I am indebted to reader Allen Brand for pointing me to these two items, from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which Allen has headed . . .
SOCIALISTS ARE AMONG US! AND HAVE BEEN FOR 234 YEARS!
As Jefferson was not big on paragraph breaks, and the modern mind (or at least mine) tends toward a shorter attention span, I’ve taken the liberty of punching it up a bit with bold face.
Seven o’clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley thro’ which runs a brook, and on each side of it a ridge of small mountains most of which are naked rock. The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. But as this is not indispensably required, and my finances do not admit the expence of a continued residence here, I propose to come occasionally to attend the king’s levees, returning again to Paris, distant 40 miles. This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest of the mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league. As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, which I began by enquiries for the path which would lead me into the mountain: and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance. She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics, not labouring. They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the 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 country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the 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 [which today might be rephrased: successful working-class families] are the most precious part of a state.
☞ Seven years later, Madison mused on the same theme:
. . . The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all. 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort. . . .
☞ It’s a balance – communism, at one extreme, is a terrible idea; unbridled capitalist plutocracy, at the other, is, too. We had the balance pretty good in the 90s. It went badly out of whack in the decade that followed – and thanks to the Republican insistence on keeping the tax rate on the plutocrats at 15% (and lowering the estate tax on billionheirs) – it will be a while before we start moving back toward what is, arguably, a better balance.
Victor Kava: “A lot of people talk as if getting back to regular federal income rates is some sort of disaster. I don’t think so. Current rates range from 10% to 35%. We have had these rates for 10 years now, along with seriously expanding debt. Before this, the income tax rates ranged from 15% to 39.6%. Unemployment was as low as 4.7%, prompting economists to write research papers to try to understand how that could happen! And the federal budget came into balance for a while, actually paying down some of the long term debt. Taxes, as grown-ups know, are the way that the government pays for what our elected representatives spend. Right now, that includes two wars. Matching the tax to the spending is probably the best way to a healthy economy. There is really no ‘increase.’ The 15% to 39.6% rates [if we allowed the ill-advised Bush tax cuts to expire] would be unchanged.”
Less Antman: “The only Kindle edition of your book Amazon offers is of the 2005 version, and I’m sure some people will be very annoyed if they purchase the six-year-old book (the Kindle version lists a publication date of July 22, 2010, which is going to confuse some people into thinking it is the current edition). You might want to mention that on your site (that the Kindle version of the 2011 book is not yet available). It gives you an excuse to mention the book again.”
☞ The book? All excuses welcome. In addition to being current, the physical version is actually cheaper anyway (just $8.30 on the Barnes & Noble site), and certainly more suitable for wrapping. (One for your dentist? Your child’s orthodontist? Your pet’s vet? The company receptionist?)
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