“Tax the rich!” The socialists cry. But it is impossible to measure wealth, let alone redistribute it equally.
Wealth Cannot Be Measured
Who is wealthier, a 90-year-old with a million dollars, or an 18-year-old with zero dollars? Which would you rather be? How many 90-year-olds would trade a million dollars in an instant for the chance to be young and poor? The amount of money a person has is a poor measure of their wealth.
In Xenophon’s The Economist, Socrates, who hardly owns more than the clothes on his body, claims that he is wealthy because his “property is amply sufficient to meet [his] wants.” Whereas his seemingly rich friend is in reality poor, because he is drowning in obligations. Wealth is more than the pile of goods that you own, or the amount of money you have access to. Wealth, or weal, is that which satisfies your needs, wants and desires. Or, as Cantillon put it, “Wealth in itself is nothing but the Maintenance, Conveniencies, and Superfluities of Life.”
Socialists confuse material wealth for the sum total of wealth. Immaterial wealth, like happiness, youth, health, fulfillment, and wisdom cannot be redistributed. Knowing who is more wealthy than whom is not obvious, measurable, or knowable. Is a school teacher, happily married to his love, who works to support two children, really poorer than a divorced and childless socialite? Should the bitter and forlorn old maid be forced to give her money, perhaps her only comfort in her lonely old age, to a younger, happier man, who would willingly take her money, but is happier than her without it? Should not he be forced to give up some of his happiness, or perhaps one of his children, to the old broad?
We Are All Poor
However much wealth we acquire in this life, we die, and take nothing with us.
John saw in revelation that gold was used as cement in the buildings and roads of Heaven. Any material wealth that we acquire in this short life is a pittance compared with the Kingdom of God.
The Rich Fool in Luke 12 builds barns to preserve his wealth for years, but his soul is so soon required of him, that God asks him, for whom did he accumulate all of that wealth?
We die and take nothing with us. Our life must be more than what we possess, otherwise we live for naught.
We Are All Rich
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens criticizes the opulence of the French aristocracy by describing how many servants they had for the simplest of tasks, like making hot chocolate:
“Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration, and the Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur’s lips. One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second, milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third, presented the favoured napkin; a fourth (he of the two gold watches), poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two.”Volume II, Chapter 7
That he had four servants to provide him with such a simple food to Dickens demonstrated the inordinate wealth enjoyed by the upper classes. This same argument was made eighty years earlier by Adam Smith to demonstrate the opulence of the English peasants.
“Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or daylabourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people, of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation… if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that, without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to, what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.”Wealth of Nations, Chapter 1
The shirt you are wearing was made with the cooperation of tens of thousands of people. The staggering wealth we all currently enjoy is due to the division of labor, i.e., our willingness to work together for mutual benefit. Socialism would destroy the delicate fabric of the division of labor, and return us to the barbaric poverty that was the common lot of our unfortunate ancestors.
The irresponsible redistribution of wealth is built on a faulty assumptions that all wealth is material, and that it can be measured. We are all unimaginably more wealthy than our ancestors thanks to the freedom of The West, and yet at the same time we are all beggars in the sight of God.