thedailybell.com / by Tibor Machan / Monday, December 03, 2012
Ever since then candidate Obama‘s brief exchange with “Joe the Plumber” there has been plenty of mention of wealth redistribution in the major media. Then came the recovery of a 2001 interview in which the former Senator faulted the framers of the US Constitution and the Founders who authored the Declaration of Independence for not including a right of everyone to be helped with redistributed wealth. As some have noted, this was all discussed in connection with the Civil Rights legislation, which Obama also faulted for its lack of attention to wealth redistribution – maybe reparation, as some have interpreted him. But the central point was clearly more general.
It is useful, then, to consider just what wealth redistribution is all about. But to do that, we need to consider briefly what wealth is and what amounts to its initial distribution such that some favor its being redistributed.
Wealth is whatever someone owns that he or she and others consider valuable, useful to themselves or others. The ownership, in turn, can arise from working on what is given in nature or by way of earnings from marketable labor, or from gifts and inheritance from those who had earnings in the first place, or from good fortune (as when one wins the lottery or unexpectedly finds oil beneath his land), etc.
There is an ancient dispute about whether such ownership is best regarded as private or as public. At first the dispute was carried on in terms of what type of ownership, private or public, would be most useful or productive. Aristotle gave his defense of private property as follows: “For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.” (Politics, 1262a30-37)