New Atheist Sam Harris has been arguing that we need government to do extensive redistribution of wealth, with the ultimate aim of reforming human nature. Government should “steer us collectively toward the best civilization possible [and] impose wisdom or compassion from the top.” The alternative, letting billionaires continue to “hoard” their wealth, is unconscionable, he says.
Fellow atheist and longtime friend Timothy Sandefur responds:
Of course, as any economist knows—or anyone who’s ever seen It’s A Wonderful Life—Warren Buffett does not now, and never has, “hoarded” his wealth. Had he done so, he would never have become wealthy. Wealth is created by wise investment, and investment is the very opposite of hoarding. It’s a form of cooperative sharing which benefits both lender and borrower. To use the word “hoard” here is not merely to indicate the most profound form of economic ignorance a human being is capable of—not understanding the phenomenon of investment—but is, again, to load one’s language with unstated, undefended, normative assumptions that appear based on an emotionalistic intuition. Not something one expects from a defender of reason.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that human nature needs reforming. I’ve even got a list of suggestions. But from all I’ve seen, I’m forced to conclude that virtually all practical schemes for the betterment of human nature, when undertaken by gods or governments, amount in the final analysis to placing one wholly unreformed individual in power over another, in one way or another. Sam Harris disappoints; while he rejects the great Nobodaddy in the sky, he’s found a substitute here on earth.