Richard Pipes is a distinguished historian of Russia whose work became prominent during the cold war. His accounts of Russian history, before and after the revolutions of 1917, are framed by a familiar question: Why did Russia not develop into a pluralist liberal democracy of a European, or North Atlantic, variety, but instead became the Soviet tyranny that outdid in atrocity and irrationality anything that its predecessor regimes had done? For all that, Pipes seems to take little comfort from the collapse of the Soviet regime. Indeed, he gives the impression that the removal of the external threat to the United States has simply allowed him to concentrate on the threats to American liberty from its own welfare institutions.
In Property and Freedom Professor Pipes ruminates on the grand themes of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophical history and their implications today. It is, he admits, not a field where he feels as confident as he does on his professional terrain, but he will disarm most readers when he quotes Jacob Burckhardt’s rousing defense of the dilettante:
In learning…one can attain mastery only of a limited field, namely as a specialist, and this mastery one should attain. But if one does not wish to forfeit the ability to form a general overview—indeed, to have respect for such an overview—then one should be a dilettante in as many fields as possible—at any rate, privately—in order to enhance one’s own knowledge and enrichment of diverse historical viewpoints. Otherwise one remains an ignoramus in all that lies beyond one’s specialty, and under the circumstances, on the whole, a barbarous fellow.
Whatever one might say of Professor Pipes, he is not a barbarous fellow. He has read widely and brooded deeply; he writes vigorously and lucidly; and if he has all too often missed the point of what he has read, and is obsessed with fears that were unrealistic when they were first ventilated in 1835 (by Alexis de Tocqueville) and 1888 (by Sir Henry Maine), he has at least demonstrated the truth of John Stuart Mill’s observation that on great subjects there is always something more to be said.
Professor Pipes’s theme, taken in the large, is the claim that no society can be free that does not respect private property; his fear is that although the sanctity of property is no longer threatened by the outright hostility of Communists and socialists, it may be undermined by the welfare state. In particular, he shares Alexis de Tocqueville’s fear that the logical terminus of the welfare state is what one might call the administered society, one in which individual liberty has vanished and all are under the benign command of rulers who cannot be challenged or gainsaid. Such rulers would anyway be unlikely to be challenged or gainsaid by the comfortable human flocks for whom they care.
It is an old and famous anxiety, and it comes in many guises. In Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, the search for instant gratification animates the carefully managed population, and the moral is that pleasure and freedom are at odds with each other. The absence of private property may seem to be an incidental feature of the society described by Huxley, but it is not; “Fordism”—the use of scientifically organized mass production to gratify the manipulated tastes of the consumer—sees all raw materials and all human abilities as collective resources. Their value does not lie in their being owned by anyone but in being used for maximum gratification. They must be at the disposal of experts, epitomized by the figure of the Director, not under the control of innumerable private citizens.
Hannah Arendt did not write best-selling novels, but The Human Condition tells a not dissimilar story. Self-government is possible only for independent, self-supporting citizens; politics provides the frame that allows large numbers of very different individuals to lead their own lives as free beings. To engage in their own projects, they need their own resources. They need resources of “their own” to control, to exploit, and to work on, which is to say that private property is one of the preconditions of there being anything we can properly call political life. The point was made briefly and elegantly by Aristotle two and a half millennia ago; Plato, he complained, had been so desperate to preserve the unity of the ideal society depicted in The Republic that he had deprived its members of everything that made them different from one another. The absence of a plurality of aims and viewpoints did not purify politics, however; it destroyed it.
To this old claim, Arendt added the perception that if welfare is the only measure of value, politics will be replaced by management. Although utilitarian thinkers from Jeremy Bentham to Henry Sidgwick argued that private property was the basis of economic efficiency (and the failures of socialism in the twentieth century suggest they were right), Arendt thought the search for efficiency was a two-edged weapon. Her concern was with freedom. If efficiency is all that matters, property rights can be overturned whenever it is efficient to do so. But Arendt thought that the quirky pluralism that arises when a variety of different people employ their own resources as they think fit was the basis of freedom, but anathema to the managerial instinct for efficiency. This insight made her a particularly savage critic of Marx. Marx’s hope that the “government of men” will give way to the “administration of things” is exactly the wrong hope; if things are administered, men will be administered as well, and freedom will vanish from the world.
