( This is an expanded version of the article published at American Thinker)
When he was still just a candidate for the Presidency, Barack Obama was confronted by Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher during a campaign stop in a residential area of Ohio. Mr. Wurzelbacher (who was almost instantly renamed “Joe the Plumber”) asked Mr. Obama about his plans to increase taxes on small business owners. The future President of the United States responded:
“It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance at success, too… My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off […] if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
The phrase “spread the wealth around” simultaneously reveals Obama’s command and control view of the role of government and his startling naïveté regarding how basic economics actually works. He apparently believes that if one person doesn’t have “enough” wealth, they have a “right” to be able to take it, through the coercive force of law, from someone who already has “enough.”
Magically, seemingly every day, new “rights” are proclaimed by Liberal-Progressive-Democrats. Generally Obama and Company will simultaneously announce that new “investments” will be needed to insure that these new rights can be exercised.
Tea Party activists and conservatives in general, tend to speak of “rights” as only those defined in the Constitution and its amendments. There is no doubt that this view is incorrect. The Ninth Amendment reads:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Obviously there are rights that the founders recognized as having existence. Equally as obvious, the founders considered these rights to be too numerous to be identified individually. Those that are codified in the first eight amendments are listed simply because they were considered too important to risk not being identified.
That being said, the question that must be considered is: Exactly what is a right?
The answer to this is not self-evident, nor is it intuitively obvious. The Random House Dictionary lists sixty-two separate definitions for the word “right” or “rights.” If there are over three score ways to explain what a single, seemingly simple word, means, then the question of self-evidence is, to many, a settled issue. In short, simple words, it ain’t that simple!
Jefferson listed as “rights” only life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. He preceded this list with the timeless phrase:
…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…
What followed is much more infrequently quoted:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
Note that Jefferson didn’t say that governments were instituted to grant rights, only to make the citizens secure in their rights. Government is only a facilitator to insure that we, the citizens, are not deprived of those rights that are ours without being granted by any government or any individual.
This view of government as a facilitator is clearly shown in the first eight amendments. These eight are all written in a way that clearly identifies what the government can not do. Not what it can, not what it should, not what it would like, but what it is expressly forbidden to do.
Simply reading the First Amendment indicates this negative structure:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
“Congress shall make no law…” is about as clear a statement as I can imagine. Congress can not limit free speech in any way, either written, printed, or as we know, broadcast. It can not prohibit or abridge our right to peaceful assembly.
The fact that these are known today by Liberal-Progressive Constitutional scholars as “negative” rights is positively Orwellian. The phrase suggests that the “negative” rights in the Constitution in some way limits the ordinary citizen’s pursuit of happiness since it tells the government what it can not do. The President himself sees this as a flaw in the structure of the Constitution since it doesn’t empower the government to take “positive” steps to do things “for” the citizenry.
To borrow one of his own favorite phrases, let me make one thing perfectly clear, Mr. President: We already spread the wealth around, and have been spreading it around for over 200 years. We, as a nation, have done so without your help or any guidance from the government.
Wealth is redistributed every time a business makes a payroll, or pays an invoice for its inventory.
Every charitable donation spreads wealth from one person to another who is in need.
When a family goes out to dinner, wealth flows out of their pocket and ends up in the pockets of the restaurant owner, who then pays his waiters and waitresses, cooks, dishwashers and of course his landlord gets a share. The guys who print his menus or plow the snow from his parking lot, or the utilities that provides power for his heating, cooling, lighting and for the ovens that cooked the food benefit from his redistribution of the wealth that the family that chose his restaurant paid for their meals.
In each illustration, the wealth being redistributed is being offset by the receipt of a benefit. Labor is exchanged for a share of those monetary resources in the case of the employees. In the case of his distributors, the owner receives fresh food. In exchange for his utility payments, the restauranteur has light to see his customers, and insure that the food they have ordered is cooked properly.
Only charity offers no compensating benefit to the giver, other than a feeling of having done something good, moral and principled.
Now would be a good time to ask a question: When you pay your taxes, do you feel good, moral or principled? Or do you feel something more akin to having been mugged?
Are you following these concepts, Mr. President? There will be a test, so perhaps you should take notes. The test is scheduled for November 2012.
On the other hand, perhaps the President should make his concept of “spreading the wealth” a bit clearer. Does “spreading the wealth”, in his world view, only occur if the government is spreading it around? Does the concept only work if the government decides who will be the recipients of our coerced largesse? Or does he mentally lump governmental outlays into the “charity” category, never expecting any value in exchange for his redistribution of someone else’s wealth? Other than votes in the next election, of course.
The best approach to “spreading the wealth” is by removing government from the process, since the government itself is the largest single impediment to efficient and effective allocation of private resources.
The phrase “private resources” is not a typo. Every single dollar that circulates is someone’s private property. It is not something that the government generously allows us to keep. It is ours and it is we who allow the government to use some of it to do the business of government as efficiently and economically as possible. At least that’s the theory.
Before anyone’s head explodes from seeing the words “government”, “efficiently” and “economically” in a single sentence, please remember we are discussing a theory.
The inescapable conclusion that we must come to is that to maximize the redistribution of wealth in this country, massive layoffs are needed. In the public sector. Elected, appointed and civil service. Once all those folks are furloughed, America can get its economy back on track, which will do more to improve every citizen’s wealth than any government program ever could.