Thursday, October 23, 2008

Speak Softly About Big Ideas

Andrew Sullivan (‘The Daily Dish’) writes in The Atlantic, 22 Oct, HERE:

Adam Smith On Spreading The Wealth”

“The intellectual father of market capitalism:

‘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.’

Notice how he puts it: "not very unreasonable."

In my view, still lamentable. But also not a rigid rule, since real conservatives do not believe in rigid rules. My view - again - is that the obvious problems of the US economy right now are not the same as they were in the 1970s. I would prefer a candidate who would cut entitlements and defense to a candidate who raised taxes on the successful

They are not the same as they were in the 1770s either.

Taxation in Britain at the time that Adam Smith was writing and editing Wealth Of Nations did not include income taxes (that came later in 1798 - Smith died in 1790), and import taxes, tariffs and excise duties contributed a major source of government revenue.

In the item quoted by Andrew Sullivan (incidentally from WN V.ii.e.6: p 842; ‘Taxes on the rent of homes’) Smith was addressing readers, among whom were legislators and those who influenced them, who were likely to have to pay an increase in rent taxes.

Persuading any group of tax payers (or non-taxpayers) of the merits of a particular tax payment is hard at the best of times and as Adam Smith was neither a campaigning politician, nor a man of system, ‘wise in his own conceit’ (Moral Sentiments, pp 233-4), he states his proposition in modest language with a view to appealing to the widest constituency, for which the tone “It is not very unreasonable” is the appropriate language.

If Andrew Sullivan were to use similar language when he tries to persuade people with whom he deals, I dare say he might find himself reaching many more willing readers (or investors) than, perhaps, he manages today with a blunter tone of voice.



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