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Appeasing The Mobs
Defenders of redistribution of wealth often fall back on an argument allegedly based on self-interest. The argument is that if we don't fork over money to the poor, they will rise up and kill us all. What starts as a defense of altruism and egalitarianism ends up an argument based on extortion and violence. Your money or your life.
When I encounter this 'argument', the first thing that I want to know is whether the person making it is for or against this mass uprising they predict. It's not at all obvious. Do they only talk about egalitarianism in order to forestall a popular revolution? Or are they primarily for egalitarianism, and see violence as a valid last resort in order to get there.
Those who argue for freedom and the right of each man to own what he has earned almost never bring up the possibility of violence. I've never seen it. Instead, they focus on what is moral. The fact that some thugs might decide to use violence is always a possibility, but shouldn't be the overriding concern in a society. To preemptively appease them would be to act as if the violence was legitimate.
So the people who bring up this argument are usually those who have tried to make the case for redistribution, and when that has failed, has brought up the violence as a kind of Pascal's wage. You don't have to believe in the truth of what you do, but you should act that way anyway.
The problem with this argument is that it is the same people who are promoting the idea that the poor are abused by the rich, that the world is zero-sum, and that everyone is entitled to their "fair share" of the wealth. If there was a violent uprising, it would have its intellectual and moral roots in the these egalitarians theories of social justice. So when these people, after spending their time promoting the moral injustice of some people having more wealth than others, go on to claim that the poor will rise up and kill the rich, they almost invariably fail to mention that they have been trying to cause it.
It comes down to a question of what is and isn't moral. Those against redistribution believe that individuals create wealth, and deserve to keep that wealth. Those for redistribution think that wealth is created by 'society', and should be distributed in some superior way. Maybe that's equal distribution, and maybe it's based on how moral a person is, or there are countless other ways in which people can dream of spending other people's money. But for all of these people, people keeping what they earn is immoral, unjust, or unfair.
And if ever there was an uprising, it would be the redistributionist ideologies that would be at the center of it. If everyone was convinced that they deserved a larger share of other people's money, it certainly could lead to violence. But only a general moral consensus would lead to that violence. And those arguing for redistribution are the ones trying to create that moral consensus. They're trying to spread the view that wealth is unfair. To then suggest that people might act on what they have preach as a reason for redistribution is deceitful. If they were really concerned, they wouldn't be preaching the morality of violence in the first place.
The defenders of individual rights, individual justice, and the right of each man to dispose of the wealth he has created and earned have a different message. If you want wealth, production is the way to gain it. You can create wealth, and trade peacefully with others. Violence is not appropriate, and you have no right to the wealth of other people. If people did decide to use violence to take wealth from others, it would be criminal activity. The message is clear.
The defenders of redistribution claim that what people earn is not really theirs by right, and others should get it simply because they exist. They may not favor violence, but they morally support it by claiming those who would use violence are entitled to that wealth. But being against violence means little. Even muggers are against violence. They'd prefer that you hand over your money without them needing to use their weapons. So those who promote redistribution are not for violence, but gladly hold that card as the a last resort and a bargaining point.
If they suspect some people are going to use violence to kill others and take their wealth, the question is what should be done about these people? If they are victims of some kind of social injustice, then a preemptive appeasement is necessary. But if they are just common criminals intent on taking what doesn't belong to them, they should be arrested.
So when someone brings up the possibility that poor people will rise up and take what they want through violence, why don't they suggest that these people be arrested? If they bring it up and believe it to be wrong, they should be looking at these people as a real enemy and consider how to prevent them. But when they bring it up as an excuse for preemptive redistribution, they announce their real motives. The threat of violence is not something they abhor. It is something they are happy they can bring up as a way to get what they already want.
It should be noted that historically, these mass uprising failed to happen as so many people had hoped. The rise of communist dictatorships were always top-down movements, with the "masses" being pushed and prodded and butchered into following. So the argument that inequality and jealousy will lead to an uprising is inductively very weak. When people are free to live their lives and achieve for themselves, there is little interest in destroying society for a quick, and short-lived, gain. It is the intellectuals, who think they know what people want and how people should live their lives, who can't accept the status quo.
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