The True Meaning of Redistribution

In response to Mitt Romney’s disastrous declaration to his donors that 47% of Americans are moochers who regard themselves as victims and are unworthy of voting for him, the right has uncovered a 14-year-old video of Barack Obama using the word “redistribution.”

Obama declared in 1998, “I actually believe in some redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.” Obama wasn’t talking about taking money from the rich and handing out wads of cash to the poor. Obama was simply talking about the fact that some redistribution is necessary for a society that believes in equal opportunity and progress. And Obama was factually right: if you tax the people who have money and provide general public benefits to everyone (including the poor), then you are, on average, redistributing resources from the rich to the poor.

If you believe in public colleges, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe in public libraries, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe in public schools, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe in government loans to help students afford college, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe in a minimal amount of Social Security to help the elderly in retirement avoid dire poverty, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe in public parks, then you believe in redistribution.

If you believe that the injured and disabled should not be abandoned to die in the streets, then you believe in redistribution.

Seizing upon Obama’s comments, Romney discussed “a tape that just came out today where the President is saying he likes redistribution.” Romney declared, “I disagree. I think a society based upon a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America. That will not build a strong America or help people out of poverty.” Romney called Obama’s statement about redistribution an “entirely foreign concept.” Are public schools and public colleges and public libraries, which have been around for centuries, “entirely foreign” to Americans? Are Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid “foreign” to Americans?

Obama was speaking in 1998 at Loyola University, using “redistribution” in an academic sense that red-baiters today have seized upon as evidence of a vast communist conspiracy to socialize America. We need to speak out against this kind of distortion and misinformation. But more importantly, we need to speak out in favor of the kind of redistribution Obama talked about. We need to declare that public colleges, and all of these other redistributive institutions, are essential to a fair, equal, and successful society.

I am one of the 46% who paid no federal income taxes last year. But I paid vastly more in all taxes (property taxes, state income tax, Social Security tax) as a percentage of my income than Mitt Romney did. I paid 35% of my total income in taxes, whereas Mitt paid 13.9% in 2010 for federal income taxes, and only a tiny percentage of his income for other taxes.

So I’m paying twice as much of my income in taxes as this arrogant multi-millionaire who thinks I need to take “responsibility” for my life. I received no federal aid. I’ve never gotten unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, or food stamps, but I’ve never seen anything wrong with those who do. I’m not a moocher—Romney is the moocher. Romney is the one who wants to cut taxes on the rich like him while cutting back all of these public institutions that benefit everyone and imposing massive deficits on future generations. Romney wants to destroy essential public institutions that benefit everyone so that he can pay less in taxes.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

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