One of my favorite stories, when I was a kid, was the story of Robin Hood. I'm sure you know the story of the brave, charming, bow-wielding hero who would steal from the rich to give to the poor. Although we don't look quite like the feudalist world of Robin Hood, of serfs, and lords, we are seeing high levels of income and wealth inequality.
So the question arises, what should we do about it? Robin Hood provides one answer, we could take the money from the rich, and give it to people who need money. If we wanted to we could do it till everyone had exactly the same amount of money, and there would be no more wealth inequality.
But should we?
Many people would consider doing this to be stealing, and I can see their argument. The money comes from your bank account, you made it from your job, so isn't it your money? That sounds fair enough, but why is that when one person works they get paid $100,000,000 a year, and another person can get paid $10,000?
You would probably say that it comes down to what each person does for a living, and how much they work. And that is very much how we have decided to distribute money in the United States. But I'll ask again, should we? Should we distribute money and resources based on your job and how much you work? "Well of course" you might be thinking "otherwise you'd be stealing what I worked for."
As it is right now there are already exceptions to our above rule. People with disabilities, people collecting social security, etc, all get money that they didn't work for. So we as a society already agree that some distribution of money needs to be reallocated beyond just who works for it when people need. So since we have income and wealth inequality why not reallocate it to alleviate poverty?
I hear you saying "because it's stealing, even Robin Hood is known for stealing from the rich to give to the poor." But let's look at how we distribute again. We distribute the way we do because most of us agree with it, but in other areas of our lives, our ways of distributing are much more socialistic. Take dinner for example, when you were younger, chances are your parents made dinner for you, they bought the food, cooked it, and served it to you, especially when you were really little, too little to even help with the dishes, they did it all for you, just because they were your parents, and feeding you was their responsibility.
"Okay," you say, "but that's different, that was with my family, you're talking about the whole nation." Fair enough, I am talking about a much bigger scale than just a family unit. But why wouldn't we have the same obligation to help out members of our country, the same way we help out our family?
By participating in our country, just like our country, we enter into a social contract. Without society you are (in theory) free to do anything you would like, even steal, or kill, but other people can do the same to you, and so it makes sense you give up some of your freedoms (like going around stabbing people) for safety (now you won't be stabbed).
This Economist article states that if you were to perfectly redistribute wealth, every household would have $56,540, while the poverty line for a household of 8 in the Contiguous United States is $42,380. Now I am not advocating for this necessarily. But I feel it illustrates my point that when the 1% hold 38.6% of the wealth in the United States perhaps redistribution is something we should consider.
Some might respond saying "I am all for helping people in need, I donate to charity, I volunteer, but this isn't the government's job, the government is for defense, and building roads."
But that is just dependent upon the social contract we agree on. In a democracy, we all (should) get a say in this, and it's worth considering what we feel okay losing (like the chance of being a billionaire) for what we could gain (like no poverty).
I always read Robin Hood knowing that he was the hero, and if you agree, then maybe it's time we looked hard at how we want our economic system set up, and decide if we prefer the chance to be billionaires or the certainty of no poverty.