Intertemporal redistribution, a logical conclusion

This idea came to me while watching HBO's "Rome:" Despite being a pinnacle of ancient civilization, Rome was poor. The very few aristocratic families scraped out an existence comparable to a middle-class American (They had the bonus of having slaves but also lacked medical technology that we take for granted.) The vast majority, from the mercantile class downward, are arguably materially poorer than inhabitants of third-world countries today. If Rome existed today, without technology diffusion it would be perhaps one of the worst-off countries in the world. Slave labor is nice but it cannot get you past primitive technology and (at this point) poor governance.

What this implies is that if you're really concerned about income inequality, you should be just as concerned about temporal inequality as with inequalities in a static time frame, such as in the present-day USA. (This is forgetting about concerns about redistributing from the rich US to the global poor, which no serious politician places as a high priority). Redistribution to those poor blokes in the past is, of course, impossible. But - again, if you value equality - what we should really be worried about is improving our own lot at the expense of those lucky bastards who live in the future, where technological progress makes material goods increasingly cheap, and who will probably look at our living conditions as backward savagery.

What policies achieve this? Higher consumption, and lower investment. Spending more money today will make us better-off today. The downside is that we don't get the payoff of investment in the future - but they almost certainly won't "need" it, what with their Playstation 10,000s and flying cars. Yes, at some level, underinvestment will decrease the total welfare of humanity, but this is a tradeoff that current static-time-frame redistributionists are already willing to make to some extent. (Again, the people who lose from this policy are those well-off far-future people.)

You could argue that we already do this tradeoff to some extent, saving below the welfare-optimal amount. But I think that we naturally care about our children and descendants, more so than we care about our poor neighbors, and more so than would be welfare optimizing. Given this powerful emotion I think it's safe to say that we aren't consuming anywhere near what intertemporal redistribution would imply.

So this is basically the logical conslusion of the idea that we should forcibly redistribute from the rich to the poor, for the greatest income inequalities are between those separated by time, not space. One bonus from it is that next time you hear criticism of Americans spending too much and saving too little, you can smile and say that we're not being selfish; we're just ensuring equality!

Another consequence of this belief, by the way, is that we shouldn't do that much about global warming. People in the future will be better-off and will be better able to deal with the problems. This is in contrast to those climate-change activists today, who use literature like the Stern Report which have a positive discount rate: ie they value future welfare more highly than present-day welfare. Temporal redistribution means that we should have a highly negative discount rate.

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I always thought that this

I always thought that this was the effect (if not the motivation behind) Keynesianism - 'In the long run we are all dead' and all that.