Saturday, July 5, 2014

America's Founding Fathers = Communists

At least by the standards of early twenty-first century America. What would these men of the Enlightenment make of its demise?
The founders, despite decades of rancorous disagreements about almost every other aspect of their grand experiment, agreed that America would survive and thrive only if there was widespread ownership of land and businesses.

George Washington, nine months before his inauguration as the first president, predicted that America "will be the most favorable country of any kind in the world for persons of industry and frugality, possessed of moderate capital, to inhabit." And, he continued, "it will not be less advantageous to the happiness of the lowest class of people, because of the equal distribution of property."

The second president, John Adams, feared "monopolies of land" would destroy the nation and that a business aristocracy born of inequality would manipulate voters, creating "a system of subordination to all... The capricious will of one or a very few" dominating the rest. Unless constrained, Adams wrote, "the rich and the proud" would wield economic and political power that "will destroy all the equality and liberty, with the consent and acclamations of the people themselves."

James Madison, the Constitution's main author, described inequality as an evil, saying government should prevent "an immoderate, and especially unmerited, accumulation of riches." He favored "the silent operation of laws which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigents towards a state of comfort."

Alexander Hamilton, who championed manufacturing and banking as the first Treasury secretary, also argued for widespread ownership of assets, warning in 1782 that, "whenever a discretionary power is lodged in any set of men over the property of their neighbors, they will abuse it."

Late in life, Adams, pessimistic about whether the republic would endure, wrote that the goal of the democratic government was not to help the wealthy and powerful but to achieve "the greatest happiness for the greatest number."

...Research commissioned by Thomas Jefferson found that, when fishermen bargained for their pay in advance and shared in the profits, the operations were highly efficient. (My research assistants at Syracuse University College of Law have for years dug into colonial era and late 18th century American business records, and they have made similar findings.)

Washington and Jefferson recommended giving sharesmen five eighths of the subsidy, with the rest to ship owners. Owners who paid a fixed wage got nothing. It was a government carrot promoting both bargaining power for workers and more profitable enterprises.

Blasi suggests that Congress embrace that 1792 model. For example, he says Congress could allow accelerated depreciation - quickly writing off the cost of new buildings and equipment for tax purposes - only at companies that pay workers in part with a share or profits or shares of stock. Companies that declined would still get the full write-off, but it would take longer, costing them more taxes in early years.

Madison once extrapolated the U.S. population into the early 1900s and concluded that not everyone could farm. But he wrote that since no limit existed on businesses, government could encourage ownership shares to counter what he wrote were the "evils" of concentrated wealth.
Why Thomas Jefferson Favored Profit Sharing (David Cay Johnston, Newsweek) See also: The Founding Fathers backed Thomas Piketty – and feared a powerful 1 percent (Salon)
"...though it is a well-documented fact, it might surprise you to learn that, a far cry from the United States’ recent ambivalence with respect to the modern scientific theory of man-made climate change, the country’s founders were keen observers of climatic trends and might even be counted among the first climate change advocates...

Building on the theories of John Evelyn, John Woodward, Jean-Baptiste Dubos, and David Hume – who all believed that the clearing and cultivation of land in Europe accounted for the temperate climate that had enabled the Enlightenment – the colonists set about arguing that their settlement was causing a gradual increase in temperatures and improvement of the flora and fauna of North America. Hugh Williamson, American politician and a signatory of the Constitutional Convention, believed that “within the last forty or fifty years there has been a very great observable change of climate, that our winters are not so intensely cold, nor our summers so disagreeably warm as they have been,” a fact he attributed to the clearing of forests. “The change of climate which has taken place in North America, has been a matter of constant observation and experience,” wrote Harvard professor Samuel Williams. Benjamin Franklin wrote of the “common Opinion, that the Winters in America are grown milder.” Measurements were as yet inadequate to the task of proving this, he said, but he found the proposed mechanism (i.e. clearing and cultivation) sufficiently persuasive that, even if the winters were not milder already, he could not “but think that in time they may be so.”...
America's "Founding Fathers" thought they were affecting the climate (TYWKIWDBI)

See also The USA Could Have Had A Tank To Fight The Revolutionary War (Jalopnik) Steampunk!


  1. The description you gave sounds more like distributists than communists. It looks as if part of the reason they wanted more widespread property ownership was the combination of "wealth is power" and "power corrupts," but also otherwise destitute people having some of the social and political characteristics of entrepreneurs or investors, "persons of industry and frugality," &c. Which is OK, I suppose.

  2. I should have put "communists" in the tag. I was referring to the fact that any sort of sense of economic justice or euqitability is derided as communism in modern American discourse, and by that standard, even the Founding Fathers would be "communists." Our discourse is even more devolved that it was two-hundred-plus years ago!


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