Friday, September 23, 2011

Dennis Moore and the Redistribution of Wealth

Good intentions and unintended consequences.

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The BBC series Monty Python's Flying Circus introduced a bumbling 18th-century highwayman named Dennis Moore. Like Robin Hood, Dennis stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But Dennis only stole lupins, a pretty ornamental plant that had no value to its recipients. After some bashing from the peasants, Dennis began stealing gold, silver, and jewels. Dennis took on his renewed mission with aplomb – to a fault. Soon the rich were poor with nothing more to give and the poor were rich, continually demanding greater riches. Dennis finally realized the consequences and exclaimed, "Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought."

Government conducts a lot of wealth redistribution and – so far as I can see – our elected officials have not experienced Dennis's "Aha!" moment.  Taxes on the currently employed are specifically directed to Social Security recipients, Medicare beneficiaries, and the unemployed.  Subsidies for homeowners are in place to the detriment of renters.  And the extravagant, nearsighted use of resources have straddled future generations – my children – with $15 trillion of government debt.

But please don't take from these illustrations that I believe the field is tilted solely in the direction of recipients:  the tax code is highly skewed in favor of the wealthy.  Any progressivity in tax rates is neutralized by tax breaks and deductions that apply only to high-income and special-circumstance individuals and companies.

My goal as a member of Congress is to craft legislation that is equitable and efficient.  Taxes should be broad so that they cannot be avoided and can be applied with the least amount of overhead cost.  Benefits need to be finite, limited to those in need, and stopped when recipients are no longer needy.  And we must develop a plan and begin action to retire a majority of government debt – not just reduce the annual budget deficit – before my children grow old.

Dennis Moore had his "Aha!" moment.  Now it's our turn.