TED Conversations

Mike Colera

TEDCRED 30+

This conversation is closed.

Why should there be wealth distribution or redistribution?

A recent TED talk by Ms. C. Freeland discusses wealth inequality. It seems, she is against it. I don't quite understand her concerns. If people acquire wealth....legally, people got wealthy legally. A newly elected senator from Massechuses laments how American bankers have gotten wealthy and the American middle class is falling behind. Americans should do spmething about that. Again, if people acquire wealth...legally, people got wealthy legally. I think what I am hearing is that wealth should be redistributed from the wealthy to the... not so wealthy. That seems to be the new chorus being sung.
I am at a loss as to why. Why would some seemingly considerate people talk about taking property of one person to give to another. Let's go past any moral issues or legal ones.... how would it be done? Well, that isn't clear to me. It seems to be said it should be done. Now, if a wealthy person wanted to redistribute his wealth... OK, it is his wealth. But, what if the wealth person wants to keep it all. OK, it is his wealth.
Could someone explain why legally acquired wealth should be redistributed by anyone other then the owner of the wealth?
Of course governments take wealth from people in the form of taxes supposedly to provide the services deemed to be provided by the government. Sometimes, governments have used tax money to provide wealth to some of it's citizens the government has determined needs this wealth. Is it any more moral or legal for the government to take wealth and redistribute it? By passing laws to legalize the redistribution of wealth, could it be inferred that elected officials are currying favor and subsequent votes by redistributing wealth? Are elected officials above such actions? Many questions, so few answers

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 23 2014: The legal system in Germany a view decades ago allowed for the genocide of Jewish people. Does this help you to gain a new perspective on what 'legally' says about a social value?

    And could you please explain how we could possibly answer your question under your given restriction to ' ... go past any moral issues or legal ones....'? while your question itself is invariably based on both?
    • thumb
      Apr 24 2014: Fair enough. Having lived in your country for about 25 years, I have a limited understanding of recent German history. What I was speaking of was an individual going past any of his moral issues and any legal restrictions of him taking or professing the removal of someone else's property.
      I am fully aware of governments either by fiat or by "taxing authority" take wealth. I had hoped I had explained it separately from individuals who proclaim the redistribution of wealth usually not their own,
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: It seems you didn't get my point despite my choice for a drastic example. Never mind, I'll try again.

        Moral issues, legal constructions as well as the idea of property are all mental concepts. Not more and also not less. All of them are also not universal and only depend on how a group of people defines and agrees on them.

        Today, most part of humanity agrees on the idea, that all humans are equal in value regardless of their place of birth. Humanity also agreed on certain minimal standards mandatory for a human being to be able to life a life, worth living.

        As parts of those standards are based to have access to resources, the idea of 'property' of those resources can collide with the necessity to make them equally available.

        The mental concept for land as property, for example, will sooner or later cause problems to open accessibility, as with a growing world population yet an constant area of earth surface, some people may not even be able to grow the food they need independently of the good will for sharing of those who claim to own some peace of this planet.

        So from a humanistic standpoint, the concept of ownership as well as the concept of heritage of those privileges is contradictive to the concept that all humans are equal in value and this on a limited planet with limited resources.

        If abundance of everything was given, then property wouldn't be a problem, but only then.

        Imagine a group of people which were thirsty and also imagine a view individuals would have claimed all water resources in that area as their 'property'. Now what would be wrong in order to survive if those thirsty people would not care about the prohibition of this view individuals not to use the resources they claim to own?

        Thats the distilled essence why the mental concept of property is pointless when it does not allow others to gain the same.
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: But as we know, that many crucial resources are naturally limited or going to be in the future, on what valid justification could you base your decision on not to NOT share what would be necessary for others to survive if you would happen to have more than you need for your own survival?
        • thumb
          Apr 24 2014: All you say may be true, but not now. Our human existence in the world as it is now and as it has been since there has been a record of mankind has had property law and recognized ownership. It is now and therefore is not pointless. There may be a time in some distant future that the world as you see it becoming will come and the mental and physical and legal and actual concept of property will be pointless. Until that time, is it personally moral, responsibly legal to propose that other people's wealth be taken from them and redistributed to others? That is my question.
          If I get a bunch of people around and tell them that we should take money from a bank is considered a conspiracy and is felonious in this country. Yet, it seems I can say we should take money from another person and that is considered righteous and is the subject of a TED talk or a speech made in the halls of congress.
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: Mental concepts only depend on how many people agree on them and how they act upon it, not if they are 'true' or 'not'.

