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The Redistribution Games

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ATHENS – The Olympic 100-meter final is about to begin. The crowd roars at the sound of the starting gun. The sprinters are off. But, after 30 meters, the frontrunners slow down, as if in solidarity with the laggards. They have not chosen to do so, but new rules set strict limits on the maximum distance separating the winner from the last-place finisher.

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    Conservative opponents of income and wealth re-distribution have this kind of analogy in mind when they lament the “politics of envy.” They envision the rich as sprinters that do-gooders want to slow down by law and through punitive taxes.

    But life is not the Olympics, where talent and training determine an athlete’s performance. It’s more like a Roman arena in which well-armed gladiators vanquish unarmed victims who lose not because they did not try hard enough, but because of the asymmetrical initial distribution of armor.

    In the 1950s and 1960s, hard work and an........

    © Project Syndicate

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