The Magazine

Class Warfare

The last refuge of a Democrat.

Dec 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 15 • By PETER WEHNER
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This is not to say that a tax system that levies a proportionately higher tax rate on those with higher income is itself evil or even unwise. Simple justice does not require a society to tax the rich at higher rates than -others, but compassion for the neediest might. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, wrote, “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.”

But a progressive tax system is a world apart from the modern liberal belief that inequality is itself a sin that government should take great strides  to ameliorate. It cedes a frightening amount of power to the federal government to fine-tune outcomes and take upon itself the task of leveling out differences. 

Indeed, inequality is the inevitable outcome of human differences. A healthy society, while caring for the poor and the weak, also needs to celebrate and reward human excellence. Tom Brady deserves to make more than his New England Patriot backup Brian Hoyer. And to demonize the wealthy is not only unwarranted but undermines civic comity. In an effort to promote an economic theory, liberals are appealing to class resentment, which is itself deeply contrary to the American ideal as interpreted authoritatively by Lincoln, who praised ambition and enterprise and upward mobility. “I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good,” Lincoln said. “So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.”

Mary Landrieu is right in one respect: There is a moral calculus to the current economic debate. The problem for her is that she, and contemporary liberalism, are on the wrong side of it.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a managing director of the economic website e21.


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