All Taxes Affect Creativity
It is my contention that the axioms are valid regardless of the degree
of the taxation. The power to tax involves the power to destroy whether the degree is some fraction of one per cent or 100
per cent. It is possible to demonstrate this by marginal theory. The marginal theory as it applies to degree of taxation can
be stated this way: Any level of taxation will make some undertakings unprofitable or submarginal. In practice, any
increase in taxes will drive some people out of business, prevent them from going into business, or make it difficult or impossible
for them to sustain themselves by whatever they are doing. The point is of such crucial importance that it should be fleshed
out with some details.
This principle of marginality applies to anyone who attempts to produce,
provide, purvey, sell, or transport any good or service; it applies to farmers, manufacturers, storekeepers, teachers, artists,
industrial workers, or whoever, but the effects may be most clearly seen in business enterprise. The power to preserve what
has been created is essential to all constructive human undertakings. Taxation impinges on that power and at the margins always
is threatening and destroying undertakings. What happens to business enterprises dramatizes the general principle.
In the first place, taxation affects when and whether a business enterprise
is begun. To go into business requires a greater or lesser amount of capital, depending on its size and requirements. To gather
the capital, savings must be accumulated. Probably the form of taxation with the most devastating effects on saving is inflation.
Government, by increasing money supply, reduces the value of money being accumulated as savings. Indeed, the propensity to
save is discouraged by inflation, and the propensity to spend is encouraged.
The progressive income tax is another deterrent to capital accumulation.
The tax is often talked about as if it were devised to take from the "haves" It should be better understood, however, as taking
from those who are "getting," or trying to accumulate savings. A graduated income tax does not, per se, tax wealth
that has been accumulated in earlier times; rather, it taxes current income. It bears particularly hard on potential new enterprisers.
Capital Formation Inhibited
Social Security payments greatly inhibit capital accumulation. Individuals
are forced to pay into the "fund," yet all that is paid into it is, in effect, forfeit. It cannot be drawn out for investment.
It cannot be used as security for loans. No creative use may be made of all the money that goes into Social Security. Whether
it will be available in old age may be questionable, but that it is generally unavailable at any other age is beyond doubt.
Even so, anyone who has managed to accumulate or borrow or persuade
others to invest enough to go into business has just begun his difficulties with taxation. The man who enters business discovers
all too soon, if he did not know it already, that he has a Senior Partner — government. More precisely, he has a committee
of Senior Partners, composed of Federal, state, county, and, depending upon the locale, township and municipal authorities.
Once he opens his doors, these Partners join the firm, so to speak, expecting him to perform special services for which they
do not pay, having the first go at any profits that he makes, and besetting him with various costly requirements.
In the first place, the Senior Partners require the businessman to be
a tax collector. Though he has not been a candidate for the position, though it may be alien to his nature to do such things,
though the citizenry have not elected him to the post, a tax collector he is most apt to be. If he is a storekeeper or otherwise
sells to consumers, there are a variety of taxes he is supposed to collect. Both the state and local governments may impose
sales taxes which he has to collect. The Federal government imposes excise taxes which he has to collect on certain items.
If hp employs other people, he has to deduct income taxes from their paycheck. Under most conditions, he must collect the
Social Security tax by way of payroll deductions. Some areas have employment taxes which he may have to collect.
In addition to the taxes which he collects from others, the businessman
has taxes to pay on his own account. He must pay the fees connected with whatever licenses are required. He has to pay income
taxes, if he has sufficient income, to the Federal government, and, perhaps, to other governmental divisions. Merchandise
of all sorts carries with it an array of hidden taxes. If the governmentally prescribed minimum wage is in fact above what
the market wage would be, the difference between the two is a tax.
The recordkeeping that must be done in order to account for all taxes
which he collects and provides the basis for his own payment of taxes amounts to a tax also. Records must be kept of all taxes
collected, of the gross and net income of the firm, of all expenses of operation, of goods in stock and of equipment purchased,
sold, and discarded.
Occasionally newspapers carry stories of the failure of some company.
Usually, it is some large corporation, such as the Penn Central Railroad. Most business failures, however, are noted only
in local papers, if at all, and many of them go unremarked. A study a few years ago found that approximately one-third of
all new businesses do not last a year, and about half of those that do are unable to make it through the second year.
There is no way of knowing how many of these failures are directly attributable
to taxation. Some of them would no doubt have failed had there been no taxes to pay, none to collect, and no records to keep.
