Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sowell on "Income Distribution"

The very phrase “income distribution” is tendentious. It starts the economic story in the middle, with a body of income or wealth existing somehow, leaving only the question as to how that income or wealth is to be distributed or “apportioned” as professor Hacker puts it.

In the real world, the situation is quite different. In a market economy, most people receive income as a result of what they produce, supplying other people with some goods or services that those people want, even if that service is only labor. Each recipient of these goods and services pays according to the value which that particular recipient puts on what is received, choosing among alternative suppliers to find the best combination of price and quality — both as judged by the individual who is paying.

This mundane, utilitarian process is quite different from the vision of “income distribution” projected by those among the intelligentsia who invest that vision with moral angst. If there really were some pre-existing body of income or wealth, produced somehow — manna from heaven, as it were — then there would of course be a moral question as to how large a share each member of society should receive.

But wealth is produced. It does not just exist somehow. Where millions of individuals are paid according to how much what they produce is valued subjectively by millions of other individuals, it is not at all clear on what basis third parties could say that some goods or services are over-valued or under-valued, that cooking should be valued more or carpentry should be valued less, for example, much less that not working at all is not rewarded enough compared to working.

- Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

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