They spawned the 1 percent: How Washington and Lincoln explain inequality today

George Washington, our first president, and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th, are the twin icons of that office. Their portraits are side by side in our wallets, in our change purses and on classroom walls during Presidents’ Day observances. Yet they represent different visions of an American economic order, differences that persist to this day. Washington stood for a system in which one man enriches himself by skimming off the excess value of his underlings’ work. Lincoln stood for the principle that every worker is entitled to the full value of his own labor. Call it the battle between Washingtonomics and Lincolnomics. From the founding of this country up until the Civil War, Washington’s order was dominant. It’s been dominant in our era, too, ever since Washington’s native South regained control of the federal government in the 1970s.If you want to understand why the United States has never achieved the same level of economic equality as other industrialized nations, you have to look back at Washington’s life and career. And then you have to look back even further, to Washington’s ancestors, who settled Virginia. You’ll find that inequality was one of this nation’s founding principles.Continue Reading…

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