The Brother’s Keeper Bill

October 30, 2011

Bryan Caplan on the EconLog blog writes:

Suppose someone proposed a “Brother’s Keeper Bill.” According to this BKB, people earning at least double the poverty line would be financially obliged to give 20% of their income to any sibling earning less than the poverty line.

Caplan doubts that many people would support this bill and provides several potential responses that fall into the following nine types: 1) atomic individualist, 2) libertarian, 3) moral hazard, 4) donor incentive, 5) work ethic, 6) meritocratic, 7) Puritanical, 8) evasive, and 9) debt.

You wouldn’t want to pay 20% to your brother who you know so why would you pay 20% to a total stranger? The answer is that you are not paying “a” stranger, you are entering into an agreement with a very large group of strangers. It is the same idea behind car/home insurance but applied to income.

The issue with Caplan’s argument is that it equates Responsibility-for-an-Individual with Obligations-to-a-Collective.

I think it is perfectly valid to question whether it is the role of government to provide income insurance but “The Brother’s Keeper Bill” is a sophism.

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2 Responses to “The Brother’s Keeper Bill”

  1. tomslee Says:

    The comments on his blog are almost universally supportive, but I agree with you. Although I’m surprised you disagree with Caplan.

  2. RAD Says:

    Tom, I think Caplan’s argument is slightly flawed. I think the listed objections to the BKB are bang-on but extending the logic to “strangers” is not quite right. I have not grown sympathetic to collectivist redistribution of wealth I just prefer solid arguments backing the ideals I believe in.

    Or maybe I just don’t play the group identity game very well :-)


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