A trip through time and history with stops along the way.
22 April 2012
A Message from Jefferson & Smith
“I don’t know what the Founding Fathers and President Thomas Jefferson would have thought about TV, cars, spaceships, cellphones, skyscrapers, computers or nuclear weapons. But I do know what Jefferson would have thought about the Buffett Rule. He would have liked it.
The Buffett Rule is the Obama Administration’s proposal to adopt a 30% minimum tax rate on personal income above $1 million a year. It would promote one of the central tenets of progressivism: that the burden of taxes should fall on the rich, not the poor.
In 1811, two years after Jefferson left the Presidency, Jefferson wrote a letter to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution. Jefferson said that he supported taxes (then tariffs, since there was no income tax yet) falling entirely on the wealthy. As Jefferson explained: “The farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of this country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings.”
Here is someone else who was an outspoken proponent of progressive taxation: Adam Smith, who literally “wrote the book” on capitalism. In 1776, in The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote:
“The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. 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. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything unreasonable. 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.”
(I wonder: When Adam Smith wrote about the “luxuries and vanities” of the rich, was he contemplating Mitt Romney’s elevator for Romney’s car? Or is that simply beyond contemplation?)
Two hundred years ago, when America was founded, progressive taxation was viewed as just common sense. We still have common sense, don’t we?
First, let’s see the Buffett Rule for individuals. Then the Buffett Rule for corporations. That would be progressive. And that would be progress."