Saturday, July 12, 2014

Joseph Blast: "A Founding Father Profit Sharing Fix for Inequality"

From The Daily Beast here. A taste:
In fact, while Adams drafted the new Massachusetts Constitution, some of his political colleagues considered changing the name of that state to Oceana, the fictional commonwealth of political philosopher James Harrington, where wide property ownership helped secure political liberty. Like all the Founders, Adams wanted property rights protected and he wanted everyone to be a property holder. 
Land was the main form of capital at this time, and the Founders’ preferred idea of spreading capital ownership through land was expressed in repeated far-reaching governmental actions. Washington asked Jefferson to draft a liberal approach to the sale of public lands to citizens which commenced, albeit with some complications. They moved against the institution of primogeniture, a key plank of European feudalism,...
Admittedly, I'm less well read on the Founders & economic policy than I am on the Founders & religion; but I see two strains of competing thought on the former: 1. The more individualistic "liberal" laissez faire notion that accepts applying equally a set of rules to individuals with differing talents results in vastly different outcomes, and that's okay as long as the same set of rules applies to all; and 2. The more collectivistic "republican" notion that demands some kind of redistribution or indeed, wealth based "affirmative action" to undo some of the unfairness of the history of aristocracy. Abolishing primogeniture was a first step ....

And as Eric Nelson has shown the Bible, particularly the Hebraic writings, offers more for an egalitarian redistributionist republicanism than did Greco-Roman republicanism, whose teachings eschewed economic redistribution.

As I teach my students, the dialog in Western Civilization on individualism v. collectivism traces back to the very beginning and runs the entire length. Marx didn't invent it.

Indeed, I think we forget the origins of the term "utopia." It was the Christian Thomas More who coined the term while defining the concept. In More's Utopia, both wealth and poverty were abolished, which looks something like Marx's economic "equality according to need." Marx was More stripped of his Christianity. It was Marx's atheistic dictated utopia that was novel, not his notion of economic leveling. (Atheists weren't appreciated in More's Utopia.)

(But Leo Strauss would probably see More as a secret esoteric atheist anyway.)


Tom Van Dyke said...

Nothing wrong with "profit sharing," or the government giving EVERYONE a tax break as they did in the cod fisheries bill.

But that is NOT the same as redistribution, which is an affront to property rights, property rights clearly being the Founders' ethos, not redistribution.

Thomas Jefferson:

"To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

And James Madison:

"That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest."

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think it's clear Jefferson and Madison were more classically liberal on the property rights/redistribution issue.

I'm not sure they spoke for all of the Founders.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Paine's your man, kind of a proto-commie.

I proceed to the plan for relief or distribution, which is,
To pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in place of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age; enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic. . .
To pay to every such person of the age of fifty years, and until he shall arrive at the age of sixty, the sum of six pounds per annum out of the surplus taxes, and ten pounds per annum during life after the age of sixty. . .
This support, as already remarked, is not of the nature of a charity but of a right. . .

Of course, we kinda already do that.

After all the above cases are provided for there will still be a number of families who, though not properly of the class of poor, yet find it difficult to give education to their children. Such children, in this case case, would be in a worse condition than if their parents were actually poor. A nation under a well-regulated government should permit none to remain uninstructed. It is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.
Suppose, then, four hundred thousand children to be in this condition, which is a greater number than ought to be supposed after the provisions already made, the method will be:
To allow for each of those children ten shillings a year for the expense of schooling for six years each, which will give them six months schooling each year, and half a crown a year for paper and spelling books.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Yeah that represents more the "republican" than the "liberal" view of economics.

Nelson's point is that Paine's views on redistributivist republicanism was influenced by the "hebraic" sources.

This notion that the Bible teaches this republican redistribution may be a "misreading" of the Bible. Indeed, I think the notion that the Ancient Hebrews had a "republic" at all is a misreading of the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So you want it both ways?

Heh heh. But seriously, there is a case to be made for an American communitarianism. See Barry Shain's

The Myth of American Individualism:
The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought

However, this pleases the modern secular left not very much, that the root of the communitarian impulse is Christian.