A Few More Words on “Redistribution”

I don’t think I was very clear in my earlier post. I’m not implying that President Obama should start going around and saying, “We need to increase taxes on the rich so we can redistribute their money to the less-rich.” Of course not. But there are still ways to get people to buy into the very basic, wouldn’t-be-controversial-if-our-political-discourse-weren’t-crazy idea that one of the points of government is to collect tax money and figure out where to best spend it—that is, to redistribute it. You don’t need to use the word, just to take back the idea.

Here’s what commenter Zandru said about all this:

I can’t conceive of ANY way that “redistributing the wealth” is going to catch on, with anyone. Better phrases:

* each of us paying our fair share

* each of us contributing fairly to this nation and its needs, its growth

* “Americans need to know that their tax system is fair” (the esteemed Ronald Reagan)

* building and re-building America takes everyone pitching in, not just the middle class and poor

When you say “redistribute”, it literally means taking from some to give to others. It translates politically as taking from those who have (the hard workers) to those who have been too lazy to support even themselves. This is just a fact. So, in talking about increasing revenue, it’s critical – absolutely critical – to harp on the shared benefits we all derive from a nation where children are educated, a modern infrastructure makes commerce efficient, products – including banks – must meet minimum standards of safety and disclosure, etc.

This is NOT “redistribution” – it’s rebuilding and maintaining the nation as a whole.

Sure. The term by now is loaded in an unfortunate way. But it’s self-defeating for Obama to frame much-needed increases in the effective tax rates of the richest people in America as being key to “growth,” rather than to frame them in terms of fairness, as Zandru suggests.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.