Argument against redistribution of wealth

There’s an old joke that a heart surgeon goes to a mechanic to get his fuel pump replaced. While he’s working on the car, the mechanic muses that their jobs are pretty much the same. “I figure out what the problem is, take out the old pump, put a new one in, and sent the ‘patient’ on its way. So how come I make $40,000 a year, and you make $400,000?” The surgeon smiles and says “try doing it while the engine is running”.

You might think my point is that the 1% earned their wealth through their superior skills. That’s actually not it at all. My point is that the economy isn’t about static wealth that can just be grabbed and redistributed. The economy is a vast machine with millions of moving parts in constant motion. If you disrupt that engine, then we’re all worse off than we were.

And this is a big deal. There was a time when wealth was primarily a result of who owned which land and natural resources. In such an economic setting, one can imagine seizing the land from the landowners and redistributing it among the peasants (that has it’s own issues, but it’s conceivable).

In the modern economy, it doesn’t work like that. Let’s say we wanted to physically seize Jeff Bezos money and redistribute it? How do you do that with force of arms? The vast majority of that wealth is in stocks, which means that it’s entirely theoretical. Armed mobs could seize Amazon trucks and warehouses, and occupy their corporate offices, and… then what? You’d end up with a few trucks and buildings divided among however many members of the uprising there were. Even all the inventory you could seize wouldn’t be all that much, once you divvied it up. In order for Amazon to have it’s value, it needs to continue to function. To tear it down, or even to disrupt it’s operation by violence, means that something that was once incredibly value now becomes nearly worthless.

And the same goes for most of the wealthiest people in the world. Very few of the uber-rich have large amounts of wealth in any form that you could physically seize and occupy without destroying most of their value.

And that’s one of the issues with communist rebellions. They’re sometimes successful at pulling down the wealth of the wealthy, making people more equally poor, but redistributing the wealth to make everyone roughly equivalent? They’re terrible at that.

The best you can hope for is to create a social and governmental system in which successful businesses and individuals have to continually contributed some portion of their profits to the common good, as a condition of doing business in this society. That has its issues as well, but it has much more potential than trying to rebel and grab wealth that doesn’t exist in a grabbable form.