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Thread: Jefferson Quote I'd Not Read Before......

  1. #11
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    Hayek is definitely not a Jefferson fan. He traces two schools of thought, which he describes as "French" and "English" and firmly places Jefferson in the "French" camp. The labels aren't terribly accurate--he's trying to describe where the thoughts originated, not the people who held them (for example, Bastiat is definitely "English" in this sense).

    I think he found Jefferson too paternalistic, and felt that Jefferson wanted to design society too much. Jefferson was also very much an agriculturalist (as the above quote shows) and tended to value agriculture above all other activities. It's easy to see the influence of his own circumstances (as a slave owner who tried to care for his slaves and often saw himself as a benevolent despot, while operating an agricultural plantation).

    For what it's worth, Milton Friedman wrote some things that were similar to the Jefferson quote, basically endorsing the idea of universal basic income through a refundable tax credit, to replace _all_ social programs.
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  2. #12
    XCR Guru Sean K.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TomAiello View Post
    Hayek is definitely not a Jefferson fan. He traces two schools of thought, which he describes as "French" and "English" and firmly places Jefferson in the "French" camp. The labels aren't terribly accurate--he's trying to describe where the thoughts originated, not the people who held them (for example, Bastiat is definitely "English" in this sense).

    I think he found Jefferson too paternalistic, and felt that Jefferson wanted to design society too much. Jefferson was also very much an agriculturalist (as the above quote shows) and tended to value agriculture above all other activities. It's easy to see the influence of his own circumstances (as a slave owner who tried to care for his slaves and often saw himself as a benevolent despot, while operating an agricultural plantation).

    For what it's worth, Milton Friedman wrote some things that were similar to the Jefferson quote, basically endorsing the idea of universal basic income through a refundable tax credit, to replace _all_ social programs.
    Yeah...undoubtedly. Jefferson very much saw the gentleman farmer as the type of "American" that was more highly valued than one of the merchant class (for example).

    And Adam Smith as well as John Locke held similar views of hereditary land ownership....thus going against the typical "libertarian" argument that paying a property tax after you own the property (by paying off the bank note, as one example) means you never really own it and are just renting it from the government.

    Honestly, not sure where I fall on that continuum. I have uttered that libertarian philosophy regularly in the past...but doing more research based on those thinkers has given me pause to re-evaluate the premise.
    "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human liberty. It is the argument of tyrants; the creed of slaves."-William Pitt the Younger

  3. #13
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    As a thought question, why is land in particular a special class of property?

    Why can't all property be taxed under a Jeffersonian philosophy, so that production machines (for example), which are much more important to modern production than land, would also be re-distributed generationally?

    Why not just outlaw inheritance altogether, and rule that when a person dies, the government collects _all_ their property and distributes it for the 'general welfare'?

    Obviously, those are devil's advocate type arguments, but if you follow Jefferson's logic to it's natural conclusion (and into the modern era where land is no longer the most valuable of all things), I actually do see it going there.


    Of course, what we would then see are 'land corporations' where people sell their land to a group that holds it in trust for their children, and re-sells it to the children after the original owner dies. You could even write the sale such that the original owner has a life tenancy, so that the ownership doesn't functionally transfer to the corporation until the exact moment of their death.
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  5. #14
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    I suspect that the antagonism toward hereditary land ownership in those early intellectuals (like Adam Smith) stemmed from the fact that in their time 'hereditary land ownership' basically meant 'hereditary nobility', because the large land owners who were passing their land to their descendants were all basically nobles. So basically, they were opposed to hereditary noble privilege, and expressed it as an opposition to inherited property.
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    - Tom Aiello
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  6. #15
    XCR Guru Sean K.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TomAiello View Post
    I suspect that the antagonism toward hereditary land ownership in those early intellectuals (like Adam Smith) stemmed from the fact that in their time 'hereditary land ownership' basically meant 'hereditary nobility', because the large land owners who were passing their land to their descendants were all basically nobles. So basically, they were opposed to hereditary noble privilege, and expressed it as an opposition to inherited property.
    I'd agree....landed gentry was a different class than nobility and Jefferson and many of the founders belonged to it. That said, I haven't found evidence contrary to the above quote (and an even stronger one from Jefferson...or perhaps I'm confusing it with Locke or Smith)...that would appear to enforce the notion that he was against land ownership in perpetuity.
    "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human liberty. It is the argument of tyrants; the creed of slaves."-William Pitt the Younger

  7. #16
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    I think that Locke (? I need to look it up and verify it) proposed land tax because he felt that without a tax to create a 'holding cost' a lot of productive land could be tied up in non-production for generations. A good example would be the medieval 'Kings Woods' which were basically an unexploited resource. By requiring a tax, all land would have to be put to at least some productive use, and wouldn't be tied up by large (usually hereditary nobility) landowners.

    The problem they were seeing was that the majority of land was tied up by hereditary landed estates, and that the unemployed could easily have turned it to more productive use had they been allowed to. But the 'no taxes for me' privilege of the nobility meant they could effectively hold that land forever, and that therefore a large percentage of a nation's 'god-given' resources would never be exploited. And such exploitation (and I agree with them here) would have represented a gain in the common welfare.

    I certainly do not think they anticipated the (modern) predicament where huge tracts of land are held fallow by government decree (usually also in government ownership) and I wonder how they would have reacted to this situation.
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  8. #17
    XCR Guru Sean K.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TomAiello View Post
    I think that Locke (? I need to look it up and verify it) proposed land tax because he felt that without a tax to create a 'holding cost' a lot of productive land could be tied up in non-production for generations. A good example would be the medieval 'Kings Woods' which were basically an unexploited resource. By requiring a tax, all land would have to be put to at least some productive use, and wouldn't be tied up by large (usually hereditary nobility) landowners.

    The problem they were seeing was that the majority of land was tied up by hereditary landed estates, and that the unemployed could easily have turned it to more productive use had they been allowed to. But the 'no taxes for me' privilege of the nobility meant they could effectively hold that land forever, and that therefore a large percentage of a nation's 'god-given' resources would never be exploited. And such exploitation (and I agree with them here) would have represented a gain in the common welfare.

    I certainly do not think they anticipated the (modern) predicament where huge tracts of land are held fallow by government decree (usually also in government ownership) and I wonder how they would have reacted to this situation.

    Agreed....it would be interesting to have their perspective on so many issues of our day.

    One thing: I thought nobility (mostly speaking from an English perspective since I'm more familiar with their history than other European countries) were heavily taxed for their lands, especially in times of war. More lands meant more taxes....though perhaps that was just pushed onto the serfs working their estates?
    "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human liberty. It is the argument of tyrants; the creed of slaves."-William Pitt the Younger

  9. #18
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    After the Magna Carta, the nobility (as a group) had to consent to the taxation of their lands.

    The Magna Carta also more or less eliminated the traditional land inheritance tax (which had previously been required for the King to recognize an heirs right to inherit).

    https://taxfoundation.org/magna-carta-and-tax-reform/

    I think a lot of these issues need to be understood in their own historical context. The commoners (among whom we can count almost all the intellectual forebears of classical liberalism) saw the King as their benefactor and the nobles as their oppressors. Which meant that they were often opposed to reforms such as the Magna Carta.
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  10. #19
    XCR Guru TomAiello's Avatar
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    I suspect that following their original reasoning, they'd want to see property tax on the holdings of things like the BLM or forest service ('the Kings lands') but that wouldn't make any real sense today, when the taxes would just flow right back to the same place.
    - Tom Aiello
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