There is no reason to believe that what anyone owns was “earned”.
There is no reason? I can agree that not all wealth was earned. Certainly countless plutocrats, bureaucrats, and corporations use the state’s monopoly on force to coerce wealth from people against their will (just as it would be incorrect to view the “profits” of an average criminal as earned). But absent such force, any exchange in which all parties involved consent to is eo ipso mutually beneficial - they each value what they receive more than what they offer, otherwise they would not consent. Property merely represents the exchange of one’s past. At some point, person A gave up X amount of time for Y purpose in exchange for Z property. So Z is merely what A exchanged for X. To deny a person’s claim to Z (property) is to deny a person’s claim to use one’s time as one sees fit. And, more consequentially, such a denial - by interfering with the free and mutually beneficial nature of legitimate exchanges - keeps people from cooperating and thus benefiting one another.
Mr. Callus and I are on the same page for once. Things can get a bit tricky when a toddler learns the word “mine.” Parents get to explain that while their acquisitive nature doubtlessly promises conventional success in a capitalist world, you can’t make something yours just by grabbing off the shelf in the store and saying, “Mine.” While you do in fact possess it, that does not give you a legal or a moral claim to ownership.
"I earned this" works in about the same way.
Indeed. You are unwittingly touching upon a key caveat that invalidates your conclusions. That toddler does not own something “just by grabbing [it] off the shelf in the store and saying, “Mine.”” There must be a consensual agreement in which willing participants engage in mutually beneficial exchange. That store wants money more than the item on its shelf, and the customer would want the item more than what she gives up otherwise the exchange would not take place. The store “earned” the money by interchanging with a willing partner, and the customer “earned” the shelf-item by doing the same.
Insisting that you “earned” all the money you possess, however fleetingly, does not give you a legal or a moral claim to it. If the money is taxable, you don’t have a legal claim to it.
My possessions are not “earned” simply because I insist that I earned them. I “earned” them because at no point did I commit violence, or threaten to commit violence, to acquire them - every exchange with every trading partner was voluntary. Only governments - and criminals - make the argument that insisting something belongs to them simply makes it theirs (sometimes giving themselves permission in writing, under the illegitimate claims of democratic will). But yet, your argument is that the government can and does have a higher claim to my wealth than I do despite using the fallacious argument you denounce. In fact, the state has no moral claim to the properties of peaceful traders, and its legal claims to anyone’s property - as an intervener (that is, “one who intervenes violently in free social or market relations”) - are dubious.
And if you’re making ten times more than a guy putitng (sic) the same kind of time and energy into his job, the moral case is pretty tough too.
A person’s well-being - life, liberty, property - is not damaged because someone else has more - even someone who makes “ten times more.” Valuations are subjective. Two laborers may both invest the same amount of “time and energy” into their work, but ultimately a consumer decides whose work is more productive, beneficial, artistic, delicious, etc. I can spend my life chipping away at marble, pouring my heart and soul into the work, but I’ll never be able to create anything remotely as beautiful as Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss.
We can and do question the idea of entitlement to wealth with redistributive policy. I am uncovinced (sic) that the dubious belief that someone earned their wealth is worth the real suffering caused by vast disparities in wealth.
Suffering is not “caused by vast disparities in wealth.” To repeat above, A person’s well-being is not damaged because someone else has more. A person may suffer because he or she may be unable to afford those items he or she desires. It is not the disparity that is the problem, it is the poverty. And couching the issue in terms of covetousness obscures the true problem (poverty) as well as effective solutions. We cannot alleviate perceived injustices by committing further, and perhaps greater, injustices. It is the state that is instrumental in both creating much poverty and fostering the conditions that keep many people from overcoming their hapless circumstances.
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