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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is "Spreading the Wealth" anti-Capitalist?

In one of his recent posts, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan points out an interesting quote from Adam Smith -- the so-called "father" of capitalism. The quote comes from Smith's extremely popular and influential book, Wealth of Nations (1796). Smith states:

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. [my emphasis].
As everyone that follows politics knows, Barack Obama's "spreading the wealth" comment has caused conservatives to go on the attack, labeling Obama as a socialist. Keeping Adam Smith's comment above in mind, could we argue that Obama is actually MORE of a capitalist "purist" than many of his opponents think?

In a letter to Benjamin Vaughn, Benjamin Franklin pointed out his distrust of the elite having too much money and power in their hands. Using an analogy to prove his point, Franklin writes:

When by virtue of the first Laws Part of the Society accumulated Wealth and grew Powerful, they enacted others more severe, and would protect their Property at the Expence of Humanity. This was abusing their Powers, and commencing a Tyranny. If a Savage before he enter’d into Society had been told, Your Neighbour by this Means may become Owner of 100 Deer, but if your Brother, or your Son, or yourself, having no Deer of your own, and being hungry should kill one of them, an infamous Death must be the Consequence; he would probably have prefer’d his Liberty, and his common Right of killing any Deer, to all the Advantages of Society that might be propos’d to him.
So, is true capitalism that which prevents any form of redistributing wealth? Or can capitalism encourage AT LEAST some equality between the wealthy and the middle class? Is redistribution creating equality at all? Food for thought I guess!

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