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There are many ways to define “Civilization”. You could start with the plow and clay pots, working your way forward. Another option is to reference cultural icons and storytelling, if you want to take a literary approach. I, however, prefer to focus on the basic concepts of law and justice.

I grew up in Miami during a time when the city was a refuge for many people escaping horrors of one sort or another. El Salvador was openly in civil war, and Haiti went from one repressive regime to another. The Medellin cartel under Pablo Escobar gradually came to rule Colombia in a war that was also fought in my own neighborhood. The stories of deprivation and death that were recounted reverently by the refugees I met were a nothing less than testimony. These people were witnesses, and justice demanded that their story be told.

Their homelands missed these stories. Instead, people were forced to get along and get by. The poor are ravaged anywhere they live, but if you own property you are nothing but a target. You have to conceal your riches in a lawless world, and hire guards to protect what you cannot hide. You must pay protection money to one gang or militia one day, and the other the next. Wealth is constantly up for grabs. Without a judicial system where the stories could be told and appropriate action taken, everything was up for grabs.

In this nation, we do not have these problems. Most of what makes up our law is the definition of property. Our justice system diligently protects wealth by protecting the rights that define it. The economic system that allows for innovation and opportunity is based on this concept of justice.

Those who own more necessarily benefit more from our system of justice. They have more property, and so more laws protect them. They have a greater stake in the political system that shapes our laws. As such, they have a greater responsibility to it. That is the principle of progressive taxation, or taxation based on ability to pay.

The notion that taxes should be progressive has been under fire lately. Many people who have gotten a decent stake in our nation have come to believe that the whole concept is nothing more than an attempt to steal what they have achieved. What they do not realize is that they achieved what they did because our justice system made it possible. And that justice system benefits them more and more as they become more successful.

Ultimately, that delicate notion called “Civilization” comes down to one thing for many Americans. It is what we have come to take for granted. If we were to take some time to understand what happens when everything is genuinely up for grabs, we might see how important the simple concept of justice is, and who benefits from it the most.

One thought on “Progressive

  1. Pingback: Routine « Barataria - the work of Erik Hare

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