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Quotes by Founders on inequality of opportunity today

February 5, 2014

Timely quotes by the Founders on inequality, chosen by David Clay Johnston in a Newsweek article on The Citizen’s Share: Putting Ownership Back into Demcracy, by Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman, and Douglas L. Kruse

The founders, despite decades of rancorous disagreements about almost every other aspect of their grand experiment, agreed that America would survive and thrive only if there was widespread ownership of land and businesses.

John Adams: “The capricious will of one or a very few … the rich and the proud … will destroy all the equality and liberty, with the consent and acclamations of the people themselves.

James Madison described inequality as an evil, saying government should prevent “an immoderate, and especially unmerited, accumulation of riches.” He favored “the silent operation of laws which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigents towards a state of comfort.

George Washington: “[The US] will be the most favorable country of any kind in the world for persons of industry and frugality, possessed of moderate capital, to inhabit … it will not be less advantageous to the happiness of the lowest class of people, because of the equal distribution of property.

Alexander Hamilton, Treasury Secretary, champion of manufacturing and banking: “Whenever a discretionary power is lodged in any set of men over the property of their neighbors, they will abuse it.

Late in life, Adams, pessimistic about whether the republic would endure, wrote that the goal of the democratic government was not to help the wealthy and powerful but to achieve “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

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