Monday, August 12, 2013

Income Redistribution & the Agrarian Law

And to conclude my riff on how the civil republican ideological sources influences the vision of today's politics, here is this post by Daniel Clinkman, "a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh writing a dissertation on the issue of feudal law and constitutionalism during the American Revolution." A taste:
... Throughout the history of western republicanism, from the Gracchi brothers of Rome, through Machiavelli, James Harrington, and Thomas Jefferson, theorists have agreed that unlimited wealth is distorting to politics and proposed an “agrarian law” to reduce the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the pre-industrial age, land was a far more important component of wealth than was liquid capital, and proponents of agrarian laws sought to break up large estates while distributing lands to commoners. The most radical agrarian law, proposed by Harrington in his Commonwealth of Oceana, would have broken up large estates by capping all inheritances at the value of £2,000. Harrington estimated the aggregate value of English estates at £10 million, meaning that wealth could theoretically never be concentrated in the hands of fewer than five thousand equal land holders, and in practice would be even more widely distributed through the functioning of the actual economy. 
Agrarian laws were intended for an agricultural society; capital redistribution through progressive income taxation and estate “death” taxes are their modern equivalent. Therefore, it makes sense that a republic practicing both democracy and capitalism would redistribute wealth. There is nothing un-American or threatening to the established order in a tactically redistributionist regime that does not dissent from the underlying logic of private property. Indeed, redistribution has typically been proposed as a means of ensuring the stability of the existing political and economic regime, not undermining or overthrowing it.
I choose this post because as per Eric Nelson's thesis, the significance of the "Agrarian" laws (now a relic of the past) to today's day in age is the principle that it is valid for government, in democratic capitalist regimes, to use its coercive power to redistribute wealth for "balance." This is what governments in Western liberal democracies, including the United States currently do. It's a modern thing. Dr. Nelson argues the Hebrew Republic is responsible for this particular facet of modernity.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Therefore, it makes sense that a republic practicing both democracy and capitalism would redistribute wealth.

No, it doesn't make any sense that someone would work their ass off and take great risks with whatever money they have just to have some "redistributionist" regime confiscate it from them.

This is what happens when history majors try to do economics. Or social psychology. Bloody morons.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And as a point of order, distributism [agrarian or otherwise] is NOT synonymous with the welfare state.

The dynamic of the former is that the political system creates an equality of opportunity--in a farming economy, land = wealth.

But not so in other economies, not just industrial economies but mercantile/trade types as well. Agrarian reform was already becoming obsolete in Founding-era America, both because of its mixed economy and because--unlike England--there was still a continent full of land to grab and farm.

[Historically, England has been a jumble of land law restrictions.

In America, the triumph of capitalism over mere agrarianism is that everything is for sale at the right price--the great equalizer.]

Naum said...

Yes, unlike Great Britain, in the U.S., there was land to expand to (omitting of course, the pushing off and/or genocide carried out against native populations), thus serving as an inequality buffer of sorts.

@Tom Van Dyke -- "confiscate" is an enormous and ridiculous caricature, given that most of the *wealth* created, historically, in this God's greatest nation was upon the backs of indentured servants, slaves and then oppressed immigrants. And the empirical economic historical record is quite clear on the matter -- that such "redistribution" policies fueled an unprecedented economic growth that created a ubiquitous middle class (Progressive era, then New Deal up to Age of Reagan) that was never the norm in previous ages.

By extending opportunity and enlarging the pool of potential future creators and innovators, by lifting the populace to higher level, etc.…

Tom Van Dyke said...


I'll stick with "confiscate."

Naum said...

@Tom Van Dyke wrote: I'll stick with "confiscate."

Yes, because that is the sordid state of conservatism in this age, lapsing into a greed goblin gluttony of materialistic whore mongering, sans a shred of concern for fellow brother and sister in Christ (or future sister and brother in Christ), boldly waving the banner of selfishiness orgy-lust of Nietzschean Ayn Rand polemic burping out "keep your hands off my stack". Now staunch defenders of the worst of oligarchy and plutocracy…

Tom Van Dyke said...

Regurgitating the left-wing blather you wasted your parent's tuition money on. You're not even talking about the subject. Take it somewhere else.

Naum said...

@Tom Van Dyke, /sorry but I am indeed "on subject" -- and your casting of *confiscate* for measures that address inequality, disseminate opportunity for all, advance of enlightenment, etc. indeed reveals the now sordid state of conservatism. Russell Kirk and Barry Goldwater spinning in their grave could supply electricity for entire western United States.

Cast labels you may (it is the main argument for today's neoconservative :)) -- but unlike you, I carry no ideological banner -- yes, I like what a lot of the left has to offer, but I also believe in some of the conservative tradition as well as even bits from liberal and libertarian threads. But it's a crazy 21st century world, where the liberals are the new conservatives (seeking to uphold/maintain 20th century forged social structures) and the conservatives have transformed into zealous extremist regressive zombies, yelping and yelling for a return to pre-19th century arrangements and holding out the Gilded Age as a proper economic societal model.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, you're not on subject, dude. distributism. Not even close. You don't even know what it is.

"Neo-conservatives"? Your bogeyman? They didn't even exist in the Founding. Stop your excrement. Your parent wasted their money on your so-called "education."

the lesson to the younger reader is--never let education get in the way of your learning. Forget everything you think you know and start over from scratch. That's what this blog is about. If you have anything to say, you'll say it. Otherwise kindly piss off.

Howard Zinn was an ideological piece of shit whose crimes against history were not only covered up by the leftists in academia, but his poison was spread to an entire generation. Now we have this whole generation of "educated" people who hate their country and half their own countrymen.

