It was at this point that my friend ventured his modest proposal. How about, he suggested, we have the top 7 or 8 percent of filers pay all the federal income tax? In exchange, such filers would get a larger say in determining such things as entitlement payments, what sort of things the federal government should be paying for, etc. What do you think? The proposal would, of course, make official something that has been in place unofficially at least since so many tax filers were taken off the tax rolls during the Bush administration (that was the price the Democrats extracted in exchange for the Bush tax cuts). I mean the bifurcation of American society into two classes, the makers and the takers.
My friend and I chatted awhile about the advantages of his idea before drifting apart to mingle with other guests. There are, doubtless, things to be said in favor of such a proposal, especially the second part of the suggestion, having to do with granting the makers and the payers a larger share in determining how the money is spent.
There is, however, one big disadvantage. It is this: it would be yet another large blow against the Founders’ vision of the country, a vision that recognized the ineradicable reality of inequality while also making provision for universal participation in the commonweal.
When I say that inequality is “ineradicable,” I mean “ineradicable without destroying liberty.” Communist tyrannies have gone a long way towards snuffing out inequality — apart, of course, from the gigantic inequality that naturally grows up between the tiny nomenklatura (think: “Congress and the executive branch”) and the rest of the population. But there are few people, even in the age of the Imperial Obama, who would say in public that was a good thing.
James Madison was right when, in Federalist 10, he pointed out that inequality was rooted in the diversity of human nature (“sown in the nature of man,” as Madison put it). “The diversity in the faculties of men,” he wrote there,
from which the rights of property originate, is . . . an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.
Note the highlighted sentence. So much that has happened to the size and the extent of government since the New Deal has transformed the state into the predator rather than the protector of property rights.
What should we do? “It is in vain,” Madison sadly observed, “to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” We all know about that.