All Government spending is redistribution

I was chatting with a guy I interact with via our children sharing an activity who said he wasn’t against government spending, only spending that was redistribution. It is a common sentiment, that strikes me as total nonsense. From Chapter 1, p. 6 of my book Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority:

The Redistribution Rabbit Trail

A common Conservative talking point is that they do not object to government spending, they simply object to redistribution of income via government spending. This is a nonsensical position, even if it appears to be an effective applause line at apolitical rally. Every government program redistributes income. For one to not do so would mean there is some tax that is collected and returned to citizens in the exact same proportion that the tax was collected. Medicare, Social Security, military spending, highway funding, the tax deductibility of home mortgage interest, the EITC, and every other program and tax expenditure in the tax code are redistributive. If you think home mortgage interest deduction is not redistributive, then no one should be opposed to ending this aspect of the tax code. The real debate is what type of redistribution we will have. And then deciding we will pay for it.

You could make an argument about the legitimacy of government spending in an area of course (Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution makes clear that Defense spending is constitutionally allowed, for example, but we just spent lots of time litigating details of the ACA, etc.)….but all government spending has the effect of redistributing income/wealth. Right? Is there an example in which this is not the case?

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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