But it is safe to say that taxes were a contributing factor in every failure and a determinative one in many, for taxation
adds to the cost of doing business.
That the power to tax is the power to destroy can actually be viewed,
then. All that is necessary to do so is to drive down almost any road. The empty stores, the abandoned filling stations, the
factory no longer in operation, the rusting rails on the spur from the main track, the fading signs on the premises, are mute
evidence of the destructiveness of taxation. They are the relics of someone’s dream and hope. But these visible remains
do not tell the whole story of the destruction wrought by taxation. That would have to include all those undertakings that
might have been, but were not, were not because inflation and progressive taxation prevented the necessary amount of saving,
were not because the cost of the undertaking was made prohibitive at the outset by the necessary recordkeeping, were not because
failure in one undertaking forestalled expansion into other fields.
The power to tax, then, is the power to destroy. It is not just the
power to destroy if states may tax the Federal government. It is not just the power to destroy if the Federal government may
tax the states. It is not just the power to destroy if the degree is great and abusive. It is destructive wherever it falls
and in whatever degree the levy may be.
The courts have never seen fit to extend to the rest of us the protection
from this destruction that they have given to the Federal government. It is unlikely that they ever will. Nor is it in the
least probable that any other means will ever be used to give us absolute protection from the destructiveness of taxation.
As already indicated, the case for taxation is strong and probably conclusive. And, if there is taxation, it will have the
effect of destroying some marginal undertakings. There is no way around it, if the reasoning and evidence adduced thus far
are correct. What application, then, can be made of the principle that the power to tax is the power to destroy?
We can no more deduce the proper course of action from the axiom that
the power to tax is the power to destroy than could Chief Justice Marshall in the case before him. The axiom is valid, but
it provides no specific guidelines as to what course to follow. To find this, it is necessary to turn to the purpose of taxation.
In turn, the purpose of taxation depends upon the purpose of government. The purpose of government is to keep the peace. The
mode by which government properly does this is to use whatever force may be required to restrain and inhibit disturbers of
the peace and effect just settlements among disputants who cannot otherwise reconcile their differences. The purpose of taxation
is to raise the money necessary to achieve the ends of government.
The Need for Government
The maintaining of the peace by government is necessary to constructive
creative efforts and preserving what is thereby produced. In short, government provides a necessary service by its efforts
at maintaining the peace. The cost of that service is a proper charge against those producing and providing goods and services.
They are the prime beneficiaries of it and may be expected to bear most or all of the cost. If a business cannot survive its
proportionate share of the cost of this protection, it might be better thought of as a victim of its own ineffectiveness rather
than of taxation. The power to tax is not only the power to destroy, then, but also a corollary of the power of government
to preserve by protecting life, liberty, and property.
Nonetheless, the power to tax is an awesome power to destroy. Like fire
and water, when it is tamed, confined, and limited, it serves a useful and beneficent purpose. But uncontrolled and unlimited
taxation is like a wildfire or rampaging river out of its banks, destroying whatever
is in its path. Chief Justice Marshall noted in his decision in McCulloch u Maryland
that taxation by the Federal government was limited by the uniformity requirement.
So it was, until the 16th Amendment was adopted in 1913. This Amendment removed the most important of the restraints imposed
by the Constitution, or so it has been interpreted by the courts. Almost simultaneously, Congress set up the Federal Reserve
System and has given it increasing power over the money supply. The destructive power of taxation was let loose, and when
it is combined with the taxing power of all other government units it makes it increasingly difficult to create or to preserve
a worthwhile portion of what has been created.
Two kinds of taxation are so potentially destructive and unjust that
they should be absolutely prohibited. One of these is taxation by way of inflation, i.e., by increasing the money supply.
The power to tax by inflating is the power to destroy the value of the money. Nor is it a potential power only; every increase
of the money supply by monetizing the debt—the prevailing mode of inflation—destroys the value of money in existence
to some degree. Inflation is an unjust tax. It penalizes savers and creditors, for the value of the new money is subtracted
from the value of money
in hand or loaned out. Moreover, taxation by inflation is unreasonable,
for both saving and lending are legal, honorable, and sanctioned as good by the highest authorities. No sound reason can be
adduced for penalizing them.
