American behavior

A lot of people have no sense of American history. They have no clue about what Americans should be standing for.  American behavior in the past (1900s or so) was about limiting the influence and power of the wealthy. (Oh, I really don’t understand folks who sit down and write these nasty-grams. What do they hope to accomplish? Do they think that we are going to change our behavior based on their letter? Be serious!)

From Krugman:

I get mail:

Paul you are a subhuman communist traitor who should be deported. You are a disgrace to america’s founders and an affront to the Constitution. Republicans believe in protecting the money of WORKERS not RECEIVERS. All workers, poor and rich, should be protected from high taxes equally.

Well, I get at least one of these each day. But it’s kind of interesting to read this right after reviewing Piketty, because one point Piketty makes is that the modern notion that redistribution and “penalizing success” is un- and anti-American is completely at odds with our country’s actual history. One subsection in Piketty’s book is titled “Confiscatory Taxation of Excess Incomes: An American Invention”; he shows that America actually pioneered very high taxes on the rich:

When we look at the history of progressive taxation in the twentieth century, it is striking to see how far out in front Britain and the United States were, especially the latter, which invented the confiscatory tax on “excessive” incomes and fortunes.

Why was this the case? Piketty points to the American egalitarian ideal, which went along with fear of creating a hereditary aristocracy. High taxes, especially on estates, were motivated in part by “fear of coming to resemble Old Europe.” Among those who called for high estate taxation on social and political grounds was the great economist Irving Fisher.

Just to reemphasize the point: during the Progressive Era, it was commonplace and widely accepted to support high taxes on the rich specifically in order to keep the rich from getting richer — a position that few people in politics today would dare espouse.

And as my correspondent so vividly illustrates, many people nowadays imagine that redistribution and high taxes on the rich are antithetical to American ideals, indeed practically communism. They have no idea (and wouldn’t believe) that redistribution is in reality as American as apple pie.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

Books

A Letter to America

The Thirteeneth Juror

Where is The Outrage Topics
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