Rob Schwarzwalder

At the end of the classic film, “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” the prison camp’s doctor surveys the scenes of death and destruction surrounding him. He sums up the imponderable moral irony of the British helping the Japanese build a bridge only to blow it up as a military necessity, and exclaims, “Madness! Madness!

Reading Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman’s piece in yesterday’s New York Timeson the benefits of coercive charity and legalized theft, AKA income redistribution, I think I now know about how “Kwai’s” doctor felt.

The very notion of redistribution implies stasis: That the economic pie is only so large and thus must be re-divided, comprehensively and repetitively, and that the central planners and revenue collectors of the central government are the wisest among us to do so.

Oh, c’mon. Economic growth is the key to increased productivity and prosperity. Economic growth is best achieved through increasing opportunity, incentivizing prudent behavior (e.g., if you want to have a child, get and stay married), sound fiscal policy, technological improvements, and strengthening families.

These things are not conservative clichés but economic facts. They can be quantified in myriad ways.

Krugman’s prescription for economic health via redistribution is premised in large part of his claim that “Almost 40 percent of American children live in poverty or near-poverty. Do you really think they have the same access to education and jobs as the children of the affluent?”

The premise of Krugman’s argument – that 40 percent of American children live in “poverty” – is so wildly overstated as to erase whatever credibility he once possessed. This number is roughly double what the Census bureau’s data suggest. The more realistic number (about 22 percent) based on the Census Bureau’s standards is itself grossly misrepresentative. As the Heritage Foundation has documented, “For most Americans, the word ‘poverty’ suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family. However, only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as ‘poor’ by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.” I have addressed this theme at length elsewhere.


Rob Schwarzwalder

Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and graduate of Western Seminary (Portland, OR).