Professor Pipes’s approach is neither as witty as Huxley’s nor as philosophically sophisticated as Arendt’s. It is for the most part sober and historical, though it begins philosophically and ends polemically. The two central chapters of Property and Freedom consist of a contrast between the way in which private property, parliamentary democracy, social pluralism, and a respect for human rights developed in England and the way they failed to develop in “patrimonial” Russia. These historical comparisons are preceded by a tour of political theorists from Plato to John Rawls, and a brisk survey of the rights over persons, things, and land that have mattered to hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, and ourselves. The book ends with an account of “property in the twentieth century,” which starts with some observations on Bolshevism and fascism and ends with a lugubrious attack on affirmative action.
Professor Pipes is a clever and well-read man, but he is too much at the mercy of his conviction that we are hastening toward the “gentle despotism” that Tocqueville foresaw as the fate that threatened an egalitarian society such as the United States. Pipes ends the book with Tocqueville’s wonderfully plangent words:
After having thus taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arms over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained by it from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
An alternative and more summary view might be extracted from Sir Henry Maine’s Popular Government. Maine had described the development of law as moving “from status to contract,” as people became autonomous and their property came more firmly under their own control. He feared that democracy would reverse the process and would create a new form of feudalism.
If this is what we have to avoid, what is the role of private property in the argument? Professor Pipes does not really know. He has, it is not unfair to say, no great talent for analysis. In particular, he finds it hard to decide when he is making a causal claim—the sociological claim that the widely dispersed and generally unfettered ownership of land and other resources promotes liberal democracy—and when he is making a moral claim—that anyone who cares about freedom should care about private property as part of that freedom. Both are respectable positions, but they are not identical. It is clear, however, that the case Professor Pipes most wants to make is the causal case. Private property is the foundation of freedom in the sense that a society where most people feel strongly about the inviolability of their property will not easily be oppressed by would-be absolute rulers.
Pipes, however, is a good historian; he knows that although the English hatred of arbitrary levies was one of the things that led the opponents of the seventeenth-century Stuart monarchy to curb its pretensions and in the end to drive James II into exile, the French minded no less about their possessions, and found themselves with an absolute monarchy nonetheless. Certainly, as Pipes’s brief histories of England and Russia show, what England developed and what Russia did not develop was a strong sense of the social, moral, and intellectual autonomy of the individual. It is plausible that once there is such a sense and the “middling sort” have resources on which to rely, they will both wish to check the aspirations of absolute rulers and be able to do it. But the role of private property in the equation is not easy to separate out from a host of other cultural factors, among which religious conviction is an obvious one.
There have been many societies in which private property was taken seriously and political liberty was almost wholly absent. To take a familiar example: Milton Friedman, who held very much the same view as Pipes does about the importance of capitalism as the basis of liberal democracy, was quite clear that under apartheid South Africa took property seriously but was a racist tyranny nonetheless. It is often said that, both there and in Chile, property owners made a pact with the Devil; they would sacrifice their own liberties and those of their inferiors so long as their property was left untouched. It could be said that the seventeenth-century Englishmen who thwarted the ambitions of the Stuart monarchy did so by hazarding their property in the search for freedom.
The anthropologist Alan Macfarlane, on whom Professor Pipes draws for the thought that the English taste for private property and individual freedom is immemorial, has always argued that the cultural and political package that defined English liberty—moral individualism, liberal democracy, an ethic of “stand on your own two feet,” and unfettered private ownership—was a peculiarity of the English, or at most a peculiarity of northwestern Europe. Property comes into the equation, but so do such nonmaterial factors as the English habit of marrying late and expecting all children but the eldest son to fend for themselves.
English political culture spread to the rest of the world with the English migrations of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries; but Macfarlane’s account suggests that its success owed less to its intrinsic attractions than to the colonizing habits of the British. If they had not come out on top in the early struggle for supremacy in North America and elsewhere, what Professor Pipes describes as “freedom” would have remained a minority taste, whatever the enthusiasm for ownership displayed by the French peasantry and the German bourgeoisie. It doesn’t follow that Tocqueville’s anxieties would have been realized or that hard rather than soft despotism would have been the order of the day. France and Germany are not today more oppressive than Britain and the United States in spite of having had what Professor Pipes believes to be the wrong history and the wrong legal tradition.
