Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn't sustainable. :-/
Yes, but robbing Peter to pay Peter comes a lot closer, both to the truth, and to sustainability.
I'm going to read that / as a jaunty cigar.
Have you ever hard that possession is nine-tenths of the law?
There's a huge government apparatus to (generously) define the boundaries of intellectual property, so that Peter can litigate in public courts (well below the net cost of the institution) to Peter's great advantage.
Without the fiat power of government, there would be no patent and copyright systems. There would just be trade secrets. Reverse engineering would be the new Right to Bare ARMs. Defamation? Open season, subject only to your powers of economic retaliation. (Just a heads up on that one: the cost of defending turf in the drug trade is very high, and few in the business find themselves on the black side of the ledger for very long—long enough to bling trance some lusty chicks as a young adult male, before they send you off for a couple of years of daily practice in keeping a wet bar of soap on the up and up; this institution is also a great public expense, benefiting the most those who already have the most).
Peter doesn't really like to talk about how 70% of the defense of property is socialism. Not his favourite talking point, by far.
So a lot of what Peter sees as excess taxation to Paul's benefit is the chunk the government takes from Peter to fund the giant public industry of keeping Paul from aggressively spilling out of the Paul bucket.
Here's another thing. Behind every Peter, there's usually a couple of grand pappy Pauls, who managed to scrounge their way out of the Paul bucket, and not by means that the prevailing Peter ruling class wasn't trying to extirpate by stuffing their fat fingers into every feasible escape option.
Of course, Paul can invent a better mouse trap. There are at least 200 million Pauls (and Paulettes) in American right now.
It would only take circa forty million SUCCESSFUL mouse trap innovations per year, to reliably expand the Peter class to universal suffrage.
The metaphor of the invisible hand is remarkable in having no metabolism. With no metabolism, it never suffers from overwork or fatigue. It never goes "don't fucking bring me one more member of your huddled masses—and I mean it!—I'm totally fucking bagged." So we pretend that a narrow path that works for the special few (driven individuals with broad skills who can maintain a 125+ IQ on an average of five of six hours sleep, long term), that this narrow path can accommodate the entire population, side by side, arm in arm, if only they'd rise up off their lazy asses.
While I have few socialist sympathies, I certainly think the wealthy and advantaged complain too damn much about an already good thing. Peter/Paul rhetoric makes me want to puke, because every institution in society has differential Peter/Paul dynamics, and not just the tax system.
So what really anchors this Peter/Paul meme in the public discourse, despite its superficial stupidity?
Because there's a severe scarcity of noddables. The tax system is one of the few transfer payments where you get an actual receipt. All of our greedy, self-interested anger over all the ways that our value is transferred to others is focused on that tangible document of distress on tax day. We are, of course, really poor at adding up all the ways that values invisibly comes home to roost in exchange for the taxation exacted. We're neurological wired to always believe that the net transaction is hopelessly rigged.
So the tax thing is one of the few memes where every agrees to nod together: taxation sucks.
That's why the slippery Peter/Paul narrative is anchored, first and foremost, to the mechanism of tax transfer (even when this isn't explicit, it's still implicit).
And then you get a giant cluster nod of not thinking straight, which is precisely the point of the Peter/Paul rhetoric.
And the worst of it?
This narrative is not even straight-forward at the actual tax level.
Gabriel Zucman on Inequality, Growth, and Distributional National Accounts — September 2017
Gabriel Zucman: Now, we know, taxes for the bottom 50%, people don't know that but they've increased quite a lot because of payroll taxes. They've increased a lot. The overall tax system in the United States, if you compute average tax rates by income group, taking into account all taxes at all levels of government, you find that the top 1% average tax rate is a bit higher than the average macroeconomic tax rate in the United States, which is 30%. You find that the bottom 50% average tax rate is a bit below 30%. But the difference is very small. That is, you know, all together, the tax system in the United States is barely progressive. It's close to a flat tax where everybody almost pays 30% of their income. And that's a big change compared to the 1960s and 1970s where the top 1% average tax rate was significantly higher and bigger than the average tax rate; and the tax rate for the bottom 50% was significantly lower, below the average tax rate. And so, you know, it's very important to be consistent. You can't just look at transfers but forget about taxes, and vice versa.
Quick trivia question: what percentage of U.S. total tax revenue
is more or less directly returned to the economy in payouts (as opposed to burned internally on civil service overheads)?
Under current law, USDA's total outlays for 2019 are estimated at $140 billion.
Some of this goes back to consumers through food subsidies. But also a giant share of this goes back to big agri-business (just for one, they loooove their ethanol-enriched gasoline program).
Skill testing question: if a politician murmurs in public about perhaps cancelling one of these outrageous programs, the gaggle of angry lobbyists that gather outside his or her office door on day two consists mainly of: (A) concerned citizens Paul and Paula; (B) K-street apparatchuks; (C) fraternal-minded libertarians bearing myrrh and frankincense?
So, yes, there's inefficiency, but this doesn't selectively rob Peter, unless Peter wanders around thinking his just share is that portion of the pie that would exist if the obvious inefficiencies were eliminated. Deep down, Peter believes that the obvious and grotesque inefficiencies only exist to benefit Paul, so he accrues all this loss to Paul's account.
But on the other hand, without the fiat power of government behind the intellectual property system, Monsanto and that eternal sunshine mouse monopoly simply couldn't exist as we presently know them.
Who fucking invented retrospective copyright term extension laws? Retro-fucking-spective. As in: sure, our forefathers operated under the social contract of government-fiat copyright term protection, balancing the interests of both sides under clear, up-front terms, but now we wants more, again (and again).
Sure as hell wasn't Paul with his fat thumb tipping this particular social injustice scale, that's for darn certain.
In the transfer payment circle jerk, both Peter Fagin and Paul Fagin have their industrious fingers noodling deep into opposite pocketbook. Perhaps unwise, but definitely sustainable, long term. Perhaps we could clean this up with some good libertarian cleavage. Or perhaps—just perhaps—the law of unintended consequence would expedite a giant cleavage debacle.
And just who would benefit the most from cleavage upheaval? Agile scalawags with the big brains.