The Deleted Clause of the Declaration of Independence

As a tribute to the great events that occurred 241 years ago, I wanted to recognize the importance of the unity of purpose behind supporting liberty in all of its forms. While an unequivocal statement of natural rights and the virtues of liberty, the Declaration of Independence also came close to bringing another vital aspect of liberty to the forefront of public attention. As has been addressed in multiple fascinating podcasts (Joe Janes, Robert Olwell), a censure of slavery and George III’s connection to the slave trade was in the first draft of the Declaration.

Thomas Jefferson, a man who has been criticized as a man of inherent contradiction between his high morals and his active participation in slavery, was a major contributor to the popularizing of classical liberal principles. Many have pointed to his hypocrisy in that he owned over 180 slaves, fathered children on them, and did not free them in his will (because of his debts). Even given his personal slaves, Jefferson made his moral stance on slavery quite clear through his famous efforts toward ending the transatlantic slave trade, which exemplify early steps in securing the abolition of the repugnant act of chattel slavery in America and applying classically liberal principles toward all humans. However, this very practice may have been enacted far sooner, avoiding decades of appalling misery and its long-reaching effects, if his (hypocritical but principled) position had been adopted from the day of the USA’s first taste of political freedom.

This is the text of the deleted Declaration of Independence clause:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.  This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.  Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.  And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another..”

The second Continental Congress, based on hardline votes of South Carolina and the desire to avoid alienating potential sympathizers in England, slaveholding patriots, and the harbor cities of the North that were complicit in the slave trade, dropped this vital statement of principle

The removal of the anti-slavery clause of the declaration was not the only time Jefferson’s efforts might have led to the premature end of the “peculiar institution.” Economist and cultural historian Thomas Sowell notes that Jefferson’s 1784 anti-slavery bill, which had the votes to pass but did not because of a single ill legislator’s absence from the floor, would have ended the expansion of slavery to any newly admitted states to the Union years before the Constitution’s infamous three-fifths compromise. One wonders if America would have seen a secessionist movement or Civil War, and how the economies of states from Alabama and Florida to Texas would have developed without slave labor, which in some states and counties constituted the majority.

These ideas form a core moral principle for most Americans today, but they are not hypothetical or irrelevant to modern debates about liberty. Though America and the broader Western World have brought the slavery debate to an end, the larger world has not; though countries have officially made enslavement a crime (true only since 2007), many within the highest levels of government aid and abet the practice. 30 million individuals around the world suffer under the same types of chattel slavery seen millennia ago, including in nominal US allies in the Middle East. The debates between the pursuit of non-intervention as a form of freedom and the defense of the liberty of others as a form of freedom have been consistently important since the 1800’s (or arguably earlier), and I think it is vital that these discussions continue in the public forum. I hope that this 4th of July reminds us that liberty is not just a distant concept, but a set of values that requires constant support, intellectual nurturing, and pursuit.

Dissent and the Media

A few weeks ago a college student came to my door, asking me to support his dream to go to college by buying a six-month subscription to a local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times. I don’t read physical newspapers much anymore, so I demurred. But this kid was a natural-born salesman. “Your neighbor has already subscribed, but gave me the $25 for the subscription anyway. I can just give you a free subscription instead of pocketing the money.” Okay, kid, I’ll do that for you.

The papers have been coming to my door ever since, and I still barely read them. Today I decided to open one up along with my morning coffee, and I turned to something I never would have expected in a mid-level newspaper. Take a look at the title of this op-ed, by Stanford researcher Thomas Sowell: “Scientists who might dissent face a new inquisition.”

A new inquisition? I am intrigued! Let’s read further:

“…attempts to shut down people whose free speech interferes with other people’s political agendas go on, with remarkably little notice, much less outrage.

The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting the tax-exempt status of conservative groups is just one of these attempts to fight political battles by shutting up the opposition, rather than answering them.

Another insidious attempt to silence voices that dissent from current politically correct crusades is targeting scientists who do not agree with the “global warming” scenario.”

