The Wall Street Journal has a robust editorial today about the Obama administration's efforts to crack down on executive pay, an effort we discussed two days ago here. The concluding paragraph of the Wall Street Journal editorial begins:
The new pay limits betray once again that Washington's dominant impulse today is leveling and redistribution: Put caps on success, raise taxes on what you can't cap, and then give the money to someone else.
The word "leveling" caught my eye, as the author of a book on Samuel Adams, because that leader of the American Revolution used that exact term to disparage schemes he disagreed with that interfered with property rights. Here is Adams in a 1768 letter to Massachusetts's agent in London:
It is observable, that though many have disregarded life, and contemned liberty, yet there are few men who do not agree that property is a valuable acquisition, which ought to be held sacred. Many have fought, bled, and died for this, who have been insensible to all other obligations. Those who ridicule the ideas of right and justice, faith and truth among men, will put a high value upon money. Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk; the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property, as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the East, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And if property is necessary for the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of leveling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?
One of the things to remember about many of the political and policy arguments we are having in America today is that they are old arguments. Samuel Adams's letter describing "leveling" as "impracticable" was written 241 years before the Wall Street Journal's editorial saying essentially the same thing.