One reason why we so easily think that private property must be one of the foundations of personal and political freedom is that sometimes property is less a foundation of freedom than an aspect of it. The least free of human creatures is the slave; and what defines his unfreedom is that he is owned by somebody else. Nothing is truly his, because he is someone else’s property. His abilities belong to his master; his time belongs to his master; he cannot marry as he pleases, or decide whether to have a family of his own. It is an old thought that to be a free man you must at a minimum have no owner, and positively that you must have the ability to dispose of your own person, your own time, and your own abilities. Women, who generally in antiquity could not marry without the agreement of appropriate male relatives, were recognized to be less free than men, and to occupy a status halfway between that of free men and slaves.
Pipes is sometimes tempted by the claim that a respect for private property is a sufficient condition of freedom. He argues, for instance, that under the Nazis property rights were not respected, suggesting thereby that if they had been the regime would have been less illiberal. But he is tempted only because he slides between the sociological claim that, on the whole, private property is good for liberal democracy to the definitional claim that the rights of ownership are among the rights that must be respected if a society is to be free. It is plausible enough that a society that cares nothing for individual rights will be careless of property rights as well; but what is particularly disgusting about the destruction and looting of Kristallnacht is that it was an as-sault on the Jews, not that it was an assault on their property. Indeed, during the Second World War itself, the Nazis took less complete control over the property of their citizens than did the British government; it would be a brave man who thought that this made wartime Germany freer than wartime Britain.
Pipes’s lack of subtlety causes him many problems. He sees some of these himself, but there remain many that he doesn’t. Legal theorists have never found it easy to agree on exactly what “bundle” of rights must be included in the rights we have over an object before we can call it our property. One analyst has said that “full liberal ownership” exists when a person has all the rights of control, exploitation, and disposal that the law recognizes. This is not the same thing as saying that in order to own something the owner must be able to do whatever he likes with it. It is no derogation of my ownership of a carving knife that I may not stick it in your chest; it might on the other hand be a derogation of my ownership if I had to ask your permission to carve the Sunday roast with it.
Since it is not clear what rights belong in the bundle that we term “ownership,” it is not clear when a curtailment of rights is a diminution of ownership. That brings us to affirmative action. Professor Pipes does not like affirmative action. He thinks it is a practice without redeeming social merit. When it manifests itself in busing, it produces white flight and monochrome inner-city schools. When it manifests itself in noncolorblind university admissions it draws to universities students who drop out in large numbers and graduate at very low rates. (An empirically minded critic of Professor Pipes would notice that he concentrates on the performance of black students at places other than, say, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, where the dropout rate is very low and the graduation rate barely less than that of white students; but that is not here at issue.* )
The question that Professor Pipes does not know how to answer is whether affirmative action is especially wicked because it is an infringement of property rights. Where it is backed by law, it is a diminution of the freedom of universities and businesses to take anyone they wish to as a student or an employee. And it may on balance be a bad thing. If the primary task of universities is to pick the very cleverest students, as measured by standard entry requirements, and see how well they can perform academically, all affirmative action, whether it favors well-off alumni children or the children of the ghetto, violates the university’s reason for existence; and if every business selects its workforce with an intelligent eye to maximizing its own efficiency, interference with its choices will be inefficient. But these complaints have nothing to do with eroding the sanctity of private property. Property comes into it only if you think that the chief wickedness of affirmative action consists in forcing people to use their property in ways they do not choose; if, for instance, the owners of construction companies are forced to hire workers they do not want to hire, and colleges are forced to take students they do not want to take. The owners of construction companies are then forced to employ their assets—their machinery and raw materials—in ways they think inefficient; colleges are forced to deploy their resources—classrooms and equipment and the like—on tasks they would rather not.
There are some interesting consequences of such a view, however. For one thing, it leaves out the people whose choices many critics most mind about—the students or workers who may be displaced by affirmative action. For another, it cuts no ice where resources are publicly owned, since there is no private owner to be coerced. Where resources are privately owned, on the other hand, the merits of affirmative action are irrelevant. If what is at stake is the wrongness of interfering with the property of universities or employers, government, according to Pipes’s view, must not mandate affirmative action, no matter how great its merits might be; conversely, if universities and businesses wish to engage in affirmative action, government cannot interfere to stop them, no matter how little good affirmative action may do. This, interestingly, sets Professor Pipes at odds with the Supreme Court, which has allowed Texas to outlaw affirmative action at private colleges as well as at public institutions.
