Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is "Spreading the Wealth" anti-Capitalist?

In one of his recent posts, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan points out an interesting quote from Adam Smith -- the so-called "father" of capitalism. The quote comes from Smith's extremely popular and influential book, Wealth of Nations. Smith states:

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor...The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess...It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion. [my emphasis].
As everyone that follows politics knows, Barack Obama's "spreading the wealth" comment has caused conservatives to go on the attack, labeling Obama as a socialist. Keeping Adam Smith's comment above in mind, could we argue that Obama is actually MORE of a capitalist "purist" than McCain?

In a letter to Benjamin Vaughn, Benjamin Franklin pointed out his distrust of the elite having too much money and power in their hands. Using an analogy to prove his point, Franklin writes:

When by virtue of the first Laws Part of the Society accumulated Wealth and grew Powerful, they enacted others more severe, and would protect their Property at the Expence of Humanity. This was abusing their Powers, and commencing a Tyranny. If a Savage before he enter’d into Society had been told, Your Neighbour by this Means may become Owner of 100 Deer, but if your Brother, or your Son, or yourself, having no Deer of your own, and being hungry should kill one of them, an infamous Death must be the Consequence; he would probably have prefer’d his Liberty, and his common Right of killing any Deer, to all the Advantages of Society that might be propos’d to him.
So, is true capitalism that which prevents any form of redistributing wealth? Or can capitalism encourage AT LEAST some equality between the wealthy and the middle class?

4 comments:

Lori Stokes said...

I think the whole discussion (outside of American Revolution!) is off-base; "spreading the wealth" is not about capitalism, it's about democracy. In a democracy, the people are taxed by the government so that it can provide services to the public. End of story! That's how democracy spreads the wealth. It seems that since Reagan the belief is that the only way wealth is spread in our democracy is through capitalism, which offers "everyone" a chance to succeed and become wealthy. But taxation is about nothing but sharing the wealth, and democracy, and not about capitalism at all.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with Lori who seems to think that taxes and big government are the best thing since sliced bread! Let us not forget what the author of "Common Sense" - Mr. Thomas Paine said "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." Even in its best state, it's an evil. So why would you want to give more money to the government so it can grow itself and by extension grow the evil? Contrary to what Lori and Joe Biden would have us believe, increasing the tax burden on wealthy Americans so that the government can grow itself is neither fair nor 'patriotic'. And I'm not sure if Lori has ever read the constitution or not, but I have and I failed to see anything in there about how it's the governments responsibility to 'spread our wealth around' by creating unnecessary programs which almost always end up producing failed results, or becoming handouts in the end. And I'm so tired of people quoting this passage from Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" and twisting it to fit their agenda. The quote is: "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." Now read it again slowly. Notice in the passage Smith says that the rich "should contribute", not "should be made to contribute" by their government in the form of higher taxes just because they've worked harder than most everyone else to get where they are in life. I have read Wealth of Nations several times, I am absolutely convinced that if Mr. Smith were alive today, he would ardently agree with me on that. I agree with Mr. Smith that rich people should share their wealth with others, but I do not think it's our government's job t force them to. So you, Lori, and others who share your socialist views, can go on believing whatever you want to believe about your Messiah's plans to change this country, but if you consider yourself an American, you really should ask yourself: What would some of our founding fathers and Mr. Paine have to say about your ideas? I don't think they would be as starry eyed and enthusiastic about your candidate's "spread the wealth" doctrine as you are now. Just my opinion though...

Anonymous said...

His mention of "contributing to the public expense" has nothing to do with wealth re-distribution, or taking tax dollars and giving them directly to those who do not pay taxes themselves.

Washington himself spent much time after the war (and before Presidency) collecting back rent off of squatters on land he owned. The ideals of property were generally absolute with the founders, and any notion of stealing from the rich to give to the poor was totally outside the realm of the Revolutionary cause.

victor said...

i really happy for read history thanks ,,

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victor
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