Jefferson on the Family and Liberty
Thomas Jefferson has valuable things to say about two key criticisms of the free market. I learned about these from reading C. Bradley Thompson’s America’s Revolutionary Mind (Encounter Books, 2019) Thompson has done an immense amount on research on the thought of the leading figures of the American Revolution, and I urge everyone to read this excellent book.
Many critics of the free market say that it is unfair that some people are much wealthier than others. Isn’t it largely a matter of luck how well you do? If so, shouldn’t the state take steps to benefit those who aren’t successful? This is a line of thought I’ve often written about, so I’ll just give one example of it. The late G.A. Cohen states the position in this way, in his Rescuing Justice and Equality (Harvard University Press, 2008):
People with greater-than-average talents and abilities should not in justice receive more wealth and income than others, even if their work is more productive and valuable than their less-fortunately-endowed coworkers. People do not deserve the abilities by which they surpass others, and my own animating conviction…[is] that an unequal distribution whose inequality cannot be vindicated by some choice or fault or desert on the part of (some of) the relevant affected agents is unfair, and therefore, pro tanto, unjust, and that nothing can remove that particular injustice.
Jefferson does not agree. People have a natural right to benefit from their industry and talents, and it is wrong for the state to take money from the rich to help the poor. He says,
To take from one, because it is thought that his industry…has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who…have not exerc
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