        Before the French Revolution, the majority of the French people resign themselves in being ruled by a self claimed caste of aristocracy, up to the point when they couldn't stand this anymore and acted accordingly by removing those privileges.

        Occupy Wall-Street just recently questioned the ruling economical system in the US, how it performs and who profits from it.

        Usually as more and more people start to question certain regulations or 'realities' surrounding them, it expresses that they tend not to agree with those any more and start to think about alternatives.

        As you seem to have observed increasing numbers of people who question if the given distribution of wealth is fair, it is very likely, that those same people have experienced a change in their former wealth and that for whatever reason they now have less than they used to have before. And if this was no 'crisis of one's own making', it may cause to reflect differently on possessions in general and that of others who still have it.

        I think the whole banking business, which you referred to, has given more than enough reasons to people to question the share its has towards the common good of the society they are part of. And new terms such as 'banksters' may reflect linguistically how much 'trust' and 'agreement' got lost in many people towads this trade

        So no, I don't mind people to question rising gaps in wealth distribution, as this could be the beginning to fix the reasons to that problem, which I consider to be a problem, as it corrodes the social fabric of any society.

        I think there is a reason why we tell children fairy-tales such as Robin Hood to pass on values of fairness to them. Robin stole from the rich to give to the poor, which he would not have had a reason to have done so, if the rich would have shared on their own initiative beforehand.

        Does this answer your question
        • thumb
          Apr 24 2014: No, not really... my question sort of was... why do some say that there should be wealth redistribution. I see that as unfair....
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: 'No, not really... my question sort of was... why do some say that there should be wealth redistribution. I see that as unfair....'

        So, in other words, you are against the freedom of speech?

        Or are you worried for 'infectious' or even 'revolutionary' thoughts to spread more widely?
        • thumb
          Apr 24 2014: So, I 'm against freedom of speech. Not really, I am against rabble rousing that could cause others great harm or loss.... like yelling fire in a crowded dark theater...when there is none.
          Such speech can be considered informatory....like the speech that Jews were the bane of all Germans back in the 1920s.... didn't think much of that rhetoric either.
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: So you are not against the freedom of speech, but people who inform about the risks for society by growing inequalities and who question the status quo are racists by definition, right? Or communists, maybe, which in a way was racism if wealth was considered a race, correct?

        In short, you are afraid of a new area in which communist or socialist ideas or ideals could be reconsidered by people for which capitalism didn't work out well? Is this the 'unfairness' you mentioned before?

        Your 'yelling fire' comparison doesn't work here, because if you would check the numbers Ms. Freeland discusses in her talk, you would know, that the fire does exist and rapidly grows.

        Or is she, as all the others sharing her concerns are just another bunch of conspiracy theorists?

        Extrapolating from your line thoughts so far, that would be my best guess for your next argument. Am I guessing right, or did I miss some details?
        • thumb
          Apr 24 2014: Lejan,
          That hurt...it is not about conspiracies... or about racism... is there a green race? Or in the case of the Euro.... a multicolored race?

          Let me try to say it better.... I am not.... comfortable?, about people who say that it is appropriate for (someone, government, ???) to take value from one person who has that value and give it to someone else.... the argument being that the receiver is more needy or deserving or, or, or.

          Moreover, you seemingly are unfamiliar with some of our history. In the USA, over the years and even today, we have or had communistic governance, theocracies, democracies and socialism. In fact, currently, a US Senator is a socialist. Americans are free to chose their local governance. Where we all come together is at the Federal level, that by constitution is a republic.

          Yes, Ms. Freeland pointed out some problems and her solutions is where I am challenged.
          I may have not listened carefully, did she mention what the next solution would be after the consumption of all the redistributed wealth? And you know there will be an after....
          there is always an after....

          I think it was Aquinas that told us that once greed becomes a sickness, it can not be cured.
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2014: No conspiracies? Just, comfort? Yet compared to the early formation of fascism in Germany? You seem to oscillate quite vividly between extremes, don't you?

        But of high interest I read your explanation about what discomforts you, namely the part

        '... to take value from one person who has that value and give it to someone else.',

        as this is actually the basic principle how wealth gets concentrated in the first place, Mike, and the name we choose for it is capitalism.

        Profit, or surplus, as it is also called, is exactly created this way by 'taking value from one person' (worker) 'who has this value' (hours of work) 'and give it to someone else' (owner of company).

        When this principle discomforts you, are you proposing that we should choose for a better economical system than capitalism? You are a Marxist, Mike?

        Interesting, very interesting.

