A nice Project Syndicate column from Brad Delong. This is how it starts.
When French politician and moral philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville published the first volume of his Democracy in America in 1835, he did so because he thought his France was in big trouble–and had lots to learn from America.
The grab for centralized power by the absolutist Bourbon monarchs followed by the great French Revolution and Napoleon’s Empire had destroyed the good parts of the French neofeudal order as well as the bad. In Tocqueville’s imagination, at least, the subjects of the neofeudal order had been eager to protect their particular liberties and jealous of their spheres of independence. They had understood that they were embedded in a nationwide web of obligations, powers, responsibilities, and privileges.
But for the Frenchman of 1835, Tocqueville thought, adopting:
the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions… [has produced] egotism… no less blind…. [W]e have destroyed an aristocracy, and we seem inclined to survey its ruins with complacency…”
To sick France in 1835 de Tocqueville counterposed healthy America, in which attachment to the idea that people should pursue their self-interest was no less strong, but was different. It was, he thought, because Americans understood that they could not flourish unless their neighbors prospered as well: they thus pursued their self-interest, but their interest “rightly understood”.
“Every American”, Tocqueville writes, understands that to get prosperous neighbors he needs to “sacrifice a portion of his private interests to preserve the rest. “Americans”, he wrote:
are fond of explaining… [how it is] regard for themselves [which] constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the general welfare.
In France, by contrast, Tocqueville fears a future in which:
it is difficult to foresee to what pitch of stupid excesses their egotism may lead them… into what disgrace and wretchedness they would plunge themselves, lest they should have to sacrifice something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their fellow-creatures.
Delong’s hyperlinks are worth following, because they take you to this post, which explains that, according to Jewish Theological tradition, the real trouble with the Republicans is that they are Sodomites.
Makes me grateful for our own conservatives (seriously). Unlike Keating who always wanted to lower the top marginal rate (it just had so much better long clean lines with a lower top rate), Howard kept the top marginal rate of tax at the rate he inherited it, despite finding hundreds of billions of dollars turning up in the coffers he wasn’t expecting. I think Costello wanted to lower the top rate, but the Coalition Government only did it (and only did it by a few percentage points) only very late in the day and only after ALP figures Lindsay Tanner and Craig Emerson started criticising them for not having done it. The ALP then promised to match the cuts announced by the Libs and the rest as they say, is history.