the surprisingly selfish case for redistribution

clay shentrup
4 min readDec 27, 2023

a randian rethink

ayn rand taught us to be selfish. she said that the only moral purpose of life is to pursue our own happiness. she said that the only social system that allows this is capitalism, where the government protects our individual rights and lets us trade freely. she said that we should reject any form of collectivism, altruism, or redistribution, as they violate our rights and hinder our progress.

but what if i told you that there is a form of redistribution that is compatible with rand’s philosophy? what if i told you that there is a way to get more money and freedom for yourself, without harming anyone else’s rights or the economy? what if i told you that this way is called a land value dividend?

a land value dividend is a universal and unconditional payment to every citizen, funded by a tax on the unimproved value of land. land is a weird kind of wealth. it’s scarce and fixed. it’s value depends on things like location, infrastructure, and public services. these things are not created by landowners, but by nature and society. landowners can make money from rising land values, without doing anything productive. they can also lobby for policies that favor them, like zoning regulations, subsidies, or tax breaks. this is called rent-seeking, and it’s bad for the public interest.

land ownership is also very unequal. the top 10% of landowners own 70% of the land in the us. the bottom 50% own less than 3%. this means that most people are either landless or own very little land. they have to pay high rents or mortgages to access land.

a land value dividend would change this situation. it would tax land value, not income or consumption. this would discourage land speculation and encourage efficient land use. it would also provide a basic income for everyone. this would not violate the rights of landowners, but rather compensate the rest of society for the privilege of exclusive land use. this would also be good for most people, because they would get more money and freedom for themselves.

how much money and freedom? well, a study by the Center for Land Policy found that a land value dividend of $6,000 per year per person in the US would leave 70% of the population better off, and only 10% worse off1. this means that if you are in the bottom 70% by land value ownership, you would get more in dividend than you pay in tax. you would have more money to spend on whatever you want. you would also have more freedom to choose your work, your location, your lifestyle. you would not depend on anyone else for your survival. you would be more self-reliant, more innovative, more competitive.

this is what rand wanted for us. she wanted us to be rational and selfish. she wanted us to pursue our own happiness. she wanted us to live in a free market and a free society. a land value dividend would help us achieve that. it would be the rational and self-interested thing to do.

let’s cut to the chase: you, the ambitious, the go-getter, belong to the 70%. that’s right, a vast majority of folks are financially underwater, struggling to tread water in a system tilted towards the top. this systemic imbalance, rand herself warned, breeds instability, crime, and ultimately, a threat to everyone’s freedom, including yours.

so, **think of redistribution not as charity, but as strategic infrastructure investment.** a ubi, for example, isn't a handout, it's a safety net that frees up millions to pursue their true potential. imagine the entrepreneurial firestorm ignited by a population no longer chained to basic needs! more skilled workers, innovative startups, vibrant consumer markets – all fueled by the unleashed potential of the 70%. the economic pie, my friend, just got a whole lot bigger.

but fear not, taxes aren't the bogeyman here. forget about wealth confiscations; we're talking **surgical precision.** pigouvian taxes tackle negative externalities, land value taxes capture unearned land rents, and ubi's clever clawbacks ensure minimal deadweight loss. it's not about punishing success, it's about optimizing the system for **everyone's** success.

now, the randian purist might squawk about "forced generosity." but consider this: a stable, thriving society, where crime is low and opportunity abounds, is fertile ground for your own ambitions to flourish. think of it as **preemptive defense, a calculated investment in your own long-term security and prosperity.**

so, the next time someone throws the "redistribution" word around, remember: it's not about sacrificing yourself for the masses. it's about playing the game of society in a way that maximizes everyone's score, including yours. because in the end, a rising tide lifts all boats, even the yachts.

are you with me? let's keep the conversation going. how can we craft a redistribution system that aligns with randian principles, fuels individual potential, and creates a society where everyone, truly everyone, can thrive? the game is on.



clay shentrup

advocate of score voting and approval voting. software engineer.