Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From the Atlantic: The Founding Fathers Weren’t Concerned With Inequality Economic disparity is a problem that has grown along with the nation.

As we discuss in class - it doesn't become an issue at all until the 14th Amendment, and even then it is very weakly defined and enforced.

- Click here for the syllabus.

The first Bill of Rights, of course, refers to the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed for, among other things, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, and the right to a trial by jury. Those rights, at the time, were top of mind among the country’s founders, who were concerned most with getting Great Britain out of their affairs. The founders didn’t concern themselves with what people in their young country would do if they got sick and couldn’t pay their rent. In fact, neither the Bill of Rights, nor the Declaration of Independence, nor the U.S. Constitution talk explicitly about the nation’s role in making sure its citizens have jobs or homes or earned enough to avoid being impoverished. The only line that even comes close appears in the preamble to the Constitution, where “We the People of the United States” pledge to “promote the general Welfare.” But at no point in the founding literature do the founding fathers identify what constitutes general welfare, or how nation should be upholding it.
Founding documents of other countries that were ratified much later, talk more about equality. The Indian Constitution, for example, was adopted in 1949, and includes an article that requires the state to “secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people,” which includes instructions to the state to try and eradicate income inequality.
It raises the question: If Americans today are so concerned with income inequality and the “American Dream,” and if FDR believed so strongly in equality of opportunity, why didn’t the founders talk about these concepts at all in the documents that created the nation? Is it really correct to say that America is built on a foundation of opportunity and economic freedom when that type of equality isn’t mentioned at all?

The answer seems to be that there was little economic inequality at that time - political equality was a different matter.

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