The second kind of taxation that should be prohibited is the graduated
or progressive income tax. The graduated income tax destroys incentive to produce and provide goods and services. It attacks
saving and investment in just those places where they could be most readily accomplished. It is unjust because it penalizes
higher earnings, earnings which in the absence of proof to the contrary are evidence of greater service by individuals and
Both taxation by inflation and by the graduated income tax lead to a
vast amount of wasted energy by citizens in order to preserve what they have created. Not wasted in that they may not be successful
in doing so. Not wasted, either, in that they may not be able to use effectively what they have preserved. But wasted because
it is energy that could have been spent on constructive undertakings. By imposing these taxes, government shifts from primarily
aiding the citizen in keeping what is his to confiscating it from him. Much of the citizen’s effort, and that of numerous
lawyers, tax experts, and investment counselors, is devoted to finding ways to avoid paying the taxes or losing what they
have by inflation. How much better off Americans would be today if this vast amount Of energy could be devoted to productive
and creative efforts! Such taxation, too, tends to destroy the rapport between the governors and the governed. Confiscatory
government becomes an adversary to be outwitted, not a benefactor to be aided and cherished.
At any rate, taxation must be circumscribed and limited else it will
"defeat and render useless the power to create." By what principle should it be limited? There is a principle embedded in
our system which provides inherent limits to all taxation. It is so basic to our political institutions that it should govern
every legislator, every executive, and every judge. It precedes all our constitutions, all our laws, and all our political
institutions. It brought them into existence; it sustains them; without it they are a nullity. It is nothing more nor less
than this: All governments in the United States derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This means, if
it has its full meaning, that the people are superior to the government. That which creates is necessarily superior to what
it creates. The government of the United States was created by the people. They are the superior; the governments are the
inferior. Taxation by governments, then, is levied by inferiors upon superiors.
The Superior Authority
What rule governs the relation of the inferior power to the superior
power? To answer this question, we can turn again to Chief Justice Marshall. In a section already quoted, he declared that
"a power to destroy, if wielded by a different hand, is hostile to, and incompatible with, these powers to create and preserve,"
and that when this situation exists the "authority which is supreme must control." It would be easy to obscure this point,
in fact it is regularly done by many political theorists, by having it refer to the mechanisms by which the people control
the governments in the United States. It needs to be clear, however, that what we are talking about here is not government
at all. The mechanisms by which people control the governments, when and if they do, are really mechanisms of the government—the
inferior power here. What is at issue here is the power of creating, producing and providing goods and services and the supreme
authority which must control the disposal of them.
Who is the rightful supreme authority over what has been created, produced,
or provided? It is he who created, produced, or provided it. The people brought into being the governments; hence, the people
are the supreme authority over them. But "the people" did not bring into being the economic goods and services which are at
issue in taxation. These are brought into being by individuals, either by themselves or in co-operation with others. The supreme
authority over these creations belongs to those who brought them into being, neither the people collectively, nor their political
arm, the government. And, the "authority which is supreme must control."
The principle which inherently limits taxes in the United States is
now before us, needing only to be stated. It is this: Taxes must be limited to a degree that will not divest the owner of
control over his creations, productions, or provisions. They are his by right, and only so much of them may be taken as is
necessary to protect him in his ownership of them. If the government, either by taxation or any other device, comes into control
it is the control of the superior by the inferior.
There are certain corollary principles which should control taxation
and help to keep it within proper limits.
• 1. All taxes should be uniform.
Whether levied upon income, wealth, or spending —e.g., sales taxes—a uniform rate should apply in each particular
case. This is not only the just approach to taxation but also it removes the lure of redistribution by which many people approve
should be tied as closely as possible to the object for which the money is to be spent. The payment of a toll for the use
of a road will illustrate the principle, though it is not always possible to link the taxation as closely as that to its purpose.
•3. Taxes should never be levied
for any purpose other than raising revenue. If they are imposed for controlling, regulating or prohibiting something, taxes
become not only destructive in character but also in intent, and are an abuse of governmental power.
