Thursday, November 04, 2010

Some bad history from "The Daily Dish"

Rush Limbaugh made a minor stir this week by calling the Federal redistributive project into question:
Looked at within the prism of liberty and freedom, as our founding documents spell out, the Declaration, the Constitution, in nowhere in any of our founding documents was it ever said that people earning X would be punished for it. It was never said in our founding documents that people earning X would share a greater burden of funding the government than people who didn't.
Formally speaking, Limbaugh is correct. The founding documents of the United States make no assumption that the rich would have to accept exceptional taxation that would be spared to the poor. On the other hand, this does leave open the question of when progressive taxation emerged as a political concept. Andrew Sullivan pondered the question and came up with a bogus answer: the progressive income tax originated with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Hilariously, Sullivan even imputes sinister motives to the Conservative movement for defying Lincoln (and Adam Smith too) on tax policy:
I'm sympathetic to Limbaugh's general argument - although I believe the debt and alarming inequality should temper one's preferences in this respect in the current circumstances. But it tells you something about today's "conservatism" that it is fiercely opposed to both Abraham Lincoln and Adam Smith on taxation and Friedrich von Hayek on universal health insurance.
In a sense this is correct. The Civil War years certainly saw the first imposition of a progressive (such as it was) income tax. The real question here, which Limbaugh is implying and Sullivan is ignoring, is where the idea of greater government impositions upon the rich, in general, originated as part of the American social ethos. The real answer is that the redistributive project originated from the experience of Americans during the early years when America was primarily a slave-holding, plantation civilization.

In colonial America, the rich derived a disproportionate benefit from the social imposition of peace and order because the rich owned slaves and the poor didn't. The bulk of the population would have been required risk life, limb, and property in order to police the slave-holding system and prevent rebellions. As compensation, the rich were expected to condescend to the poor and share the benefits of slave-produced wealth. Over time, this bargain evolved into the sense that slavery was necessary in order to promote the sense of white racial solidarity that made whites feel more equal.

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