Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 11, 2016

in Growth, Inequality, Seen and Unseen, Taxes

… is from page 582 of the final volume (2016) – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s brilliant and pioneering trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life (original emphasis):

Supposing our mutual purpose, then, is to help the poor – as in ethics it certainly should be – and considering that the learned cadres of the clerisy are supposed to have sociological imagination, their advocacy for equalizing restrictions and redistributions, and their spurning of growth-inducing liberty can be viewed at best as thoughtless.  Perhaps, considering what economic historians now know about the Great Enrichment, but which the left clerisy, and many of the right clerisy, resists acknowledging, it can even be considered unethical.  Members of the left clerisy, such as Tony Judt or Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty, who are quite sure that they themselves are taking the ethical high road against the wicked selfishness of Tories or Republicans or La Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, might on such evidence be considered dubiously ethical.  They are obsessed with first-act changes that cannot much help the poor, and often can be shown to damage them grievously, and are obsessed with an angry envy at the consumption of the very rich.  They are willing to stifle, through taxing the earners of high wages or profits, the trade-tested betterments that in the long run have gigantically helped the poor.  It’s an intellectual crime.

Quite so.

It is well past the time when intelligent and thoughtful people should stop applauding those who call for the simple taking – simple taking as can be imagined by any eight-year-old child or schoolyard bully – of resources from the rich for ‘redistribution’ to the poor.  As Deirdre explains, it is an intellectual crime for intelligent and thoughtful people to regard such taking-and-redistribution as either ethical or as the best means of improving the material well-being of the poor.  People who find merit in the ‘redistributionist’ proposals championed by the likes of Krugman and Piketty – or in those offered by politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton – are shallow, careless, and uncreative thinkers.  They fancy themselves to be “progressive” only because they are apparently too ignorant, too simple-minded, or too lazy to comprehend the world in its full complexity, complete with all its many unintended consequences.  Such people see only the surface.  They hear only the loudest voices shrieking in the foreground.  They are blind and deaf to the depth and complexity of human society.  They are under the delusion that because they use terms such as “Gini coefficient” and “income quintiles” that they are entitled to advise the state to (attempt to) reorder society according to the their fancies.

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