•4. Government spending should be limited to that necessary to maintaining the peace and providing
those services to which the use of force is necessary and proper. All limitation of government action is a limit on spending,
hence upon taxation, and those who seek precise limits would do well to concentrate their efforts on placing these on government
action. Principles only serve as limitations, of course, if they are believed and adhered to by people. There are helpful
guidelines, however, to those who have in mind the limiting of government. Government, if it is to be limited, must be limited
by prohibitions on it and by the weight of public opinion and the ballot. A Congressman
once gained a considerable reputation by asking this question after each spending proposal came before the House: "But where
is the money to come from to pay for it?" It was, and is, a good question. The axiom that the power to tax is the power to
destroy suggests an additional question. Namely, "Who and what is to be destroyed by the taxes to pay for it?" What businesses
will fail because of the increased taxation? What services can no longer be offered because of the increased taxation? Whose
property is to be confiscated to pay for it? How much of savings are to be subtly seized by the inflation? How many jobs will
not be provided because there was no investment to pay for the tools to put men to work productively? What creative energies
will be diverted or unreleased because of the taxes to pay for it?
There is no end of laudable objects for which money might be spent.
Even children, especially children, are fertile sources of all sorts of spending proposals. In our day, every interest group
in the country probably has on its agenda a goodly number of proposals for government spending. Certainly, politicians and
bureaucrats bring forth an endless array of notions for spending taxpayers’ money. There are so many goodies to be had
if only government would unloose the purse strings and spend, and spend.
Children are so prolific with their spending proposals because their
eyes are only on the goodies to be attained, not on the labor, hardship, and even deprivation on which their unwise spending
would depend. Many politicians today treat the American people as if they were children, pointing them continually to the
goodies to be provided and remaining silent about the price to be paid. They spend and spend to elect and elect, as a New
Deal politician was reported to have said. They do something else at the same time: They tax and tax to destroy and destroy.
Do they intend the destruction? It hardly matters, for the power to tax is the power to destroy, and there can be no government
spending without the taxes to pay for it.
Thomas Jefferson once said that what was wanted was "a wise and frugal
Government, which… shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." Apropos the axioms announced in
Chief Justice Marshall’s decision, it is in order to add: "a wise and frugal government which will destroy as little
as possible by the taxes it imposes."
Why Politicians Love the Progressive Income
The progressive income tax allows politicians to protect friends, punish enemies,
and to tax certain groups to give benefits to other groups. In the 1920s, Senator James Couzens of Michigan said, "Give me
control of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and I will run the politics of the country." When President Nixon discussed who
he wanted as commissioner of internal revenue, he said, "I want to be sure that he is … ruthless … that he will
do what he is told, that every income-tax return I want to see, I see. That he will go after our enemies and not go after
our friends. It’s as simple as that."
Subsidies for Friends, Audits for Enemies
Roosevelt thus became the first president to practice on a large scale what Madison had called “the spirit of party
and faction” and what Field had called the “war of the poor against the rich.” With a steeply progressive
income tax in place, Roosevelt used the federal treasury to reward, among others, farmers (who were paid not to plant crops),
silver miners (who had the price of their product artificially inflated), and southerners in the vote-rich Tennessee Valley
(with dams and cheap electricity).
In the 1936 presidential election, Senator Hiram Johnson of California, a Roosevelt supporter, watched in amazement as
the President mobilized “the different agencies of government” to dole out subsidies for votes. “He starts
with probably 8 million votes bought,” Johnson calculated. “The other side has to buy them one by one, and they
cannot hope to match his money.” In that campaign, Roosevelt defeated the Republican Alf Landon by an electoral vote
The flip side of rewards for supporters was investigations of opponents. Senator James Couzens of Michigan, who supported
Roosevelt even more vigorously than Johnson did, had said before Roosevelt took office, “Give me control of the Bureau
of Internal Revenue and I will run the politics of the country.”
Couzens lived to see the bureau begin to investigate Roosevelt’s opponents. It started with an investigation of Senator
Huey Long of Louisiana, who had threatened to run for president against Roosevelt. Next came an audit of William Randolph
Hearst, whose newspaper empire strongly opposed Roosevelt for president in 1936. Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia
Inquirer, vehemently opposed Roosevelt’s re-election campaign in 1936; the next year he had a full-scale audit,
which was followed by a prison term.
Elliott Roosevelt, the president’s son, conceded in 1975 that “my father may have been the originator of the
concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution.” But he was quick to add that “each of his
successors followed his lead.” That is a key point: once the machinery of retribution is in place, it is hard for politicians
to resist using it. When Richard Nixon, a Republican, became president, he sounded like his Democrat counterparts when he
described whom he wanted as commissioner of internal revenue. Nixon said, “I want to be sure that he is . . . ruthless
. . . that he will do what he is told, that every income-tax return I want to see, I see. That he will go after our enemies
and not go after our friends. It is as simple as that.”
