16 February 2012

1912 and Wealth Inequality

So... Slate's got a new article up talking about a series of hearings that President Taft called before he left office at the end of 1912.

Worth a read. Key passage, from the article's second page:

There is something almost quaint—but decidedly refreshing—about the commissioners’ blunt language. “Effective action by Congress is required…,” the report proclaimed, “to check the growth of an hereditary aristocracy, which is foreign to every conception of American Government and menacing to the welfare of the people and the existence of the Nation as a democracy.” Far from debating whether “corporations are people,” the commission took for granted that concentrations of corporate power were undemocratic, that gigantic fortunes “constitute a menace to the State,” and that it was the duty of government to restore a balance of power.

How did they plan to do it? The commission offered two chief solutions, neither one of which has won much of an airing in our latest rounds of debate. The first was an inheritance tax, aimed not at the fearless entrepreneur, but at his sons and daughters, who had done nothing to deserve a fortune. The second was increased support for union organizing, on the principle that workers deserved to elect their own representatives on the job just as they did in the government.

Both of these ideas ultimately became law—the inheritance tax almost immediately, union organizing rights in fits and starts over the next few decades. Today, by contrast, we seem to be going in the opposite direction, with unions under attack and the so-called “death tax” all but moribund as a political issue.

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