policies to make society better, we’re probably looking the wrong way.
Bad government certainly has the power to make life hard for its citizens. But in general, the reverse is just not true. Government’s institutions aren’t the ones that have the power to deliver “the good life” to individuals. Because as it turns out, “the good life” is really the virtuous life. So it’s mostly a product of society’s other institutions being healthy.
The churches caring for their members and teaching truth. Communities meeting the needs right in front of them. Families doing the hard, long-haul work of sticking together, nurturing and training children and caring for aging relatives. Individuals pursuing what is right and virtuous, instead of buying into the world’s siren song of “following your heart.”
Some people think there is no problem that a government program can’t fix. But the evidence says it just isn’t so. It’s time to put aside anger, bitterness, and envy, and stop looking to public policy to drop prosperity into our laps. True prosperity is found much closer to home.