Volume 6

Are Eminent Domain and Confiscation Vehicles for Wealth Redistribution? A Skeptical View

James W. Ely, Jr.

Wealth redistribution, at least rhetorically, is back in vogue in the United States. A number of scholars have called for a redistribution of economic resources. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Democratic Party candidates echoed this assault on concentrated wealth. This, of course, was not the first episode of redistributive fervor to appear over the course of American history. Sporadic complaints about wealth distribution in the United States have been a recurring feature of political life. One thinks of the Populist Movement of the 1890s and the New Deal years of the 1930s. But in fact these outbursts produced little change in wealth patterns. For example, despite talk of soak-the-rich policies, the New Deal 1935 tax law neither significantly altered the distribution of income nor broke up accumulated wealth. Whether the present clamor will result in meaningful change remains to be seen, but there is reason to be doubtful. Americans have never demonstrated a sustained national commitment to economic equality.

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