        And yes, I am not a specialist on US history, yet it seems to me that during the cold war period no other witch-hunt on communist and socialists parties within the western world was as efficient as it was in the US, from witch it is still recovering to this day, compared to Europe, alongside with the power of workers-unions, which was,and probably still is, on those 'witch lists'.

        You know, when some US media seriously call Obama a socialist, I can only assume, that this term is more stretchy than I ever expected it to be and that there are profound differences of interpretations compared to those of the old world.

        This finishing quote of yours applies much better to me to the disproportional acquisition and hording of wealth, compared to a more equal and fair distribution as its alternative.

        Maybe the imagination of a 'raging mob' eating the rich is a bit exaggerated at the moment, yet if we stop open discussions about the giving trends Ms. Freeland talks about and don't reflect and act upon it early, such gloomy scenarios may form and run uncontrolled later.

        There is no reason not to cap wealth to a certain maximum.
        • thumb
          Apr 24 2014: Lejan,
          Where do I start.... I'll just throw them out there and you can pick and chose....
          First, there is a difference between the communal communities and the Pre WW2 communist Party that was advocating an over throw of the US and coming under the Soviets.

          Yes, Mr. Obama has been call a socialist, not a flattering tem as it was used.
          Further, most American are not thrilled with the old world socialists, our founding fathers left the old world and it's monarchies. Once the royals were overthrown, the bureaucracy remaining became old world socialism.

          Most employees are given wages for their services in the creation of product or services. There is no taking and if a worker is not satisfied with his remuneration, he has every right to go elsewhere.

          Ok, wealthy people.... Lottery winners.... Inventors of better mouse traps.... Entrepreneurs who risk everything and "win". Which of these is the bad guy?

          One more thing.... modern unions, tens of thousands of workers contributing millions in dues for representation. Union leaders with offices in downtown high rises, using chauffeured cars, private aircraft with teams of administrative assistants and a cadre of lawyers, eating in the best restaurants and meeting with ranking government officials. Here, workers put the equivalent of dues into a bank account and if they find something they don't like about the job, they use the saved money to find another job. Our major unions are public employee unions.... government employees take turns being workers and management.

          Oh, my political bent..... I am a original constitutionalist. We hold that the US constitution be followed.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2014: So socialism to you is what bureaucracy transforms into after royalism? A truly a remarkable view to ignore hope and beliefs of vast parts of ordinary people within society at that time.

        So the French were simply following some directives formulated by a view remaining royal servants who happen to have their heads not removed from their shoulders when they tried to rebuild society around their 'Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité'? Are those ideas an socialists manifest to you?

        What is interesting to me in US history is the fact, that your founding fathers escaped suppression of old world monarchies, while bringing suppression to the native Americans who already owned that territory. And as the concept of 'owning' and 'property' seems to be of high importance to you, I wonder, how you can be an constitutionalist towards a constitution, which only came to existence by taking away rightfully owned property in large numbers.

        The only logical explanation I have to understand this contradiction of yours is, that to you it only matters on which side you are to either blame or to tolerate when some people take value from other people. Right?

        'Most employees are given wages for their services in the creation of product or services. There is no taking and if a worker is not satisfied with his remuneration, he has every right to go elsewhere.'

        So you are saying, that any worker receives the whole value s/he produces during work-hours? If that was the case, how do think profits can be made? And when an i-phone sells for $450 in the US, why is then produced in China, if workers get paid the value they create?

        'Ok, wealthy people.... Lottery winners.... Inventors of better mouse traps.... Entrepreneurs who risk everything and "win". Which of these is the bad guy?'

        Did you miss the news on bank-bailout programs? Private banks and investors bailed out by tax-payer money by the billions? So what 'risk' are you talking about here? That baker who runs his bakery in Doeville?
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2014: Sure ... but do you know of any baker in Doeville - or similar places - who made billions by selling bread to local people in his local bakery? Well, I don't, so where does the big profits come from? Any ideas?

        'Union leaders with offices in downtown high rises, using chauffeured cars, private aircraft with teams of administrative assistants and a cadre of lawyers, eating in the best restaurants and meeting with ranking government officials.'

        And? Why don't you blame the same behavior, and worse, if it is done by large companies, banks, etc.? A bit to much of a one-sided blame-game this is to my liking.
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2014: Lejan
          I try to keep these replies short. I can appreciate your views of America are from far off position, many are clouded, too many to list.
          But a few....

          Unions are there for the workers, not to become mirrors of the large companies.... Millions come in dues, hundreds go out in strike benefits and no one wants to strike, so the rest is bling for the union bosses.

          Americans of today are not proud and sadden by the history of the Original Americans.

