Richard Kohn, Ph.D.*

The US House of Representatives recently passed a resolution against socialism with major support from most Republicans and Democrats, including some who call themselves “progressives.” The statement largely calls for the elimination of “socialism” worldwide and for foreign interventions to prevent any country from controlling their own economies, specifically railing against Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in our hemisphere, and China, Cambodia, and the former Soviet Union. However, they use the word “socialism” without defining it. Through context and examples, it seems to be used very broadly to mean any system that takes from the wealthy or provides benefits to the less fortunate.

In their resolution against socialism, the US House quoted a statement attributed to the author of the Declaration of Independence, slave owner and rapist, and advocate of Native American relocation, President Thomas Jefferson:

“To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.”

Using this quote in this context provides one of the only hints as to what Congress meant by using the term “socialism”. This quote implies that Jefferson opposed progressive taxation and the government providing social programs for poor people, and that he believed that everyone should be allowed to engage in any industry (e.g. gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution, weapons sales) and profit from it without government regulations.

By including this quote in this context, The House Resolution defines the tyranny of progressive taxation and social programing as “socialism” and calls to ban it for all people in the world, thus making it the responsibility of the US government to conquer all primitive countries that don’t have the same standards of freedoms that Jefferson espoused.

Jefferson also defended his property rights to the slaves he owned. However, he was inconsistent in support of property rights because he did approve of the government taking property from Native Americans and giving it to successful people like himself (land reform). The quote attributed to Jefferson might not even be authentic and certainly is contradictory to his own views expressed in other places. Jefferson also wrote to Madison in 1785, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain
point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.” Some would say Jefferson invented progressive taxation, something Congress appears to believe is “socialism.” One could say that Thomas Jefferson was a “socialist” by the way it is defined today.

(*) Richard Kohn is a professor of Animal Science at the University of Maryland. His research interests include evaluating the environmental impacts of animal production systems. He recently led a UMD study abroad delegation to Nicaragua to acquaint his students with the Sandinista way towards green, socially-responsible development.