Why Americans Oppose Economic Redistribution despite Income Inequality

By Barone, Michael | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, May 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Why Americans Oppose Economic Redistribution despite Income Inequality


Barone, Michael, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Skeptics about democracy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries argued that the enfranchised masses would use their votes to seize the property of the relatively few rich. What could be more natural?

But it hasn't happened, in this country or abroad, to anything like the extent that those would-be Cassandras feared. Nonetheless, we continue to hear calls for economic redistribution, the clinical term for public policies transferring money from the relatively few rich to the much more numerous non-rich.

We also hear cries of frustration from advocates of such polices. The latest example is Thomas Edsall, the longtime Washington Postreporter now writing for the New York Times. Unlike most other liberal reporters, who are optimistic cheerleaders for their team, Edsall has long been alert to signs of liberalism's weakness.

In a long blog post, Edsall notes "a steady decline in support for redistributive government." He cited a study by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saenz, another ardent redistributionist, that "as inequality increases, so does ideological conservatism in the electorate."

Edsall cites evidence that support for health care "as a government-protected right" has fallen off from 69 percent in a 2006 Gallup poll, replaced by a 52 percent majority for the proposition that health care is not a federal responsibility.

Those poll numbers should not be taken too literally. Many respondents were surely hazy about what it means to say that a service like health care is a "right." And after passage of Obamacare, talk of a federal responsibility tends to evoke partisan responses in a country split just about evenly between two ideologically distinct parties.

That said, Edsall is right to conclude that there has been a diminution of faith in government as an instrumentality. The reasons are not hard to find. Atop the list: the Obamacare mess. The rollout of healthcare.gov -- which the government had 42 months to prepare for -- was a disaster. In contrast, there were 42 months between Pearl Harbor and V-E Day. Government performed a lot better then.

Things will get even messier if the Supreme Court reads the Obamacare statute as written in the King v. Burwell case expected to be decided in June. In Edsall's words, "public and private health care would be disrupted, to put it mildly. …

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