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Re: [smygo] The Redisttribution of wealth is a right wing myth!

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  • Andy Robinson
    Actually the term redistribution of wealth is quite widely used in Britain and Europe as a term for social-democratic economic policies funded from
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 30, 2010
      Actually the term "redistribution of wealth" is quite widely used in Britain
      and Europe as a term for social-democratic economic policies funded from
      progressively graduated income (and sometimes property) taxes. It's
      associated specifically with Keynesian (social democratic, NOT communist)
      economic strategies, which argue that distributions of wealth provided by
      capitalism are inefficient/unproductive (?) as well as unjust in giving too
      much money to the rich - it creates demand-side shortages (people spend too
      little money to sustain production) which can be rectified by giving some of
      the money to people who will spend it. In this context it means
      'progressive' redistribution, from rich to poor (see for instance Martha
      Nussbaum, http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=296 and various papers on social
      democracy, e.g.
      The term has also been used in less sympathetic analyses of the old eastern
      bloc, such as by Szelenyi; the claim made is that inequality in these
      societies was a product of unequal redistributive power rather than market
      accumulation. There is also a concept of "regressive" redistribution which
      appeared in the 1980s, i.e., the likes of Thatcher and Reagan are accused of
      actually redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich (not simply
      restoring a prior distribution). In the subsistence perspective, it is
      alleged that accumulations of wealth by the more visible strata are actually
      redistributions from lower levels of 'production' in the system - from
      nature, women, colonies, or workers. For instance, something like a large
      dam development project redistributes wealth (or welfare?) from poor people
      who rely on the land which is dispossessed to elites and the state, which
      benefit from electricity generation (see M. Braun, 'Large Dams as
      Development'). 'Accumulation-by-dispossession' is almost by definition
      redistribution from poor to rich.

      The term is useful in that it shows that state policies (and other
      interventions, e.g. autoreduction by social movements) do in fact alter
      distributions to the benefit of certain groups. The problem with the term
      is that it implies that there is a first, neutral layer of distribution into
      which the state then intervenes (in this sense, Steve is right that it's
      better to refer to 'distribution', though this leaves no term for changing
      distributions). It needs to be recognised that distributions are never
      neutral, that the state is already deeply involved in capital accumulation
      even on a libertarian model, that capitalism is always dependent on external
      social forms (Spivak's "expanded form of value"), and that superprofits
      usually come from a 'non-market nexus' created by monopolies (whether
      state-enforced or otherwise) - for instance, imperialism,
      accumulation-by-dispossession, rent-extraction on geographical sites or on
      technological advantage, etc. Also, Steve's right that there is a world of
      difference between (re)distributing wealth within a capitalist economy, and
      abolishing or overthrowing capitalism. Redistribution takes the supposed
      benefits of capitalism, particularly its profits, takes the capitalist cake
      so to speak, and slices it up differently, giving more to some groups than
      others, while allowing the system to persist - indeed, in the case of
      social-democracy, actively maintaining and seeking to strengthen it. The
      relevant text of Marx here would be 'Critique of the Gotha Programme', aimed
      squarely at social-democrats. Any radical economic transformation,
      'communist', 'anarchist' or otherwise, gets rid of the forces which bake the
      capitalist cake to begin with, and sets about making a whole different cake
      (if there are 'resources' in the new cake, there will be questions of
      distribution of 'resources', but they will be rather different - one can
      look at ideas like 'gift economy' (Mauss) and 'moral economy' (EP Thompson /
      James Scott) to get a sense of how distributive politics 'works' without a
      state. (Whether the authoritarian-socialist regimes simply redivided the
      capitalist cake or created a different cake is a matter of some

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