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A Property-Owning Democracy

I've been reading Irving Krisol (the father of neoconservatism) a lot lately. I agree with the idea of "property-owning democracy" (widespread distribution of property ownership) as ideal. This idea has deep roots in conservative philosophy. But the neocons fall short because they fail to support any institution that fosters property-owning democracy.

Kristol falsely believed that economic growth in itself fosters property-owning democracy. At the same time, he opposed progressive income tax. In reality, high top marginal income tax rates encouraged CEOs and capitalists to raise wages for their employees rather than pocketing new profits. The progressive income tax is an institution that helps foster property-owning democracy by driving up wages and making wealth trickle down as the economy grows. Since Republicans have cut the top tax rates, wages have stopped rising and new wealth has all accumulated at the top. Supply-siders saw that economic growth led to better conditions for the people at the bottom as wealth trickled down. They failed to realize that it was tax policy that caused wealth to trickle down. High top marginal tax rates (at 70%, 90%, or more) served as a maximum wage policy.

Many conservatives advocated "property-owning democracy" and supported robust welfare programs (e.g. universal catastrophic insurance, universal basic income, minimum income guarantee, negative income tax), but they also helped to dismantle the institutions that made such things feasible. While Kristol, Friedman, and others argued for robust welfare programs, they didn't want the taxes that were necessary to pay for them. At the same time, they dismantled the tax system that made wealth trickle down—the very tax system that was leading us towards property-owning democracy.

Distributism, though it was always a fringe conservative movement, took the "property-owning democracy" seriously and recognized that progressive taxation was necessary in order to create and maintain a property-owning democracy. Hilaire Belloc's support for "differential taxation" stands out:

A key insight of 20th century conservatism was that the alternative to socialism is not corporate capitalism but rather property-owning democracy—an economic system in which the majority of people own some productive (or potentially productive) property. But it was the distributists alone among conservatives who did not fight against the very institutions that foster property-owning democracy.

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