The basic premise of the redistribution of income is that money should be distributed to benefit the poorer members of society, and that the rich should be obliged to assist the poor. Thus, money should be redistributed from the rich to the poor, creating a more financially egalitarian society. Proponents of redistribution often claim that the rich exploit the poor or otherwise gain unfair benefits. Therefore, redistributive practices are justified in order to redress the balance.
This differs slightly from wealth redistribution or property redistribution, a policy which takes assets from the current owners and gives them to other individuals or groups.
Critics deride it as "theft, put to a vote".
Today, income redistribution occurs in some form in most democratic countries, most commonly through income-adjusted taxes (in which the amount of tax paid is directly connected to one's income), some of which goes to fund welfare programs to assist the poor or to all the society.
Public choice theory states that redistribution tends to benefit those with political clout to set spending priorities more than those in need, who lack real influence on government. Opponents of this theory argue that it punishes good economic activity whilst rewarding poor economic activity, resulting in an inefficient economy, and that it infringes on one's right to enjoy the fruit of one's labor and property rights. Milton Friedman famously argued that the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" turns ability into a liability and need into an asset. Critics also argue that such measures will result in a brain drain and lead to a state where the middle class have to support a large population of unemployed and working poor with an ever-increasing percentage of their income. They also believe that income redistribution creates a dependency culture and a society that is not meritocratic.
There are numerous examples of wealthy individuals and companies leaving a country (and moving their wealth) to others with a less punishing tax system. Thus an argument against redistribution is that the wealthy are far more likely to create wealth, jobs and employment and therefore taxation policy should entice them to remain.
One could also argue that the wealthy do not generally receive more or better governmental services that all share equally. For example the rich do not get preferential treatment at the public library or on the national highways. NASA does not specifically benefit the rich more than the poor, and thus should not be excessively taxed for general benefits to the population as a whole.
Individualist and libertarian ethical arguments consider "redistribution" a euphemism for theft, maintain that it infringes on one's right to enjoy the fruit of one's labor, that concepts such as "fair" and "deserve" are arbitrary excuses for plunder, and that stealing is still stealing regardless of what any group of non-owners may succeed in obtaining via government intermediary, and that consequently redistribution of legitimately obtained property cannot ever be just.
In a recent survey of 1000 economists by the Economist, over 73% did not think income redistribution merited discussion.