Interestingly enough, Obama was recently taking some flack from the left. The gist of the criticism is that the wealthy are enjoying breaks while social programs are being cut in the new budget. One cut that has been getting a fair amount of media attention is the program that helps folks out with heating costs (a program has been cast as more of a help for business than for the poor folks it is supposed to assist). While Obama has been pushing to end the tax cuts, there is still considerable push to keep them in place.
The problem, as some left leaning folks see it, is that it seems somehow wrong for the wealthy to keep more of their money while the recipients of social programs will be getting less. Presumably these left leaning folks believe that the wealthy should pay more so that the beneficiaries of these programs can continue to receive their government largess.
Laying aside the specific cuts (tax and social spending), this is a rather interesting matter. The folks on the left do have a reasonable point, given their value system: letting the wealthy keep more while the lest well off do with less seems to be a moral error. Naturally, other folks will see it a bit differently.
While I am sympathetic to this view, it is well worth noting that the wealthy are, in a real sense, not being given anything by being “allowed” to keep more of their money. Rather, they simply are having less taken from them. The folks who normally receive shall be getting less. While it is tempting to some to link these two in some sort of ethical bondage, it also seems reasonable to split them apart. That is, rather than simply consider whether it is just for the wealthy to keep more of their income while others receive less largess, each should be evaluated on its own. To be specific, one issue is whether or not the wealthy are entitled to retain more of their income. The second issue is whether those benefiting from the programs have a right to continue to receive support at the previous levels. To use a specific example, when folks in the media discuss the government support for winter heating, they make a point of noting that this seems to actually benefit the companies more than the the intended recipients of the support. Of course, the point seems to be that there are laws against turning peoples’ heat off in the winter, so this is still a matter that is subject to reasonable debate.
Naturally, it might turn out that these matters are, in fact, linked. After all, it could be argued that if those whose benefits will be cut actually have a right to keep them, then perhaps the wealthy would thus be obligated to hand over more of their income to fund the programs.
To use an analogy, imagine that two people are at a store. Sally has more than enough money to pay for her purchases while Sam does not. While it would be very nice of Sally to help out Sam, it does not seem that he has a right to expect her to support him with her money. Unless, perhaps, the purchases are essential for his survival and he simply cannot earn enough through his own efforts. In that case, it could be argued that Sally has an obligation to help Sam. Kant has just such an argument about helping others.
This is, of course, just another instance of the classic moral problem of what we owe to others.