William Pitt the Elder, former Prime Minister and First Earl of Chatham, was held in very high esteem among British American Colonists and revolutionaries. Pitt, the elder statesmen and one of the key voices for the repeal of the 1766 Stamp Act, proposed a compromise devolution measure in Parliament known as the Provisional Act in 1775. In doing so, he aimed to preserve the First British Empire through concessions to the American colonies in exchange for recognition of parliamentary supremacy.
The proposed Act devolved power to the Continental Congress for revenue collection and protected colonial taxation and judicial interests, preserving for Parliament legislative power in areas “beyond the competency of the local representative of a distinct collony.” Ultimately, however, the Act was defeated in the House of Lords and Lord Frederick North’s government took repressive rather than conciliatory measures.
Lord North, like current Prime Minister David Cameron, was a deeply patriotic leader with strong nationalistic tendencies, and the legacy of both as stewards of the realm will in large part be defined by their ability to manage an independence crisis of a dissatisfied subordinate body of the United Kingdom.
The most recent British parliamentary elections have given Mr. Cameron and the Tory government a clear majority in Parliament and a mandate to legislate. However, according to the New York Times, North of England, Scotland has become “essentially a one-party state,” giving “56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, and “a strong voice in Westminster” to the Scottish National Party, an organization strongly in favor of increased Scottish independence from the United Kingdom — “[i]n essence, England and Scotland are today not one nation but two, each dominated by a single party.” In 2014, Scottish independence failed referendum by a narrow margin, 55-45.
Mr. Cameron appears to be learning from the mistakes of history and Lord North. He has stated on behalf of his government that “[i]n Scotland, our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world, with important powers over taxation.” Indeed, he wants to carry out this endeavor of devolution “as fast as possible.”
On Tuesday, President Obama participated in a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University. Hitting on his common talking points from income inequality to infrastructure, the president’s remarks were not extraordinarily surprising. However, what gave the event more flavor than a typical stump speech was remarks made by another panelist — Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
While Dr. Brooks gave the President all the respect that his office deserves, the think tank president did not shy away from challenging the administration’s class warfare:
Now, since we believe that there should be public goods, then we’re really talking about the system that provides them and provides them efficiently. The President talked about the changing structure of the income distribution, and it’s unambiguously true. What I would urge us to regret is this notion that it’s not a shift, but a transfer. It’s not a transfer.
Since the 1970s, it’s not that the rich have gotten richer; because the poor have gotten poorer. The poor are not having their money taken away and given to the rich. The rich have gotten richer faster than the poor have moved up. And we might be concerned with that because that also reflects on opportunity. And as an opportunity society, as an equal opportunity society, we should all be really concerned with that.
But the extent that we can get away from this notion that the rich are stealing from the poor, then we can look at this in I think in a way that’s constructive. Why? Because the rich are our neighbors and the poor are our neighbors, and everybody else should be our neighbors and they’re all our kids. And I think getting away from that rhetoric is really important.
Dr. Brooks’ remarks are well substantiated by the economic evidence. While it’s undeniable that the rich have gotten richer over the past few decades, the size of the United States economy has grown faster. To be specific, the inflation-adjusted income of the top 1% has increased nearly 400% since 1979. However, the US’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has increased by over 500% over the same time period.
In short, the rich are not stealing from the poor. They’re simply getting a bigger slice of a growing pie. Dr. Brooks deftly points this out, shifting focus to addressing the underlying causes of poverty instead of sticking pitchforks at the rich.
This is an important rhetorical trick for the center-right to learn since there are so many government roadblocks that need removal to put the poor on the path to prosperity. Occupational licenses, mandatory minimums, civil asset forfeiture, failing public schools, the drug war, the minimum wage — the list goes on and on. Until libertarians and conservatives change the poverty narrative to focus on opportunity instead of welfare, income redistribution will continue to be a distraction.