David Hume on What Creates a Better Society
From Crooked Timber, a post on David Hume, who as Paul Krugman relates was a philosopher of the 18th century and who helped found economics before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. This is a particularly apt Hume quote for our time:
A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labor, in a full possesion of all the necessaries, and many of the conveniences, of life. No one can doubt that such an equality is most suitable to human nature and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor. It also augments the power of the state, and makes any extraordinary taxes or impositions be paid with more cheerfulness. Where the riches are engrossed by a few, these must contribute very largely to the supplying of the public necessities. But when the riches are dispersed among multitudes, the burden feels light on every shoulder, and the taxes make a not very sensible difference on any one’s way of living.
Add to this that, where the riches are in few hands, these must enjoy all the power, and will readily conspire to lay the whole burden on the poor and oppress them still farther, to the discouragement of all industry.