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A Bloody Experiment

Ken Nesmith

Conflict over the role of taxation and the distribution of wealth in society has intensified during President Bush’s time in office. A few disastrous corporate scandals rocked through the market and the headlines, shaking confidence in the legitimacy of capitalism. Media discourse has focused more heavily on growing wealth disparities domestic and international. The half-artificial boom of the 90s ended, slashing state and federal tax revenues drastically.

State politicians are flailing violently to preserve government expenditures. They seek tax increases, legalization of gambling, borrowing against future payments from tobacco companies (as well as new lawsuits against them), painful cuts in programs and spending, and even federal bailouts to ease their budget woes. The last of these solutions is the most laughable; state leaders apparently conceive of the federal government as a national ATM with a secret bank account. The big secret, though, is that citizens pay the taxes that fill that bank account. The federal bailout consists of either taking more money from the citizens of the state itself, or forcibly extracting subsidies from states that pay more of the federal tax burden.

But I’ve made an assumption about the morality of forcible extraction. That assumption is directly at odds with much of today’s conventional wisdom: what we need is more redistribution of wealth, not less. The rich have more than enough money, they probably didn’t earn it justly, and it’s up to us to take it away from them and give it to people who need it. If we do not force them to fund the federal budget (recall that the top 1% of taxpayers pay nearly half of the federal budget), government programs will have to be cut. Bush’s tax cut, whereby tax rates are cut by a few percent here and there, will be a gift to the rich, the rest of the nation will be screwed, the federal deficit will skyrocket, chocolate will no longer taste good, etc.

Never mind, for a moment, the hypocrisy that this position entails. I wonder if any of the infinitude of leftists who demand higher taxes on those who have “more than they need” in order to help the poor will eat two meals today at MIT or dorm dining - and I wonder if they’ve ever been exposed to the sort of poverty under which such an opportunity would be unthinkable luxury. Frankly, anyone who wears shoes and walks to class at this school has far “more than they need.” If they truly believe this inequality is wrong, they can act on that perception. Keep your eyes on the dining halls to see what happens.

What if we were to act on the demands of these objectors? We hear decried again and again of the power and control the top one, five, or ten percent wield over our existence. What if we were to simply return some of that control to the masses, giving the power back to the people, to the working classes, exploited by their employers? What if we raised taxes more so that good could be done for everyone?

In Zimbabwe, that’s just what they did. A small number of white farmers controlled much of the land in this South African nation. Over the last few years, President Robert Mugabe demanded that these farmers leave so that the land could be returned to the masses of Zimbabwe. He furthermore saw the injustice that producers in Zimbabwe imposed on consumers by charging high prices for their products, and introduced price controls to keep things reasonable for the regular, working folk. All in all, it looks like a great plan, doesn’t it? Follows the liberal plan to a T - put the power in the hands of the masses, keep prices reasonable, and a community of collective glory should flourish, where everyone may not have a lot, but everyone would have what they need. “Only the greedy are complaining,” says Mugabe: “We shall feed all.”

Half of Zimbabwe’s population of 12 million now faces starvation. Price controls have made meal, sugar, cooking oil, fuel, spare parts - pretty much every product - black market, scarce commodities. Eight million subsist on food aid, which political leaders use as a weapon. The economy has contracted 30 percent in the last three years. Unemployment is at 70 percent, inflation is at 220 percent. One official, confronted about the nation’s struggles, said, “We would be better off with only six million people ... who support the liberation struggle ... We don't want all these extra people.”

In Zimbabwe, we see that there does not exist some pool of wealth or resources that we can divide and distribute as we wish. Wealth and resources are created; they are the product of thought and effort, not mindless muscle and numbers. The farms Mugabe has seized have ceased to function: irrigation systems are out of order, and once fertile fields have become barren without proper management by the evicted farmers.

Most leftist literature is rife with polemic built around an errant understanding of the nature of wealth and resources. Attacks on a few who possess some percent of that nation’s wealth or control leave one with the impression that we have a pool of wealth in the nation that a few have managed to take all for themselves. The notion that money is merely a representation of production seems to be scarce. Instructors from both MIT and Harvard’s Kennedy school can be heard professing on these errant premises.

What else happened in Zimbabwe besides economic disaster? When some farmers didn’t leave, Mugabe pulled out the guns and killed them to complete the forcible redistribution. Those opposed to the plan organized a strike and tried to win various elections. Because they would not cooperate with the plan, leaders of the movement have been tortured horribly - the details are gruesome. These are the inevitable results of Zimbabwe’s complete revocation of the concepts of property and individual rights in the name of justice for the masses.

I’m not rich, and I won’t be any time soon; I may never be. Even though I’d be the beneficiary of massive tax increases on the wealthy, I’m rather disturbed by the principles on which such policies are based. Don’t think advocates are extreme or hard to find: look to Paul Krugman, asking that we put “money in the hands of those who need it most;” look to Nobel Laureates in Economics, look to University Professors, look to politicians everywhere, look to mainstream media outlets decrying the ‘unjust distribution of wealth in America.’ In Zimbabwe, we see the horrendous, destructive reality wrought by these ideas practiced to their logical conclusion.