Joshua Gans points to this discussion of billionaire philanthropy by Robert Shiller. Shiller’s probably my favourite economist, and he makes some nice points, but I’ll leave them for later. I want to pick up a point made by Joshua, who says
Under a voting model, those governments will take from the median voter to give to the median voter. However, the alternative [poentially implementable by, say, Bill Gates – JQ] is to take from the middle to give to the poor.
Joshua has the model right, I think, but it doesn’t really describe the actual outcome.
Taking all taxes, and opportunities for avoidance into account, tax paid is roughly proportional to income. On the other hand, when you consider cash payments (which favour the goods) and public goods (where benefits generally rise with income) the benefits of public expenditure are fairly evenly distributed. So, roughly speaking governments take from everybody above the mean income, and gives to everyone below. Because of the skewness of the income distribution, more people are below the mean income than below, so this is a politically sustainable setup.