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When analyzing the essence of our current political world, we see a conflict that has always roiled America: the clash between property rights and human rights.

When the Constitution was written, only men of property were allowed to vote, and property meant humans in some states. Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are endowed with the rights to life, liberty and property. It was edited later to the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The liberal or progressive agenda has maintained since the writing of the Constitution that human rights -- equality, freedom from slavery, and a voice at the ballot box are the goals of a democracy. The premise is that capitalism produces wealth, but that the wealth is a by-product of a democratic system and should help pay to sustain that system. For two centuries, that has been the general debate between the two camps: how much would be devoted to the common good as determined by a democratic electoral system.

The current property rights wing has hardened its view of how much it is willing to put into the public good; some even deny there is such a thing as the common good. The intellectual framers of this view deny the rights of the general public to determine economic policy via the ballot box. They deny the right of voters to choose public policy that taxes property in order to produce public goods like public schools, public transportation, and public health. The Mt. Pellerin Society, the incubator of this doctrine, proclaimed that economic policy should not be subject to the electoral will of the people.

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This divide is still being worked out in American society, often in a shadow war over values. Religious beliefs mask the purely economic goals of the property rights argument. That’s why it seems strange that people of modest means are strongly supporting a policy set that harms the poor, children, and the elderly. It is a policy set that runs in the face of most religious faiths, which are based on a benevolent deity.

The struggle to protect property has culminated in massive resistance to funding the public goods that characterize modern democracies. Trillions of dollars are hoarded in tax havens where they produce neither public goods nor new enterprises. Until the people of America decide that they have a democracy that can compel the people of property to pay for social benefits, our elections will be over false issues of religion and values.

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HARRIET YOUNG

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