Levenson, writing at Balloon Juice, analyzes a role Ben Franklin played in the American Revolution that is certainly not as well understood or widely taught in American history as it should be: His ideas about money and finance, from anti-counterfeiting tricks to currency inflation, made the American Revolution financially possible against the world’s wealthiest empire.
Obviously, we’re not in the same economic circumstances as we were in 1775, but the desperation level is recognizable. And Franklin’s thinking and logic both are applicable to a certain extent today and are totally at odds with all the ideas of the fringe-right-wing, IGMFY crowd. Levenson writes:
Benjamin Franklin, the greatest mind of the founding generation of the American experiment (yes, I rank him ahead of Jefferson), approved of sharply progressive taxation to pay for crucial functions of government.
More particularly: Franklin understood and approved of the idea that the inflationary tax created by the collapse of the infant American dollar not just did but should hit the rich harder than the poor.
It made sense, he argued that these wealthy men should bear a proportionately greater share of the cost of the war, not just or even primarily because they had more scratch to spare, but because they had the most to gain from independence.
The connection from revolutionary times to ours is obvious, right?
If not: over the last decade we’ve fought two wars and transferred an enormous amount of capital from the middle class to the rich – and the wealthiest among us, have not been asked (or rather, have refused) to make any even remotely proportional contribution to the nation’s security and long term fiscal health.
Franklin would have been appalled. He knew, as plenty do still, that achieving great common purpose takes cash and commitment from the whole damn society. When the wealthiest opt out, take their stacks of coins and go home, they may protect their short-term interests – but they kill, however fast or slow, whatever hopes we may have of advancing to that “more perfect union” he and his first imagined.
So you can take your money and go home, but from beyond the grave, Ben Franklin will say you’re not a real American if you do.