One of the key paradoxes faced by those who believe that wealth should be re-distributed to those in greater need is my coffee test.
An attempt to answer the coffee test objection appeared here:
It fails, this is why:
If you think that the unseen poor are genuinely more deserving than the cup of coffee then the answer is simple, don’t let people hide behind their ignorance, tax them.
For any ethic to be worthy of the name it needs to be universally applicable. If need has a greater moral claim on the fruits of production than the producers do, then this must apply to all those in need, not just those in need in a politically designated geographic region.
If it is right to tax people to relieve need then logically we must all be taxed to near destitution until need around the world is relieved, i.e we are all as poor as each other, but the lowest level of poverty has been raised as high as possible for everyone.
Relative inequality does impact happiness (Its called envy). I am not happy that that my football skills are not equal to those of Wayne Rooney but thats life. (I do not propose we take away some of Mr Rooneys skill by crippling him in the name of sporting justice!)
Some people are better producers than others and some people are better singers, footballers, some are better looking and have richer social lives, some are more intelligent and haver richer cultural lives.
If unhappiness caused by inequality is a morally bad thing, why only focus on wealth ?
We then move on to:
“The second point is that people use mental accounting. Whilst many economists insist that money can be used as a ubiquitous unit of measurement, that is not how people view it. A man does not weight the money he has saved for his children’s nest egg the same as his shopping budget, and similarly, he does not view the money he spends on coffee as money that he could have given to charity. In other words, money =/= money.”
This is of course quite right, it is the subjective theory of value at the heart of Austrian economics. If this were not true there would be no trade. People don’t trade £10 for an item costing £10 because they are valued the same, what would be the point!
They purchaser values the object more than he values the £10, the seller values the £10 more than he values the object. That is why the exchange takes place, it is mutually beneficial.
This is entirely my point, by trading the £2 for a Latte instead of trading the £2 for the child’s life in Africa, the purchaser has shown the order of values he prefers. He would rather trade the £2 for the coffee than the life (Because that is what he did!) therefore he must value the coffee more than the life. Which is not a problem unless it contradicts your professed values and makes you a hypocrite.
The final point is completely without substance:
“So say we considered giving as aid all the money that we now spend on the welfare state. (We’ll even assume that the aid is corruption free and is only spent on sustainable, helpful projects). We’d find ourselves with an uncomfortable question: should people in developed countries have to endure misery, high crime and whatever else so that people in developing countries do not starve (or do not starve quite as quickly)?”
Well yes questions of ethics and the just allocation of scarce economic resources are difficult!
“It’s not a question I claim to have an answer to, but neither should anybody else. The question is not one we need to ask; it is a symptom of the vacuity of the premises from which it was deducted.”
He doesn’t have an answer because he has not thought it through. The questions of fairness, social justice, taxation, etc do need to be answered because they exist and our lives are seriously linked to the answers our society imposes upon us. The only vacuity I can see is between the ears of the maker of the sentence above!
“People in poor countries need to be lifted out of poverty in line with their Western counterparts* organically.”
Hmm, the people in our country need to be lifted out of poverty by taking money via taxation from those better off, but those in poor countries should do it organically!
In what way are the category of poor people in one geographic area morally entitled to different solutions to those in another ?
“The size of the welfare state in rich countries has little relevance to those in poor countries, but is a valuable part of a well functioning society.”
If the choice is between giving the money to the relatively wealthy domestic poor, or giving it to the absolute poverty they endure then it is of huge relevance to them!
The paradox remains:
If you believe that forceful redistribution of wealth is morally justified because the marginal value of wealth to the rich is less than the marginal value of wealth to the poor then the only logical conclusion is that you should give away everything you own until you reach subsistence level.
Any proponent of welfare state redistribution using that justification who is not drinking water, walking to work and wearing second hand clothes is a hypocrite.