Quick thought after listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” today about the estate tax:

Any system, as a coordinated set of actants and relations, will disproportionately favor those of its members who know how to work it for their own benefit. A pragmatic egalitarianism will attempt to minimize the opportunities for such disproportionate favoritism, without creating worse problems in the process.

As a system oriented toward the monetization (commodification) of things, i.e.,the conversion of things into capital, and the accumulation of such capital through the means made available for that, capitalism disproportionately favors those who know how to squeeze money out of things. Progressive taxation, estate taxes, and other such means of regulatory management work to reduce such systemic favoritism so as to better support socially valued goals (such as social cohesion, equal opportunity, fairness, etc.).

The question is whether we want to live in a capitalist society characterized by vast discrepancies in wealth and power, or a democracy in which capitalist and/or market relations have a place but do not dominate all relations. In 1900, 1% of Americans controlled 50% of the wealth in the country. By 1970, as a result of progressive social and economic policies brought in by the presidential administrations of Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and others, that percentage had declined to 20% and a large middle-class had emerged. Today the percentage controlled by the wealthiest 1% is back up to 33%, and climbing.

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