Monday, September 01, 2008

Don't Forget the Dignity of Labour


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Rutland Herald, Vermont HERE:

"Workers Deserve Better"

"The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state."

Sounds like Karl Marx, doesn't it: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need? Only it's that most laissez-faire of capitalists, Adam Smith, from "The Wealth of Nations," recognizing that without the state's protection, laws and structure, capitalists could not make a profit, and so when they did, they should expect to pay the state accordingly in taxes.

Similarly, Smith expected capitalists to invest in their home countries, so its workers would be more prosperous and so able to buy more goods. But modern corporations have allegiance only to profit centers, not countries.


Comment
It’s Labour Day so, quite rightly, we get the usual spate of opinion pieces about labour. Some of these are quite extreme, which I find odd coming from the world’s richest economy with its workers having a lot less to complain about than those working for 12 hours a day in paddy fields, or for pence a day amidst squalour.

This fairly reasonable one is from Vermont – not exactly the rust belt of dark satanic mills – is about the taxation of profits.

The tone, however, is set with Adam Smith described as “that most laissez-faire of capitalists”, even though Smith never used the words ‘laissez-faire’, nor did he express views that could be construed to say that he supported such a notion; he was too critical of the behaviour of some ‘merchants and manufacturers' to give them an open season on consumers.

However, the quotation used is genuine. It is located Wealth Of Nations (WN V.ii.b.3: p 825) and is one of four ‘general maxims’ which have been ‘recommended’ to the ‘attention of all nations’, and, please note, they were not original to Adam Smith and derive from several authors in the same or similar form.

Taxing the income from distributed profits is fine in principle – as it is for most others individuals – though not for the lower half of individuals. Removing the lowest paid from taxation would be a major reform that would meet the criteria of fairness, justice, and good sense.

A ‘flat’ tax would achieve this, but no doubt would fall foul of ‘punish the rich’ populist clamour.

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