          I am not sure of a baker but a hot dog maker by the name of Roy Kroc did well and then there was Arlan Sanders, he did well with chicken.

          The $450 I phone and the Chinese worker.... Ok, As I read this, my first thought was of the outstanding universities in Germany where you could have learned business but.....
          in short, the value given by the Chinese worker is a small percentage of the selling price.
          The salary the worker receives reflects this value.

          Lejan, you are making broad sweeping generalizations from a political view that is based on one fatal flaw... all the good you propose for all the people requires efforts of others and those efforts have value. You seem to say that those efforts should be given and taken if not. That is my comment in the simplest form.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2014: Actually I attended some of those outstanding German universities, but I choose for precise science over believe systems in business and economics. Maybe that is why I don't follow the loudest choirs, and join the cheer-leading team of globalization.

        On top of that, I worked in several industries and earned some inside views on how the game is played, and I can only assume, that someone who claims that 'the salary the worker receives reflects this value' has done nothing of the two stated above.

        You don't even bother to answer solid questions of mine, when it could get out of line with your perception of history or of economic 'truth'. So I like to ask you again:

        - Where is the 'risk' for private banks and investors if benefits are privatized and losses socialized?
        - Where does profit comes from?
        - Did the French revolution created a socialist state?
        - Why is it to blame when Union leader go for luxury, but not when businessmen do the same?

        US American workers union seem to be quite off their original purpose when what you are saying is true. But I don't know them and I am in doubt with your side of their story.

        Anyway, German workers union are far from being perfect, as anything else, but the most common traps some of their leaders run into, is to allow to sell their ideals and moral obligations for money, offered to them by their employers. In other words, they get corrupted. Those who withstand, can have and do have a huge impact on the way a private company is run and this in the interest of their workers and not against them. What would be wrong in this in your view?

        Do you think a workers cooperation could be the new business model of the future?
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2014: OK.
          1. the risk and reward model is basis of capitalism. When crony capitalist and entrenched politicians form an oligarchy then you will see losses "socialized"
          2 Profit is the difference between cost and price.
          3. I don't think that is was the original intent of the French citizens in 1800, but a good number of the bureaucracy did survive and used the ideas of socialism to secure their
          position in the new country.
          4 Businesses expense cost from shareholders.... Union leaders expense cost from workers. No socialist like shareholders, let them get hosed..... socialist like workers ,
          why is their money being wasted.

          There are a number of employee owned enterprises in the USA including some major financial institutions. There is nothing in the capitalist system that precludes such organizations.

          Most all of what I have posted is available online. If it from my personal experiences I will brag about.

          Corruption is the original sin that the religious speak of. In Genesis, Adam is corrupted by Eve and the serpent to pick the apple. Man has been picking the apple ever since.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2014: 'Americans of today are not proud and sadden by the history of the Original Americans.'

        I don't argue with that, but as 'you' took their property illegally, you could give all of it it back again, to the ancestors of the native Americans, which are given only symbolic and ridiculous fractions in their reservations.

        If you don't agree 'to take value from one person who has that value and give it to someone else', than how can you agree to that system, that nation which rose from expropriation?

        The value which was taken is still there, the land, and so are the descendants of those who once legally owned it. And as you stressed the term 'legally' often in your comments before in relation to 'wealth', how would you feel to return the land of your country to those who once legally owned it?

        Would this idea thrive on your believes or rather make you feel not comfortable again?

        Or would you just don't bother, because that was in the past and today is today? Ok, fine, but then it was only a matter of time for expropriation to legalize itself and if you agree with that, then your concerns on the given topic doesn't matter to those who may come to take from you. Right?
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2014: Thanks for your answers, all of them great to get into detail:

        1) As capitalism thrives exclusively towards profit maximization and welcomes any risk reduction while doing so, oligarchy becomes the most desirable form for any capitalist, right? And as I understand the term 'entrenched politicians' as polite way not to use the term 'corrupted politicians', we could conclude, that any capitalistic economic system will try to corrupt political leadership in its favor to maximize profits at lowest risks possible. Correct? In its highest art, capitalism could also strive to use those corrupted political leaders to pass laws and rules in their favor as well, so that formerly questionable acquisitions and possessions, could be turned to become totally legal. Correct?
        And as it takes a lot of money to corrupt enough politicians, only really wealthy people could have the power to outperform any democratic election, and to buy any officially elected representative to let them do what is in their favor and not in the favor of the people of that country. Correct? As it is impossible for a regular person who is employed to gain enough financial means it would take to manipulate politics, it is to expect, that only successful business owner will ever gain that much wealth it takes to do so. Correct?