If we want to lessen “the spirit of party and faction,” as Madison recommended, and if we want to avoid a “war
of the poor against the rich,” as Field anticipated, we would do well to scrap the progressive income tax.
The founding fathers never saw taxation as a method to direct social behavior or enforce equality. Equality to them was
equality under the law, not equality of outcome, or income. It was not the founding fathers' job to manage the economy, or
make American businesses competitive. That was up to the free market and American businesses. The founders sought to provide
only protection of property and civil liberties such that job creation could happen naturally and peacefully in a stable,
prosperous environment. They never sought to take from the rich to give to the poor, or rob Peter to pay Paul. But today,
the top 5% of earners in this country pay over half of all income taxes collected, though they only bring in a third of the
income. One third of Americans pay nothing or receive subsidies from government.
Tax policy should not be based on the premise that government owns you
and allows you to keep some arbitrary amount of your labor. Thus, the AMT should be repealed. The estate tax should be repealed.
Capital gains taxes should be repealed. The income tax should be repealed. We don't need to overhaul or adjust tax policy,
we need to scrap the whole thing and start over.
Lew Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute offers a very simple test for any tax reform proposal: Does it reduce or eliminate an existing tax? If not, then it amounts
to nothing more than a political shell game that pits taxpayers against each other in a lobbying scramble to make sure the
other guy pays. True tax reform is as simple as cutting or eliminating taxes. No studies, panels, committees, or hearings
are needed. When reform proposals seem complicated, they almost certainly don't cut taxes.
Who wants a 40% flat tax? Who wants a national sales tax if it adds 35% to the retail price of everything we
buy? In other words, why change the tax structure if spending stays the same? Once we accept that Congress needs $2.5 trillion
from us — and more each year — the only question left is from whom it will be collected. Until the federal government
is held to its proper constitutionally limited functions, tax reform will remain a mirage.
Ron Paul www.lewrockwell.com
… it must necessarily follow, that some one portion of the community must pay in taxes more than it receives back
in disbursements; while another receives in disbursements more than it pays in taxes… The necessary result, then, of
the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who,
in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting the government; and the other, of those
who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in
fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers.
The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):
Few, comparatively, as they are, the agents and employees of the government constitute that portion of the community who
are the exclusive recipients of the proceeds of the taxes. Whatever amount is taken from the community, in the form of taxes,
if not lost, goes to them in the shape of expenditures or disbursements. The two—disbursement and taxation—constitute
the fiscal action of the government. They are correlatives. What the one takes from the community, under the name of taxes,
is transferred to the portion of the community who are the recipients, under that of disbursements. But, as the recipients
constitute only a portion of the community, it follows, taking the two parts of the fiscal process together, that its action
must be unequal between the payers of the taxes and the recipients of their proceeds. Nor can it be otherwise, unless what
is collected from each individual in the shape of taxes, shall be returned to him, in that of disbursements; which would make
the process nugatory and absurd. Taxation may, indeed, be made equal, regarded separately from disbursement. Even this is
no easy task; but the two united cannot possibly be made equal.
Such being the case, it must necessarily follow,
that some one portion of the community must pay in taxes more than it receives back in disbursements; while another receives
in disbursements more than it pays in taxes. It is, then, manifest, taking the whole process together, that taxes
must be, in effect, bounties to that portion of the community which receives more in disbursements than it pays in taxes;
while, to the other which pays in taxes more than it receives in disbursements, they are taxes in reality—burthens,
instead of bounties. This consequence is unavoidable. It results from the nature of the process, be the taxes ever so equally
laid, and the disbursements ever so fairly made, in reference to the public service…
The necessary result,
then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of
those who, in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting the government; and the other,
of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government;
or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers.
But the effect of this is to place them
in antagonistic relations, in reference to the fiscal action of the government, and the entire course of policy therewith
connected. For, the greater the taxes and disbursements, the greater the gain of the one and the loss of the other—and
vice versa; and consequently, the more the policy of the government is calculated to increase taxes and disbursements,
the more it will be favored by the one and opposed by the other.
