The Common Good
May-June 2003

The Publick Expence

by John E. Hill | May-June 2003

WILLIAM H. GATES Sr. and Chuck Collins are clear and persuasive in their January-February article "Tax the Rich?" 

WILLIAM H. GATES Sr. and Chuck Collins are clear and persuasive in their January-February article "Tax the Rich?" But to their logical arguments of the gains the rich receive from governmental action and their arguments of the religious imperative ("to whom much is given, much is expected"), an additional historical argument can be added. Both the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, and two of the leading founders of these United States, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, believed that the rich should pay more taxes than the middle and lower classes.

Smith wrote: "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the publick expence, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." Adams approvingly wrote, in a letter to a Dutch supporter of American independence, that taxes were "heaviest upon the rich and the higher Classes of People." Jefferson wrote that, below a certain point, people should be exempt from taxes and that government should "tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise."

While none of these quotations specifically refer to estate taxes, estate taxes are one element in an overall policy of progressive taxes. And that is clearly what all three advocated.

John E. Hill
Quincy, Massachusetts

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