Friday, January 17, 2014

Is My Face Red?

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

My new Verdict column was published yesterday: "The Great Inequality Debate, and the Reemergence of Distribution as a Respectable Subject of Discussion."  In the column, I argue (surprise!) that the renewed concern with inequality among Democratic politicians is a very good thing.  I also discuss how academic economists (and economistic policy analysts) played an essential role in dismissing the subject of inequality from polite discussion for the past generation.

I will offer some more thoughts along those lines in a Dorf on Law post this coming Monday.  However, I just arrived in Australia after a 36-hour travel marathon, and I need to sleep.  Even so, I cannot resist sharing part of a piece of hate mail that I received from a reader after my Verdict column was published.  It is just too fascinatingly bizarre not to share.

As I note in passing in my column, one of the increasingly common moves on the right in the U.S. is to red-bait anyone who argues in favor of income redistribution.  At this point, simply being in favor of a progressive tax system makes one a card-carrying member of the Communist party, it seems.  Not everyone on the right does this, of course, but it is depressingly common.

I have certainly been red-baited before, and when that happens, I take it as a sign of the critic's desperation.  The email in question, however, sets a new standard, going far beyond merely suggesting that I am a secret collectivist.  I will spare my readers the bizarre lead-in, because it is simply incoherent.  But the writer's punch line is that "history has amply demonstrated" that arguments like mine have been
... the foundation of atrocities from slavery to the Killing Fields to the Inquisition to the Holocaust.  And your notion of distributed justice rests on nothing different or better than the notions productive of those injustices. Your only retort can be, “perhaps – but my intentions are better”. That may be, but your intentions are no guarantee of less atrocious outcome."
I love this job.