Walter Rhett

Are We Dwarfs Sitting on the Shoulders of Giants?

In Business, Media, National Affairs on November 15, 2010 at 11:48 am
Duluth, MN, 1871

Duluth, MN, 1871. Library of Congress

“No taxation without representation;” the cry of the founding fathers now stands on its head. Now the governing representatives simply proclaim, “no taxes.” The caveat in the fine print seems to be “except for the middle class.”

The thirty or so daily media commentators, none whose best sellers have produced lasting works with the embedded brilliance of our constitution, or the patina of the writings of Madison, Jefferson, Paine, loudly commit an error first observed in the Roman senate by Cicero: they put the cart before the horse. The causes they shrill for are put ahead of the problems to be solved. Even in the recent election’s Pyrrhic victory, the problems didn’t go away. We are on the verge of offering or extending tax cuts that will not reduce the debt, deficit, or growth jobs. The cuts only certify rights to protect the private wealth of the 1% of individuals who control 24.3% the nation’s net income. As others have observed, we are becoming a “kinder, gentler, banana republic.

Dillion, MT 1942
Dillion, MT 1942

But the argument against taking $700 billion (the portion of aggregate tax on incomes over $250,000) out of the Treasury for schools, roads, health care, defense, deficit reduction, and legitimate government services is not simply emotionally biased or anti-rich. It is rooted in the base of American democracy. American democracy presumed the ideas of Jean Rosseau of a social contract based on an egalitarian democracy and of Adam Smith who decreed labor to be property, and of Thomas Hobbes who argued for, “giving to every man his own.” These ideas and others shaped the early absence of an personal income tax, but brought into debate the conflicts of interest and differences of means that rest in society between the poor and the rich.

Ironically, a pioneer of American capitalism who leveraged advantages under law, sounded a warning against his interests: “As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard,” said Alexander Hamilton at the New York Ratifying Convention in 1788.

The common good doesn’t depend on giving the rich a raw deal. Their earned income is not a national trough for big government welfare. But it has been a principle of American democracy that those who have more give more. It is a historic part of the government’s “execution of its trust.” It is an old saw and staple that those who enjoy “the vanities of life,” pay more for the privilege. In America’s tax system, people pay in proportion to their means.

Southern Louisiana, 1937

Southern Louisiana, 1937

But SC’s governor-elect plans to cut business taxes (2.7% of state revenues) while adding a tax on groceries. The justification for adding a burden to poor and working class families? Cutting the former grocery tax, she asserts, “didn’t create one job.” Her tax plan adopts feudalism at its ancient best. A world where the benefits of the manor go to a glided class and the burden is carried by those who toil on their behalf.

Republicans should not be allowed a soft sale of the hard and fast principle of progressive taxes. Progressive taxes should not be framed as a civil rights issue of fairness, or a principle of equity. SC’s John C. Calhoun got it wrong in his famous “Disquisition on Government” when he breaks the contract for taxes into two antagonistic halves and ignores benefits to the whole. To the contrary, a progressive system reduces inequities and creates opportunities.

Calhoun was right in his idea that democracy can’t be done by polls; it requires a concurrent majority, groups from all spheres of interests and incomes to agree. How else can we account for or address the disparity of income and services in South Carolina, with 12.2% unemployment, producing the world’s convertible BMW’s and soon, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner? Barack’s idea of consensus or compromise doesn’t rise to the challenge, since it weighs process as being more important than results.

The Dutch flipped Cicero and got it right, “harness the horse after the wagon.” Despite the pundits and Republican shrills, or Obama’s seductions of compromise, we must maintain the fairness and historic principle, the social value and political trust of the progressive tax. It is the first step in reducing the deficit and the debt, restoring confidence and growing jobs.

Thanks for reading! /wr. Please stir the Perlo, add a comment.
Images and photographs from the Library of Congress archives; no restrictions.

Longmont, CO, 1890

Longmont, CO, 1890

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  1. Mr. Rhett, what do you mean by “The Dutch flipped Cicero and got it right, “harness the horse after the wagon.””

    • Cicero said the romans had “put the cart before the horse.” The Dutch have a old proverb that “flips” it and gets it right: harness the horse to the cart. Cicero points out the error; the Dutch remain us how to get it right. Hope that helps.

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