I briefly discussed Obama's comments on the courts and the redistribution of wealth on a morning radio show on KRSM in Osage Beach, MO (OK, I'm on the B-team) and expect to do a few more around the country in the next few days.
The response of the Obama supporters to the issue in general seems to be that there is nothing particularly revolutionary about the state redistributing income and there is a sense in which that is true. If you believe in government provided services - even the standards like roads, schools, national defense and law enforcement - and that these services should be funded by a tax - even a flat tax - based on income, wealth or property value (as opposed to user fees or a pro rata charge), then you support some redistribution of wealth.
But this is hardly the "gotcha" that it is claimed to be. And that's where the interview is instructive.
Obama notes, mostly correctly, that courts have largely (although not entirely) seen the constitution as a guarantor of negative liberties, protecting you from the government rather than requiring that the government do anything for you. They have not much addressed the redistribution of wealth or become involved in what one caller during the interview called "reparative economic work."
The interview - or at least the portions that we have heard - makes clear that Obama is not,as he put it, "optimistic" about accomplishing this work through the courts. What is not clear is whether he thinks this is because it cannot be done well in this way (he suggests that is the case), is not required by the Constitution (he talks about the Constitution as "it has been interpreted") or just as a matter of addressing the likelihood of success. At one point, he suggests that legal arguments in support of such reparative work could be made.
But what is also clear is that he believes that this work is in order. The state, if not by judicial fiat then by legislation, ought to remedy the economic injustice wrought by markets.
Here's where we start to sort people out. I certainly believe that we should give everyone an opportunity for an education and that certain public facilities and services should be provided for everyone. I even believe that there ought to be a safety net that guarantees basic subsistence and medical care for everyone. I know of few people who don't.
But, at the same time, I think that most of what passes for "reparative" economic work is counterproductive. Obama, in his interview, suggests that it was a tragedy that the civil rights movement remained "court-focused" and either because of the limitations of the Constitution, nonresponsiveness of the courts or unwieldiness of the judicial process, did not accomplish this economic reparation.
I respect and like many people who hold that view. I can see its attraction. But it's wrong and, if adopted, would represent a hard left turn from policies which, over the past 30 years, have been spectacularly successful.