Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Response to a Note I Received on My Opinion Piece

I wrote an opinion piece for the local paper on "Fairness" in which I referred to the Founding Fathers. My aim was to define the term fairness and put it in context relative to some of the issues being debated in the 2012 election. I received a note from a person who used to be my financial advisor (I'll refer to him as "John") basically telling me that I misread what the Founding Fathers truly believed. Here's the note and my response.

Dear John;

Thanks for your note and the attached quotes.

I wrote in my op ed that, “The founding fathers, well-versed in history concluded that successful republics required an equitable distribution of wealth.” You pulled a number of quotes from a conservative blog to refute this. I think you’ll find that if you scroll through the comments to the blog post, there are people who take issue with the one-sided representation of the Founding Fathers’ philosophy presented in the post, and provide their own quotes to support their positions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a séance with the Founding Fathers and hear directly from them what their thinking is on the matter. Here’s what I think we’d hear; a diversity of views, an exchange of thoughts, a reasoned debate.

The founding fathers were familiar with European Aristocracy and the tyranny of the aristocratic order. They believed in a republic based on shared political power, not one ruled by a wealthy, landowning aristocratic elite. That’s why every Revolutionary state government abolished the laws of primogeniture and entail that had served to perpetuate the concentration of inherited property. Abolishing aristocratic forms of inheritance would, according to the North Carolina statute of 1784, "tend to promote that equality of property which is of the spirit and principle of a genuine republic."

John Adams, in a letter to a contemporary in 1776 wrote, “The balance of power in a society, accompanies the balance of property in land. The only possible way, then, of preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue, is to make the acquisition of land easy to every member of society; to make the division of the land into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates.”

In the 1790s, Jeffersonians, in arguing against the policies of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, made the point that the people must remain vigilant and not let elites manipulate politics, or an aristocracy of wealth would re-emerge in the young republic and eventually destroy it. No republic, the Jeffersonians argued, can tolerate inequality and survive.

Thomas Paine, resurrected by today’s Tea Party as a sort of guiding light, said, “Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came” (Agrarian Justice, 1779).

Both sides of the political spectrum like to use the Founding Fathers as their authority for the political beliefs they espouse. But times have changed. The question for us today is, how do we structure an economy that thrives in the global market, while providing for the well being of all the citizens of our country, rich and poor, alike?

With this question in mind, I leave you with these paragraphs from the Federalist Papers.

Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power, coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens, and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, John.



No comments: