Thursday, December 09, 2004

Share Our Wealth

Scott K. sends these thoughts on Huey Long's Share our Wealth program:
In 1935 Senator Huey Long had made a speech “Share Our Wealth.” In his speech, he attacked President Roosevelt. Long claimed that Roosevelt did not carry out the promises of the 1932 inaugural address. Long Believed he had a tax program that would solve America’s economic problems within a two week period. Despite Long’s heart being in the right place, I believe that his tax program was unfair and had no chance of being passed through congress.

Like Roosevelt’s promises, Long wanted to attack the wealthy; However, Roosevelt was aiming at big business while Long aimed at the “big man’s fortune”. Long believed that America had too much of everything for most of the population to be suffering. He felt that all of the wealthy should pay a capital levy tax. This tax would be imposed on any personal wealth that exceeded over a million dollars. This tax was proportional to the wealth of the person. The more money they had the more they were taxed. To see exactly the ratio, go to “Share the Wealth”: Huey Long Talks to the Nation. The ratio that Long had come up with seemed to be a crazy policy. He wanted to take money, which had maybe been inherited but still was rightfully owned, from people to support all of America.

Despite the outrageous tax that Long wanted to impose, he did have some good things he planned on using it towards. Long wanted to use the tax money to provide education for all children. Not only was it going to be used for elementary and secondary education but college as well. Long also wanted the money spent on providing pensions to the elderly. His idea and slogan was “every man a king, but no man wears a crown.”

Long idea of sharing the wealth was an outrageous tax policy however I did like his comparison of how America was being run. In his speech Long described America being like a barbecue. At this barbecue of a thousand, one man had taken 90 percent of the food leaving 10 percent for 999 people. This greed leaves many starving while one person has more than they could eat.
Okay, I'll bite. Why was this plan so "outrageous"? You say he wanted to use the money for "some good things." And you seem to agree with his characterization of American society as vastly unequal and unjust. Why not tax the extremely wealthy to address very real and dire social problems? Does not the social good ever trump individual "greed"? And how can money be "inherited" but still "rightfully owned"? Isn't that how the aristocracy kept its power over the centuries? Isn't that what the American Revolution was fought over -- to replace this inherited and undemocratic aristocracy with a democratic meritocracy?

Long raise at least three issues for historians, as I see it. 1) Would his program work? You don't address this, but most historians and economists dismiss his plan on these grounds. 2) Fairness and democracy: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want a society where the "plutocrats" can continually increase their share of the wealth through a rigged stock market, corporate control of the economy, and passing their wealth on to their children? Can democracy and the principle of equality survive when a small group of men control the economic and political destiny of our nation? 3) The social good: leaving aside the question as to whether inherited money is "rightfully owned," what does our society need in order to function smoothly, maintain order and stability, and at least passingly resemble the ideals we are supposed to uphold. That is, maybe it is not "fair" to a small group of extremely wealthy individuals to tax them at a higher rate than poorer people, but it just might be the only solution to serve the greater good and get the country out of the Depression.

Finally, does any of this have any resonance today?


Anonymous said...

The absurdity of the plan lays in a once great attribute of the American people, freedom. The rich deserve freedom just like the poor do. Why should the government deny someone's freedom to leave money to their children and provide for their family? What right can you claim to have over another human being as to demand their earnings? How far away are we from owning their flesh if we so easily demand their possessions? Doling out money or services creates an improper relationship between government and citizens, rich and poor alike. No person should ever go to a poling both and have to choose between basic needs and their beliefs. Can someone really claim to be free if they rely on the government to provide so much of their basic requirements? Should politicians increase welfare just to collect more votes or go on TV and scare the elderly about their Social Security? Should those people live their life worrying about their future come ever election year? Increasingly we sign away our responsibilities to the government under some distorted socialist view of society, increasingly void of our individual freedom. Government has caused the most deaths and problems in the twentieth century yet there remains no shortage of idiots falling over themselves for more of it or increase its power.

Stephen P.

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