        So if we conclude from all of that, disproportionate wealth is a thread to any democratic system based on a capitalistic market economy. Correct?

        So in order to minimize the risk of political corruption, a democracy should for its own sake limit the maximal wealth of each of its citizen, so that no one alone was able to rule by money instead of argument, discussion and compromises. Correct?

        As the capitalistic economy as well as the political systems in Europe and the US failed to prevent the latest oligarchy to establish itself at both places, don't you think it is time for a general makeover and to install effective counter measures for this to never happen again?
        • thumb
          Apr 26 2014: Wow.... just saying, "all capitalist are rotten to the core" would have saved a lot of typing.
          But, I am not sure that "all capitalist" are....
          I agree, when people don't pay attention or are duped by their leaders any economic system can become toxic to society. If you read Marx, what could be a more ideal system? And then the Bolsheviks did in the children of the Czar and gave us Stalin. I can not confirm, but the best I can learn is the Czar did not kill anywhere near the number of people that Stalin is credited.
          Yes I think that the oligarchy of what I describe as crony capitalists and corrupt politicians
          should be countered.
          I can not describe a solution for other countries but for the USA...

          We need term limits for congress. I would think that most people enter congress with the best of intentions but power corrupts and it is a powerful position.

          We need to make gifts and campaign contributions to politicians come under the bribery laws.

          We need to rescind the 17th amendment which changed our government from two houses of representatives to a single house with an upper and lower chamber. This gave political parties too much control over government and easier for crony capitalist.

          There is more, but you get the idea
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2014: 2) Profit is the difference between cost and price.

        Not entirely correct, as there is no negative profit, but will do to start my next question: If the price was targeted by competition and all needed materials to make a product bought in addition (which is mostly the case) what is left to maximize the profit?

        a) Increased efficiency within production (get more done in less time)
        b) Waste reduction during production
        c) Using robots instead of people
        d) Paying people less for the same work (they can go if they don't agree)
        e) Transfer production into low-income countries
        f) Transfer production into low-income countries and pay people less for the same work ((they can also go if they don't agree)

        Now, as more and more companies would choose for c, e and f, as more and more jobs would cease out of existence, correct? If that was true, less and less job alternatives would remain for people who would not agree with a drop in payment, correct? And as a reduction in alternatives also reduces the freedom of choice, it could be concluded, that freedom itself gets reduced, correct?

        Considering all this, couldn't we conclude, that profit maximization of capitalism only widens the freedom of markets, yet destroys the freedom of the majority of people who works within it?

        If you don't agree with this conclusion, I would be interested where and why, if you would like to share it here.
        • thumb
          Apr 26 2014: Well, there have been companies that posted a negative "profit" It's a paper thing, but when cost is greater then sales.... that happens.
          But, you have listed a number of ways that have been used to maximize profit and you could have added a number more... removal of management is also used... but...
          When I said cost and selling price, I maybe over simplified the statement... it is really much more complicated.
          I also see your conclusion as too simple. Profits are limited by markets, markets are limited by those participating. Prices are limited by demand. On and on.
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2014: 'Wow.... just saying, "all capitalist are rotten to the core" would have saved a lot of typing. But, I am not sure that "all capitalist" are...'

        I was talking about the risks and weaknesses which capitalism as a system carries in its basic principles and I assume you could agree, that in any society we would not need to seek long for individuals who would try to use those for base motives. Don't you think?

        I didn't read Marx, but I heard about some of his criticism on capitalism, which in its formations seems to be observable in our given hype about and around capitalism.

        What Stalin or the Czar could teach us about todays problems I am not certain, yet I am certain that the way capitalism transformed itself over the years is corrosive to our societies.

        A more ideal system to me can only evolve out of trial and error, as we all know that words come cheap in the dozens. What isn't cheap in my view is to identify errors, weaknesses and also cause & effect loops which take longer to unfold than in just one legislative period.

        As we seem to agree, that corruption is a problem, I do not see sufficient enough efforts to counter that.

        What I know is, that wealth or financial means is powerful enough to undermine a democratic political system, which to me is the source of the problem we are facing worldwide, as it allows the tyranny of financial power to break free and to have its way.

        So in order to maintain the idea of 'one man/woman, one vote', which from an humanistic standpoint makes perfect sense, we can not allow in any democracy for other forces than this one to take over.

        So if you have a better idea than to limit the maximum wealth a single person or company is allowed to possess, than please share it with me. I also would like to have some ideas on how it can be avoided, that a single company alone can become 'to big to fail', because those incidences are blackmailing whole societies into decisions which are anti-democratic.

        So please fill me in.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.