Would you look at that? Two hate facts in one paragraph, in the Bay Area no less! The third paragraph in that quote is the topic of this piece, and the professor marshals some pretty disturbing information to bolster his accusation:

The head of the National Academy of Sciences has chimed in, saying: “Scientists must disclose their sources of financial support to continue to enjoy societal trust and the respect of fellow scientists.”

This is too clever by half. It sounds as if this government bureaucrat is trying to help the dissenting scientists enjoy trust and respect — as if these scientists cannot decide for themselves whether they consider such a practice necessary or desirable.
The best part is when he turns the rhetoric back on the leftists themselves:

The idea that you can tell whether a scientist — or anybody else — is “objective” by who is financing that scientist’s research is nonsense. There is money available on many sides of many issues, so no matter what the researcher concludes, there will usually be somebody to financially support those conclusions.

Some of us are old enough to remember when this kind of game was played by Southern segregationist politicians trying to hamstring civil rights organizations like the NAACP by pressuring them to reveal who was contributing money to them. Such revelations would of course then subject NAACP supporters to all sorts of retaliations, and dry up contributions.

The emphasis is mine, of course. Modern news media is like a vampire: it attacks in the night and sucks its victims dry, but it can’t stand the light. Professor Sowell totally nails the modern machinations of leftist media, which attacks all dissent from the party’s narrative, usually through a variety of public shaming strategies: concerted campaigns on the spammier side of media, like Gawker; followed by a requisite Five Minutes Hate on social media; ending with public apologies and then ostracization of the sinner. Everyone who has seen how much media works now knows how this goes. That the media itself is now commenting on it, sanctioning it in the pages of their own publications, is new. It’s a welcome sign.

Read the rest of Sowell’s piece here.

Look Who’s Practicing Trickle-Down Economics

Thomas Sowell is one of the clearest contemporary thinkers on economic and political issues, both as a theoretician and a commentator on current events. His recent piece on “Tax Cuts for the Rich and Trickle-Down Theory” is an excellent example. In it, he shows how tax rate cuts for the highest earners can actually increase the tax revenue collected from that group. He also recalls challenging his readers to name a single economist who advocated a “trickle-down” theory of economics. No one did so.

Trickle-down is the idea that when the highest income-earners keep more of their income, some of their spending will eventually reach lower-income workers. Their purchases of luxury items will bolster employment in the production of those items. Leftists are fond of setting up this theory and then attacking it on the grounds that the benefits to the wealthiest overshadow the benefits that trickle down to those at the bottom. Government spending cuts hurt low-income people the most. Therefore, they say, tax cuts for the highest earners are a disguised scheme to siphon yet more wealth from the bottom to the top.

The “trickle down” phrase has been around at least since the 1930’s and was restated recently by the current White House occupant when he attacked what he called “The economic philosophy which says we should give more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”

Does the theory make sense? First off, it ignores the morality of the situation. As T. J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, puts it, “I’m proud of my wealth. I earned it.” He explains how increased income taxes will not reduce his personal consumption but will instead reduce his investments in Silicon Valley startups and his charitable activities. Just what is the benefit, he asks, in taking money away from these uses and giving it instead to programs like Cash for Clunkers or Solyndra?

Secondly, trickle-down theory ignores the fact that high-income people like T. J. tend to invest a greater portion of their marginal income. Capital accumulation is the key to higher worker productivity and thus higher wages and higher standards of living.

There is actually one institution that does practice trickle-down economics. That would be the Federal Reserve System. The Fed recently announced its QE3 program under which it will purchase $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities each month for an indefinite period of time. One aim of this program is to push down long-term interest rates and thereby encourage businesses to borrow. But those rates are already historically low. Can we really expect further cuts to have any significant stimulative effect given the current high level of regime uncertainty?

The other purpose mentioned by Chairman Bernanke is to keep the stock and bond markets propped up. The idea is to pump up the “wealth effect.” This is the idea that when people who see increases in the market value of their holdings of investment or real estate, they will be more inclined to spend, even with unchanged income. Their spending will then trickle down into the economy. As an investor I ought to say thanks but as a citizen I would say to the leftists, look to the Fed to find a real example of exploitative trickle-down economics.