Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jefferson On Inequality

This is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to James Madison in 1785. It seems quite relevant to the issues confronting us today (italics added):
Another means of silently lessening inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any county, uncultivated land and unemployed poor, it is clear that the natural laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.
Jefferson’s dubious religious beliefs already put him on shaky ground with modern conservatives (he was a deist, i.e., an atheist), but this will get him kicked out of the club for good. Land distribution? A progressive income tax? If the tea partier’s ever pull off their coup, James O’ Keefe will have to be put to work airbrushing him completely out of our past.

Conservatives have successfully pimped the notion that their ideology, their policies, and their favored religious beliefs represent the genuine ideals of America, the one true faith, as if were, of the Founding Fathers: Once upon a time, there was a perfect libertarian Eden where Big Gub’mint never intruded and everyone worshipped the Christian God. But over the course of our history, this pristine paradise was gradually corrupted by the encroachment of liberal ideas until, horror upon horror, Satan himself appeared in the form Franklin Roosevelt and perverted it beyond all recognition. Since then, America has been awash with moral chaos — atheism, socialism, Planned Parenthood, homosexuality, gun control, and, apparently worst of all, entitlement spending.

This crude teleology more or less forms the basis of our current political discourse. The tea partiers certainly believe it, but so do conservative highbrows like George Will, albeit in a slightly (slightly) more sophisticated form. Democrats, to their shame, tacitly accept it as well, and that’s why conservatives always have the high ground. Liberals wound themselves before they even go into battle by accepting the basic premises of their opponents. They don’t fight with any conviction, and consequently they lose.

But here you have the author of The Declaration of Independence writing to the author of the Bill of Rights and sounding suspiciously like a progressive. Moreover, they’re discussing something that they must have considered a pressing social problem, income inequality, which the true blue ‘patriots’ on the Right don’t lose any sleep over at all. Imagine that, a bunch of idiotic, right-wing Bolsheviks are trumping Jefferson and Madison in today’s political debate. What an absurd crime.

Why doesn’t our side seize a little history back?


Steve J. said...

Thanx for the post. I found a link to the entire letter:

Anonymous said...

And yet no such idea was incorporated into the legal framework of our country by the founders. In other words jeffersons idea was rejected. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

"And yet no such idea was incorporated into the legal framework of our country by the founders."


"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;"

Anonymous said...

Pleasant Post. This post helped me in my college assignment. Thnaks Alot

Material Handling Equipments said...

Marvelous minds indeed!