Friday, May 18, 2012

Circulating Wealth

I was made aware yesterday, through an email from the group Wealth for the Common Good, about a petition being circulated through calling on TED Talks to publish a talk given by Nick Hanauer on the subject of fairness in tax policy.

Nick is apparently a wealthy man who wants to be heard to say that he, as a member of the class we would call rich, does not believe that the rich should not be taxed because they create jobs.  His argument, as I follow it, is that jobs are created when money gets spent in the economy to buy goods and services, and that if wealth is not spread out broadly enough, then there is not enough energy in the economy to support the vigorous buying and selling that makes us all, more or less, rich.

TED has declined to publish Nick's talk, claiming that it is too "political".

The issue of collecting taxes to support public expenditure is always fraught with emotion.  First, there is the sense of invasion by the government into our personal lives.  Then, there is concern about waste, inefficiency, even tyranny, in the governmental expenditure of private wealth.  Always, it is supposed to be for the common good, but reasonable minds can differ about what is "common" and what is "good".  Then, there is the sense that we earned our money, and we should be free to decide how we want to spend it.  All important concerns, that need to be given voice and expression.  But if emotion is allowed to carry the day, will all the voices get heard?

As a self-described "non-credential economic thinker applying the methods of other disciplines" (Institute for New Economic Thinking, "30 Ways to Be an Economist"), I think there is a less politically charged, more analytically based method for framing the discussion that might move the debate into a more congeal, less hostile, direction.  To be sure, we can never remove the political energy of such a personal and emotionally charged issue, but maybe we can at least discuss it without resort to arguments based on demonization, and what the Ancient Greeks (who invented popular  democracy) diagnosed as the logical fallacy of ad hominem attacks.

My point is this.  Wealth is created through the concentration of some subset of the collective resources of a community/society (the difference being only of scale) to provide choices to a larger subset of that community/society about how it wants to live, and be well.  This wealth must circulate through the community/society, if its economy is to remain prosperous and vital.

The question is, or should be, then, What is the proper way for our wealth to be circulated, in order to keep our economy prosperous?

Reasonable minds can differ as to the answer to this question, and in the end, it will likely have to be decided by popular vote, as science probably cannot give us a mathematically correct, objective answer.

Hopefully, most of those votes will be cast by people as an expression of their considered view of what is best for them and theirs, in the context of the larger community and economy of which we are all a part, and on which we all depend, each for our own personal prosperity.

Consideration means "side by side".  We cannot consider rightly if we are not shown all sides.


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