Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 20, 2006

Charles Fried: The "Mellow Conservative" and Taxes

Fried_1Interesting profile of Harvard Law Prof Charles Fried in the Sunday Boston Globe:  The Mellow Conservative, by Christopher Shea:

And yet, despite some gestures in a hard-line libertarian direction, when it comes to economics Fried is anything but a laissez-faire, small-government extremist. He rejects the libertarian notion that a 25 percent tax rate means citizens are one-quarter slave, for example. ("It is our obligation to pay our share of the common and public goods we depend on," he writes.)

Fried also argues that because radical economic inequality erodes citizens' mutual trust and respect, the state must take steps to help its poor, although once the poorest reach a certain minimal level of well-being no one should care how much the rich make. He thinks the American and European poor have reached that level, and yet he nevertheless goes so far as to endorse progressive taxation, that lodestar of the Democratic Party: "Some degree of progressivity I think is implicit in the purpose of easing poverty," he writes....

Pressed on the question of what level of taxation violates liberty, he sets the bar pretty high. "I think the rates before the Reagan reforms were pretty well pushing it," he says, referring to the days of 90-percent rates and numerous loopholes. "I think these are matters of degree, obviously," he says. "I think the Republicans have a slightly better view of this than the Democrats." That's all a bit too squishy for Richard Epstein, a purer libertarian at the University of Chicago, who took part with Fried in a panel discussion on taxation and regulation at a Federalist Society conference in Washington last week. "Charles simply cannot rid himself of progressivity," he says. "I'm quite willing to." Calling Fried a "mixed case," Epstein says he gives up far too much ground to the left, and that once a state moves from providing basic services to Medicare and Social Security, a crucial line has been crossed. Epstein might have gagged at the Harvard forum this month, when Fried said that his goal was to reconcile respect for liberty with "aspects of the modern welfare and administrative state that we all love." He wasn't joking.

(Hat tip:  Howard Bashman.)

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