If you have ever watched the news, you may have come across the phrase ‘the distribution of wealth’. You may also have heard somebody say that it is ‘unequal’. They may even have gone so far as to say that this is ‘unfair’. This is ripe for debunkory.
Let’s engage in a rhetorical conversation with one of these lunatics. Why is the distribution unfair? Because some people get more than others. Why do they get more than others? Because the distribution is unfair. Clearly this line of attack doesn’t get very far. Let’s try another.
Who does the distributing? Obviously, the ones who have more than others. Aha! Now we are getting somewhere. If there was somebody in charge of the distribution, why would this person, or people, give anybody anything? Why wouldn’t they give themselves everything? Maybe because this would make people angry and riotous, and ultimately far more trouble than giving up some of the distribution is worth.
This, I think, is the picture that most of the lunatics have in their head; the poor get given enough of the pie to be happy; not too little so as to become unhappy, but not more than is needed for basic happiness. The ruling class distributors congratulate each other for their wickedly Machiavellian domination over brandy and caviar, and then go home and bathe in their money. Oh yeah, and this is unfair.
While this may be overly rhetorical, I don’t think it is far off the average view. The ruling class, whoever they may be, are all modern-day Jay Goulds. They could always hire half the working class to kill the other half, but that would involve departing with money, a policy to which they are thoroughly opposed. Instead, they just manipulate public opinion through the media, and try their darndest to appease everybody. Politicians, of course, are only their puppets, and corporations their fronts.
This is a far more interesting perspective. Elements of lunacy remain, but elements of insightfulness are poking their little heads through. But let’s return to distribution for a minute. Let’s try to think of all the wealth as being created by people, and not just magically appearing in periodical lump sums. This perspective has the advantage of being true. In the periodical lump sum, or lunatic, version, it is very easy to see how a distribution could take place; the already wealthy have access to the lump (for whatever reason) and they distribute such that the minimal amount is spent on appeasement, and they get all the rest. It is also very easy to see how a ‘redistribution’ could take place; the non-wealthy seize the lump sum and change how it gets cut up. We could call these people the 99%. I don’t know why, it just came to me.
The problem with this perspective is in its lunacy. Clearly there is no periodical lump sum. People create wealth. Why don’t people who create the wealth get to keep the wealth? This is a very good question, but it has nothing to do with distribution. In a world where people kept the wealth they created, there would be no distribution, because in order for wealth to be distributed, it would first have to be stolen from those who created it. In this ideal world, wealth is just earned; there is no distribution, and there is certainly no redistribution.
I am going to introduce one final version of wealth analysis. Along with the ideal version and the lunatic version, I give you the mafia version; wealth is in fact created by people (there is no lump sum), but then the powerful steal it all and distribute it as they see fit. Unsurprisingly, they often see themselves as extremely fit. And their buddies. And their kids.
The mafia version is sort of a cross between the lunatic version and the ideal version. It takes the ideal premise (which has the benefit of being true), and does what it needs to reach the lunatic conclusion (which has the benefit of being suitably ‘unfair’). The most cogent observation possible would be to see the real world as consisting of societies that operate on varying levels of the mafia version. And this is where the lunatic redeem themselves, albeit only slightly.
On a historical scale, our society has very few embodiments of the mafia version in effect. It’s no 1640s Maine (almost total idealism), but its also no 1930s USSR (almost total mafia). Whig history indicates a gradual convergence towards total idealism, and zero Mafioso. I generally subscribe to this, so long as we remember that the convergence is long-term and general, and not everywhere and everywhen. It is no coincidence that there is an enormously high correlation between idealism (as opposed to Mafioso) and both democratic rule and economic growth.
The vast majority of very wealthy people in this country achieved their wealth by being productive. The vast majority of very wealthy people in Nigeria achieved their wealth by being corrupt. There are some corruptors in Britain and some entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but both are heavily outnumbered.
And it is against the corruptors that the lunatics should focus their attention. It is no use denouncing all wealth as immoral, and all wealth holders as thieves. If I have a beautiful painting it should surely be of paramount importance whether I painted it or stole it, rather than the simple fact of my having it. It is not the productively wealthy that anybody should have a problem with, because it is very unlikely that they benefited from, or took part in, any distributive acts. Or, to put it more conclusively, it is only those who took part in distributive acts that anybody should have a problem with.
Saying ‘the distribution of wealth is unfair’ may be totally correct, so long as it acknowledges that the vast majority of wealth in this country was not distributed, but was earned, and there is a very small level of corruption leads to a very small distribution.
It may be interesting to examine why this is not more commonly and explicitly known: Are the figureheads of the mainstream media involved in this corruption? Do they thus have a serious incentive both to hide their role within the mafia version of wealth creation, and to distract attention from the possibility of this being true by fanning the flames of the lunatic version? Is there a distribution of lies? I’m not telling you that you should indulge in any unsubstantiated conspiracy theories here… but the answer is yes.