The effect, then, of every increase is, to enrich
and strengthen the one, and impoverish and weaken the other. This, indeed, may be carried to such an extent, that one class
or portion of the community may be elevated to wealth and power, and the other depressed to abject poverty and dependence,
simply by the fiscal action of the government; and this too, through disbursements only—even under a system of equal
taxes imposed for revenue only. If such may be the effect of taxes and disbursements, when confined to their legitimate objects—that
of raising revenue for the public service—some conception may be formed, how one portion of the community may be crushed,
and another elevated on its ruins, by systematically perverting the power of taxation and disbursement, for the purpose of
aggrandizing and building up one portion of the community at the expense of the other. That it will be so used, unless
prevented, is, from the constitution of man, just as certain as that it can be so used; and that, if not prevented,
it must give rise to two parties, and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government,
is, for the same reason, not less certain.
[More works by John C. Calhoun (1782 – 1850)]
As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a
well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting
another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize?
Here it is:
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone
For, today as in the past, each of us, more or less, would like to profit from the labor of others.
One does not dare to proclaim this feeling publicly, one conceals it from oneself, and then what does one do? One imagines
an intermediary; one addresses the state, and each class proceeds in turn to say to it: “You, who can take fairly and
honorably, take from the public and share with us.” Alas! The state is only too ready to follow such diabolical advice;
for it is composed of cabinet ministers, of bureaucrats, of men, in short, who, like all men, carry in their hearts the desire,
and always enthusiastically seize the opportunity, to see their wealth and influence grow. The state understands, then, very
quickly the use it can make of the role the public entrusts to it. It will be the arbiter, the master, of all destinies. It
will take a great deal; hence, a great deal will remain for itself. It will multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge
the scope of its prerogatives; it will end by acquiring overwhelming proportions.
But what is most noteworthy is the
astonishing blindness of the public to all this. When victorious soldiers reduced the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous,
but they were not absurd. Their object was, as ours is, to live at the expense of others; but, unlike us, they attained it.
What are we to think of a people who apparently do not suspect that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal;
that it is no less criminal because it is carried out legally and in an orderly manner; that it adds nothing to the public
welfare; that, on the contrary, it diminishes it by all that this spendthrift intermediary that we call the state costs?
[More works by Frédéric Bastiat (1801 – 1850)]
I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He
is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves
your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him….
In the definition
the word “people” was used for a class or section of the population. It is now asserted that if that section rules,
there can be no paternal, that is, undue, government. That doctrine, however, is the very opposite of liberty and contains
the most vicious error possible in politics. The truth is that cupidity, selfishness, envy, malice, lust, vindictiveness,
are constant vices of human nature. They are not confined to classes or to nations or particular ages of the world. They present
themselves in the palace, in the parliament, in the academy, in the church, in the workshop, and in the hovel. They appear
in autocracies, theocracies, aristocracies, democracies, and ochlocracies all alike. They change their masks somewhat from
age to age and from one form of society to another. All history is only one long story to this effect: men have struggled
for power over their fellow-men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others and might shift the
burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others. It is true that, until this time, the proletariat,
the mass of mankind, have rarely had the power and they have not made such a record as kings and nobles and priests have made
of the abuses they would perpetrate against their fellow-men when they could and dared. But what folly it is to think that
vice and passion are limited by classes, that liberty consists only in taking power away from nobles and priests and giving
it to artisans and peasants and that these latter will never abuse it! They will abuse it just as all others have done unless
they are put under checks and guarantees, and there can be no civil liberty anywhere unless rights are guaranteed against
all abuses, as well from proletarians as from generals, aristocrats, and ecclesiastics. …
It is plain enough
that the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman are the very life and substance of society. They are the ones who ought to
be first and always remembered. They are always forgotten by sentimentalists, philanthropists, reformers, enthusiasts, and
every description of speculator in sociology, political economy, or political science. If a student of any of these sciences
ever comes to understand the position of the Forgotten Man and to appreciate his true value, you will find such student an
uncompromising advocate of the strictest scientific thinking on all social topics, and a cold and hard-hearted skeptic towards
all artificial schemes of social amelioration. If it is desired to bring about social improvements, bring us a scheme for
relieving the Forgotten Man of some of his burdens. He is our productive force which we are wasting. Let us stop wasting his
force. Then we shall have a clean and simple gain for the whole society. The Forgotten Man is weighted down with the cost
and burden of the schemes for making everybody happy, with the cost of public beneficence, with the support of all the loafers,
with the loss of all the economic quackery, with the cost of all the jobs. Let us remember him a little while. Let us take
some of the burdens off him. Let us turn our pity on him instead of on the good-for-nothing. It will be only justice to him,
and society will greatly gain by it. Why should we not also have the satisfaction of thinking and caring for a little while
about the clean, honest, industrious, independent, self-supporting men and women who have not inherited much to make life
luxurious for them, but who are doing what they can to get on in the world without begging from anybody, especially since
all they want is to be let alone, with good friendship and honest respect. Certainly the philanthropists and sentimentalists
have kept our attention for a long time on the nasty, shiftless, criminal, whining, crawling, and good-for-nothing people,
as if they alone deserved our attention. …
What the Forgotten Man really wants is true liberty. Most of his wrongs
and woes come from the fact that there are yet mixed together in our institutions the old mediaeval theories of protection
and personal dependence and the modern theories of independence and individual liberty. The consequence is that the people
who are clever enough to get into positions of control, measure their own rights by the paternal theory and their own duties
by the theory of independent liberty. It follows that the Forgotten Man, who is hard at work at home, has to pay both ways.