Suckers. You either spent your mother's money unwisely on tuition or are in hock up to your ears for student loans that taught you next to nothing.

Worse than nothing. They poisoned you. It's already too late for your generation, man, you 30-40 year-old losers. All we can do now is stop you from poisoning the next generation.

Naum said...

@Tom Van Dyke, first, yes, I am acquainted with distributism (which may not apply here, given it more a Catholic social teaching, than what is portrayed here)… …but *neo-conservative* is indeed on target given your muddle headedness in affixing *confiscate* for measures that address inequality, disseminate opportunity, advance enlightenment, etc.… which was the spirit of the OP.

@Tom Van Dyke wrote: Howard Zinn was an ideological piece of shit….

I think you want to put this in another thread here but I must say -- wow, impressive argument from a chickenhawk neocon regarding a decorated war hero, PhD historian and one who was on the front lines of the civil rights battles while those of your ilk were proclaiming how those colored folk ought not to be making such waves! Isn't there a welfare mother you want to go spit on.

Yes, truth tellers are always hated, disdained and persecuted -- while sycophantic fable upholders and defenders of the state cherished, despite the white-washing, equivocations, deceit and omission of the unsavory.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Much of the criticism of Zinn has come from dissenters on the left. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once remarked that "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian." Last year, the liberal historian Sean Wilentz referred to the "balefully influential works of Howard Zinn." Reviewing A People's History in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced "the deranged quality of his fairy tale, in which the incidents are made to fit the legend, no matter how intractable the evidence of American history." Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn's most famous work "bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions."

Just how poor is Zinn's history? After hearing of his death, I opened one of his books to a random page (Failure to Quit, p. 118) and was informed that there was "no evidence" that Muammar Qaddafi's Libya was behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin. Whatever one thinks of the Reagan administration's response, it is flat wrong, bordering on dishonest, to argue that the plot wasn't masterminded in Tripoli. Nor is it correct to write that the American government, which funded the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s, "train[ed] Osama bin Laden," a myth conclusively debunked by Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars.

Of Cuba, the reader of A People's History is told that upon taking power, "Castro moved to set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants." Castro's vast network of gulags and the spasm of "revolutionary justice" that sent thousands to prison or the executioners wall is left unmentioned. This is unsurprising, I suppose, when one considers that Zinn recently told an interviewer "you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism....Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre."

Naum said...

Have read a number of Kazin's books along with his criticism of Zinn -- his jabs sound like sour grapes over Zinn's vast popularity compared to his toiling in obscurity. Again, no substance.

Schlesinger, the famous "liberal" state historian who idolized the Kennedys -- have read a number of his works (including *Age of Jackson* where Schlesinger omits the "Trail of Tears," the deadly forced march of "the five civilized tribes" westward from Georgia and Alabama across the Mississippi, leaving 4,000 dead) and discern that if the same comb he applies to Zinn is applied to his words, he's just as guilty.

On Libya, at the time of publishing (of Zinn's book which you quote from article author) was pre-Libya agreement to pay and the jury was out whether it was Libya state planned crime. On Osama bin Laden & Al Qaida & CIA, um, Steve Coll is not God or absolute gospel truth on the matter and there are a number of voices, possessing greater credentials than his, that assert the opposite of his "debunking".

On Cuba, valid criticism -- but that is not an *error* - it is omission, just like Schlesinger Pulitzer Prize work.

Zinn served a stellar example of how genuine intellectual thought is always subversive. It always challenges prevailing assumptions as well as political and economic structures. It is based on a fierce moral autonomy and personal courage and it is uniformly branded by the power elite as “political.” Zinn was a threat to TPTB not because he was a violent revolutionary or a communist but because he was fearless and told the truth.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Substantive at least. OK. Of course there's more. All you can eat.

There is also no mention of the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot, though in a misleading digression into the so-called Mayaguez Incident, Zinn mentions that "a revolutionary regime had just taken power" in Cambodia and treated its American prisoners rather well. And it is untrue, as Zinn claims, that President Gerald Ford knew Cambodia had released its American captives in 1975 but still allowed a small Marine invasion simply to show American muscle after the Vietnam humiliation.

A People's History is full of praise for supposedly forgotten truth-tellers like "Dalton Trumbo and Pete Seeger, and W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson," all apologists for Stalinism. (Both Du Bois and Robeson were awarded the Stalin/Lenin Peace Prize by the Kremlin, and both enthusiastically accepted.) There is no accounting of communism's crimes, though plenty of lamentations that, after the Second World War, "young and old were taught that anti-Communism was heroic." Indeed, in the comic book version of A People's History, Zinn writes that the Cold War "would last for over 40 years" but "to keep it going required political and social repression on both sides" (emphasis in original).

Despite conclusive evidence from Russian archives, Zinn suggests the atom spies Morton Sobel and Julius Rosenberg were railroaded with "weak" evidence and their subsequent trials were simply to show "what lay at the end of the line for those the government decided were traitors." When Sobel confessed his espionage to the The New York Times earlier this year, Zinn told a reporter, "To me it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not."

Exactly. I'm all for "academic freedom" even for anti-American liars, but Zinn's text should not be used in our K-12 schools. That's academic malpractice.

Bill Fortenberry said...

I'm reading through Adams' Defence of the Constitutions of the US again, and I came across a statement which shows that the agrarian balance was achieved in America through the principle of private property.

The agrarian is divided among the common people in every state, in such a manner, that nineteen twentieths of the property would be in the hands of the commons, let them appoint whom they could for chief magistrate and senators. The sovereignty then, in fact, as well as morality, must reside in the whole body of the people