That's not the extreme of the Utilitarian argument, because total equality would not be utility-maximizing. As you say, redistribution discourages production. Hence, the utility-maximizing tax policy is to redistribute income from rich to poor, but only up to a point. That point is reached when the utility gain for the poor is offset by the utility loss for the rich plus the productivity loss for everyone. In practice, we turn out to reach it well before we get to full equality, but well after we move from flat taxes to progressive taxes. That's what it means to take the utility-maximizing argument to the extreme; I don't see why we shouldn't take it there.
I agree with you. I was using an inordinately superficial operating definition for utilitarianism to the point of mischaracterizing it. Having though about utilitarianism a bit more this weekend I think it taught me something (for which I thank you) and I would like to posit my position a bit differently:
What I'd like to express is that what I'd most like to maximize is happiness (and thusly minimize suffering) and I wonder if there is a point at which economic productivity might be maximized while not maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering. Whether there is a gap between ideal economic utility and ideal happiness and whether you feel that abridging one's property rights carries a greater cost than the pure economic cost. I suspect you do, as you said that it would depend to you what the utility of the boat house is to the owner, and I'd like to clarify if you consider things such as sentimental value or purely economic value.
I guess I might be asking if you are a utilitarian economist or a utilitarian ethicist, while suspecting the latter. Or maybe more appropriate is that I'm asking you what your core values for utilitarianism are. I am finding that my "maximizing happiness" criterion is perhaps too simplistic because I am not willing to compromise individualism to collectivism too much (perhaps because of how deeply I cherish being able to be individualistic).
It depends on the utility of the boat house to the family, on the utility of the boat house to the millionaire, and the utility to both of the social contract they're living under.
I think the last line is the main qualifier for what I'm asking. Maybe this is a good question: if there were a society that had a social contract wherein any property that is not being utilized maximally can be used by those who can demonstrably show they are better able to use it.
Does that run into your libertarian streak at all? It positively rubs mine the wrong way.
If you want a categorical yes-or-no answer, I can't give it to you. That said, I do approve of the homesteading ethic, under which 19th-century small farmers in America sometimes appropriated idle land that had belonged to large private estates. And I generally approve of the "squatters" who call for homesteading-like rules of land ownership in today's Brazil.
I am not as familiar with the Brazilian "Sem Terra" movement as you might be, but my superficial impression of it is that they don't extract a lot of utility themselves. At least most of the coverage I have seen of them seemed more like nomadic protesting.
I do believe in other kinds of property redistribution.
I was very unclear, what I meant was if there is any kind of property redistribution other than the most obvious ones (such as violent robbery) that you disapprove of I would love to know what basis you do that on. Would you approve, for example, of a society in which someone who demonstrates a greater ability to utilize my watch would be able to successfully prosecute a claim for it, for example?
I don't, and suspect you might not be too keen on it and would like to know if you are able to articulate a better reason why than I am able to.