His rights are measured by the theory of liberty, that is, he has only such as he can conquer. His duties are measured by
the paternal theory, that is, he must discharge all which are laid upon him, as is always the fortune of parents. People talk
about the paternal theory of government as if it were a very simple thing. Analyze it, however, and you see that in every
paternal relation there must be two parties, a parent and a child, and when you speak metaphorically, it makes all the difference
in the world who is parent and who is child. Now, since we, the people, are the state, whenever there is any work to be done
or expense to be paid, and since the petted classes and the criminals and the jobbers cost and do not pay, it is they who
are in the position of the child, and it is the Forgotten Man who is the parent. What the Forgotten Man needs, therefore,
is that we come to a clearer understanding of liberty and to a more complete realization of it. Every step which we win in
liberty will set the Forgotten Man free from some of his burdens and allow him to use his powers for himself and for the commonwealth.
[More works by William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910)]
As to the right of the people to think, let him who denies it, deny, at the same time, their right to breathe. They can
no more avoid thinking than breathing. God formed them to do both; and though statesmen often act as if they wished to oppose
the will of the Deity, yet happily they want the power. And since man must think, is it possible to prevent them from thinking
of the government? upon the right conduct of which depend their liberty, their property, and their lives. It is their duty
to watch over the possessors of power, lest they should be prevented, by the encroaching nature of power, from leaving to
their posterity that freedom which they inherited; a natural right, preserved from the oppressor’s infringement by the
blood of their virtuous ancestors.
But such is the effect of political artifice, under the management of court
sycophants, that the middle ranks of people are taught to believe, that they ought not to trouble themselves with affairs
of state. They are taught to think that a certain set of men come into the world like demigods, possessed of right, power,
and intellectual abilities, to rule the earth, as God rules the universe, without controul. They are taught to believe, that
free inquiry and manly remonstrance are the sin of sedition. They are taught to believe, that they are to labour by the sweat
of their brow to get money for the taxes; and when they have paid them, to go to work again for more, to pay the next demand
without a murmur. Their children may starve; they may be obliged to shut out the light of heaven, and the common air which
the beasts on the waste enjoy; they may be prevented from purchasing the means of artificial light in the absence of natural;
they may be disabled from procuring a draught of wholesome and refreshing beverage after the day’s labour which has
raised the money to pay the tax; they may not be able to buy the materials for cleanliness of their persons, when defiled
by the same labour; yet they must acquiesce in total silence. They must read no obnoxious papers or pamphlets, and they must
not utter a complaint, at the house where they are compelled to go for refreshment, which the tax prevents them from enjoying
at home with their little ones. Yet they have nothing to do with public affairs; and if they show the least tendency to inquiry
or opposition, they suffer a double punishment, first from their lordly landlord and employer; and secondly, from prosecution
for turbulence and sedition.
The legal punishments attending the expression of discontent, by any overt-act,
are so severe, and the ill-grounded terrors of them so artfully disseminated, that rather than incur the least danger, they
submit in silence to the hardest oppression.
Even the middle ranks are terrified into a tame and silent acquiescence.
They learn to consider politics as a dangerous subject, not to be touched without hazard of liberty or life. They shrink therefore
from the subject. They will neither read nor converse upon it. They pay their contribution to a war, and take a minister’s
word that it is just and necessary. Better part with a little money patiently, since part with it we must, say they, than
by daring to investigate the causes or conduct of public measures, risk a prison or a gibbet.
[More works by Vicesimus Knox (1752 – 1821) and on The Debate about the French Revolution]
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