With a $1.5T deficit in the news and the GOP sweeping into power promising spending cuts, I’m seeing a return of the left’s hallowed 1990s standby: how dare we think of “balancing the budget on the back of the poor.”

It would be nice if we could give everyone all the things they want or deserve on the basis of whether they are good, hardworking people rather than the value of their contributions as measured by the willingness of other people to recompense them for their efforts in voluntary exchanges — especially if we could do so without seizing the production of other, more productive people. Unfortunately, we can’t, and when we do seize the production of more productive people for the sake of the less productive (again, as measured by voluntary exchange), that tends to lead to people being less motivated to produce value (which is hard work, often the hardest part of which is determining what skills are valuable and obtaining them) and the effort to “fairly” distribute the fruits of production often leads to a general loss of freedom with often horrific consequences, such as the 50M who died in the Great Leap Forward. The question of whether we can do away with the marginal propensity to produce was sufficiently answered in the 20th century for anyone not living in North Korea — even Cuba is now abandoning the notion.

Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t feed the less productive — I have yet to hear anyone suggest cutting food stamps — and help house , clothe, and provide medical care for them. It does mean we cannot promise them the ability to consume an arbitary amount of goods and services paid for by other people — the more gov’t seizes from those whose production is highly valued by society, the less incentive to produce.

It’s all very well to moralize about the “most vulnerable,” but remember even at 1998 levels of spending they still enjoy a standard of living almost unimaginably luxurious for the whole of human history — again, paid for by other people. If you’re going to suck the blood out of the productive for the sake of the unproductive today, you’d better be sure your sanguinary enterprise leaves the victims healthy enough not just to do it again tomorrow but also still able and willing to keep their shoulders thrusting against that grinding wheel of growing prosperity for all.