Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Defense of Spreading the Wealth

Lately, McCain's campaign has been focusing a lot on Obama's comment that he wants to spread the wealth around. This comment has given rise to charges of closet socialism and repeated references to Joe the Plumber. It's pretty much universally taken as a bad thing to have said. But I'm not so sure. I mean, isn't spreading the wealth exactly why we have a government in the first place?

First of all, every single government service from national defense to education is premised on the idea that we as individuals should pay into a common fund for the common good. That's how we have roads and firemen and schools. Given that some people pay more than others but receive essentially the same services, this is one form of spreading the wealth. I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Second, government isn't the only institution that looks to spread wealth around a little. For this, take a look at insurance companies. Every covered member pays in a similar amount and then people withdraw from the central fund based on their need. Holy privatized socialism! That's just how the system works. Again, I'm not sure if this is necessarily a negative.

Third, like an insurance policy in which the sick and infirm take more than their fair share compared to the healthy, shouldn't government serve a similar function in our society? I agree with everyone who says that government should not do for people what they can do for themselves. But what about the things that people can't do for themselves? Doesn't it make sense that we have some sort of common safety net to keep help protect and care for our society? Yes, that involves spreading the wealth, but it's also the right thing to do.

The bottom line on all this, though, is that Obama isn't even proposing Stalin-style redistribution of wealth in order to make sure that everyone is exactly equal on all financial matters. Rather he's proposing a kind of broad based national insurance policy. Everyone pays into it and, yes, some people pay more and get out less. But since we're all in this together and you never know when you're going to be the one on the bottom, it just makes sense.

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