The Liberal Impulse Behind Wealth Redistribution

Alan Colmes, a token liberal talker on Fox News, following liberal religious talking points, claims that Jesus “believed the rich should give to the poor.” Let’s assume that Colmes’ analysis of Jesus is correct on this point. This is a far cry from saying that rich people should be taxed and that government should give indiscriminately to the poor even though they might be sluggards, lazy, and thoughtless about the future (Prov. 6:6–11; 13:4, 18; 19:15; 20:13; 21:25–26; 24:30–34; 28:19). A person who refuses to work is not to be assisted: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

In 2000, I debated Jim Wallis. Wallis is a Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine. He is also a leader in the Red-Letter Christian movement. In our debate he pointed out that the Bible had numerous passages about the poor. I agreed with him on this point. I then asked him to show me one verse where it says that government should be in the redistribution business. He could give me one, because there isn’t one..

Jesus didn’t call on the Roman Empire to help the poor. In fact, the New Testament like the Old Testament, limits the taxing power of the State power (1 Sam. 8; Matt. 22:21). Jesus makes it clear that it’s an individual responsibility to help the poor. Free individuals can covenant together and set up agencies to help the poor. David Chilton’s comments are helpful on this subject:

“The local administration of charity is crucial. It ensures that funds go to those who are truly needy, rather than to professional paupers. The charitable aspects of the tithe did not mean simply a handout to everyone who lined up. Charity is to be dispensed by responsible leaders of the covenant community who are in daily contact with the needs of the people. The general principle still holds: those who won’t work don’t eat. Those who attempt to live by a welfare ethic are quickly exposed in a locally-administered program, and will be unable to get away with ‘mooching.’ Even in charity, God’s law teaches responsibility.”1

Governments rather than individuals are most often responsible for oppressing the poor since they have the legal means to set up and enforce obstacles. Liberals like Colmes believe that redistributing wealth by taking it from the rich and giving it to the poor will create an equitable society. This is the great liberal myth. Taxing policies designed to create social programs inhibit economic expansion in the business sector. Without an expanding economy, businesses can’t grow. If businesses can’t grow, they cannot hire new workers.

Liberals believe that the remedy for economically displaced workers, a condition their policies created, is to raise more taxes and subsidize the unemployed. This is state-sponsored slavery under the guise of compassion. It has the effect of squelching the incentive to work and creates a perpetual underclass that is constantly appealed to by liberals so they can stay in power. Those dependent on the State most often vote to increase the power of the State out of self-interest. Murray Rothbard observes:

“State poor relief is clearly a subsidization of poverty, for men are now automatically entitled to money from the state because of their poverty. Hence, the marginal disutility of income foregone from leisure diminishes, and idleness and poverty tend to increase further, which in turn increases the amount of subsidy that must be extracted from the taxpayers. Thus, a system of legally subsidized poverty tends to call forth more of the very poverty that is supposedly being alleviated.”2

Private charity eliminates the political empowering of a poverty class. The incentive of governments is to keep people dependent and grow the base by classifying more people as below the poverty line. There is little motivation of the poor to abandon dependency because the initial rewards from employment are minimal. Why put in an eight-hour work day, travel to and from a job, pay Social Security, federal, and state taxes for only a little more than what can be gotten by sitting at home and receiving a check at your subsidized apartment?

Since the implementation of the “Great Society” program in the 1960s, the number of those designated as poor has increased. What have we gotten with the infusion of more than two trillion dollars of tax-payer money to help the poor? Charles Murray’s analysis shows that “Progress against poverty stopped coincidentally with the implementation of the Great Society’s social welfare reforms. . . . Huge increases in expenditures coincided with an end to progress.”3

Conservatives, many of whom are Christians, understand that a free economy, private property rights, and substantially reduced tax liability are the best remedy to help the poor. Those who can’t work and take care of themselves can be cared for by the generosity of the people through churches and private agencies. With less money taken in taxes, more money can be given to charity work.4

  1. David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider, 3rd rev. ed. (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1996), 55. []
  2. Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State (New York: New York University Press, [1962] 1975), 818. []
  3. Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 63. []
  4. See John Jefferson Davis, Your Wealth in God’s World: Does the Bible Support the Free Market? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984); Robert H. Bremer, American Philanthropy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1960] 1982); Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1992). []