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Sixteen Questions for an Enlightened Citizenry – Economic Beliefs

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Sixteen Questions for an Enlightened Citizenry – Economic Beliefs

ThomasJeffersonAn enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. It should be noted, that when Jefferson speaks of “science,” he is often referring to knowledge or learning in general.”

The really great thing about the Obama administration is that it’s getting people out of apathy and getting them involved in deciding the direction of their own future.

Who can read a 1,000 page health care bill?  Well, you can.  The alternative is to have your destiny decided for you.  In fact, that is the outcome that some people would like for you.

Large turn-out for Town Hall meetings

But the large turnout for the Town-hall meetings to discuss the Health Care bill might be the harbinger that the citizenry are finally taking an overt and visible interest in what is going on.  Good for them!

The courage to ask the right questions and participate

In some cases, it’s about asking the right questions – and to have the courage to ask these questions.  But first, how about a few more quotes from Thomas Jefferson to set the context.

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:207

“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” –Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779. FE 2:221, Papers 2:526

An Informed Citizenry

I ran into this really great list of questions on Economic beliefs – all of these are relevant in the context of what is going on right now (August 2009) with regard to the economic situation of the United States – the health care bill, the corporate bailouts, redistribution of wealth, and all the rest.

Asking the right questions

To create an “informed citizenry” in our present economic situation one should really get these questions (and your preliminary answers) rolling around in your head.  These questions are catalysts to elicit beliefs and understandings that you may not know you had.  And, discuss them with others.  What will you discover about someone you think you may know so well?

Alot of people say they don’t want to talk about politics, religion, or get into any economic discussions.  Isn’t this exactly what Thomas Jefferson warned us about – the lack of an “informed citizenry”?

“The information of the people at large can alone make them the safe as they are the sole depositary of our political and religious freedom.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1810. ME 12:417

I found this on the Internet – its the work of Bill Frezza.  And these are some really great questions

What Is the Moral Foundation Of Your Economic Beliefs?

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009 9:20:33 AM

  1. What is the moral foundation of your economic beliefs? Do economic beliefs even require a moral foundation?
  2. Do you find it natural to accept the varied religious beliefs of others even if they contradict your own? On the other hand, are you often at odds with people who espouse different economic beliefs and policies? Why, especially if the former forms the foundation for the latter?
  3. Would you ever use the ballot box to force others to practice your religion or make them pay to build you a church? Why do you find it easy to do this with your economic beliefs, compelling others to foot the bill for the public policies you promote?
  4. Do you believe that wealth is prima facie evidence of thievery? Of privilege? Do you think wealth can only be created off the backs of the poor? Is there a fixed amount of wealth in the world for all to share? If so, where did it come from and how has mankind been getting richer for the past 200 years? And if the poor wish to escape exploitation by the rich, why do they keep sneaking in to our country rather than out?
  5. Do you admire highly paid sports figures yet disdain highly compensated business executives? Why? Does it matter whether the shareholders in the companies that employ these executives feel they are getting their money’s worth? And if you’re not a shareholder, what makes this issue your concern?
  6. Is poverty an absolute indicator of worthiness? Do you believe the poor bear any responsibility for changing their condition? If not, whose responsibility is it and why? Should the poor be held accountable if they don’t make efforts to help themselves? Who should hold them accountable and how?
  7. If a poor person becomes rich through hard work then resists handing his money over for the benefit of the poor, is he a traitor to his class? Should he be treated differently than someone who inherits great wealth? How about someone who wins the lottery? Why?
  8. Does every poor person have a moral claim on every rich person regardless of how they got rich or poor? Where does this claim come from? Are claims limited to people living in the same country or do they extend to all humanity? Why? Is it the job of government to mediate these claims? If you believe highly progressive taxation and expansive government entitlements are necessary to reduce economic inequality, does it matter to you if the attendant incentives and disincentives reduce the total amount of wealth available to be shared? Is making all people equally poor an acceptable solution to inequality?
  9. Are you careful not to judge people by the color of their skin yet sometimes quick to make judgments based on economic status? If so, do you make distinctions based solely on wealth or lack thereof or does it make a difference to you how an individual became rich or poor?
  10. Would you steal money from your own children? Would you steal money from other people’s children? What makes it socially acceptable to let Congress do this for you?
  11. Do you contribute to charity? Would you gang up with your neighbors and force others to contribute to your charities? What makes it OK to hire Congress to do this for you?
  12. Do you believe in a right to privacy? Should citizens accused of a crime be considered innocent until proven guilty, with the burden of proof falling on the prosecution? Do you believe the accused have a right to remain silent? How would you feel if the government compelled a vast network of informers to file reports on the behavior of citizens whether or not they’ve been accused of a crime? OK then, what is the moral principle that allows you to make exceptions to these beliefs when it comes to a person’s income and investments?
  13. When you see corruption between business and politicians, are you inclined to shrug and accept it as the nature of man? If corruption touches your own business are you impelled to speak out, do you tolerate it in silence while sticking to your principles, or do you seek your share of the spoils because everyone else is doing it?
  14. Do you resent being asked to justify your economic beliefs or the moral foundation they rest on? Do your ends always justify your means? Do you feel entitled to having your beliefs respected solely because they are yours? Would you feel the same way about your mathematical beliefs?
  15. Are you comfortable holding contradictory beliefs? When was the last time you questioned them? What do you do when you discover you hold two beliefs that contradict each other?
  16. Are you happy to see the state to which we’ve fallen – pressure group pitted against pressure group, old against young, citizen against citizen all fighting to grab a share of the swelling portion of our national income funneled through the hands of Congress? What other outcome would you expect when moral foundations crumble?

— Bill Frezza is a partner at Adams Capital Management, an early-stage venture capital firm. He can be reached at If you would like to subscribe to his weekly column, drop a note to


Written by frrl

August 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

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