Professor Pipes’s melancholy account of the twentieth century’s descent into soft despotism tails off into something very like an after-dinner address to a group of dyspeptic Republicans, with many of the vices of the genre. It is one thing to quote the wonderful passage from Tocqueville printed above, but quite another to demonstrate that the present-day United States is, let us say by comparison with the United States of 1924, more conformist, more uniform, shorter of outstanding persons who rise above the mass, and in danger of succumbing to sheeplike docility. To the extent that such things are measurable, the reverse is true. We are awash with regulations, but very far from ovine. Pipes succumbs to the temptation to describe a multitude of his dislikes without doing very much to show their connection with the theme he is addressing. It is a pity. His subject is a great subject.
The philosophical historians of the eighteenth century—Adam Ferguson, John Millar, and William Robertson among them, along with David Hume, Adam Smith, and, in a different vein, Rousseau—took the connection between economic life, property, and political arrangements as their central theme. Freedom was central to their concerns, but it is a depressing feature of Property and Freedom that Professor Pipes has no sense of the sheer variety of ideas about freedom buried in the books he has read. The thought that civilization might be a bad bargain because it demands of us too much self-control, foresight, and prudence occurred to eighteenth-century writers, two centuries before Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. A striking absence from Pipes’s pages is Adam Ferguson’s observation that when hunter-gatherers encountered pastoralists, they would have thought that with their flocks the pastoralists had become slaves to their own property. The hunter-gatherer was tied to the needs of nobody but himself; the pastoralist had to worry about his flocks. As Rousseau tartly observed, property owners feel anxiety in every part of their possessions.
The Scots historians who speculated on these topics had no doubt that the modern world was more comfortable than the ancient world, and that the inhabitants of eighteenth-century London lived longer, lodged more commodiously, and ate better than their Greek forebears. They doubted whether they were more free. Their doubts were not unlike Hannah Arendt’s. The Athenians had fewer civil rights in the modern sense, but citizens enjoyed a share of real power in a way that their descendants do not. Against this perhaps nostalgic preference for the liberty of the ancients, Benjamin Constant defended the liberty of the moderns; his essay “La liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes” did not deny that what the Athenians had was freedom, but it did point out that it was not the sort of freedom that suited modern man. The Athenians had public, political freedom, the freedom to participate directly in the politics of their city; the price was very high, however, since it excluded women and foreigners and required a slave-based economy to secure the necessary leisure for the citizen. We do not wish to live in small city-states that are incessantly at war with their neighbors. We want to enjoy the pleasures of private life—an idea simply unknown to the ancient world. The kind of property rights you will wish to enforce depends on the kind of freedom you want to secure; and there is room for argument about what kind that is.
Professor Pipes is generally a courteous writer. That is just as well, for when he strays from fastidiousness, he comes off badly. Two egregious footnotes try to tar R.H. Tawney and Sir William Beveridge with the brush of Nazism, in the first case by observing that both Tawney and Hitler held an “instrumental” theory of rights, and in the second by noting that proposals for “cradle to grave” social security had featured in the program of the National Socialists. No doubt Professor Pipes fastidiously avoids the interstate highway system on the grounds that the Autobahnen were dreamed up by the Nazis too. Indeed, to the extent that Professor Pipes has a theory of rights, it also is an instrumental theory—he thinks, creditably enough, that people should have the property rights that enhance personal and political liberty. Nor is it quite clear why he thinks so ill of Lord Beveridge for charging government with the task of removing “want (i.e. poverty), disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness (unemployment).”
Pipes is not always on top of what he has read. He contrives to get the views of his Harvard colleague John Rawls entirely upside down. Rawls, as most of his readers know, sets out in A Theory of Justice to establish a rational basis for the personal and civil liberties that are held sacred by twentieth-century liberals. These include personal property, though not unregulated and unlimited ownership of the resources by which others earn their livings. Because Rawls thinks it is a useful starting point to consider everything as a social resource and then to carve out the inviolable rights that any legitimate state must protect, Professor Pipes accuses him of wishing to nationalize our individual talents and to establish a collectivist utopia. Most of Rawls’s critics complain that he is not sufficiently utopian. Utopia is not one of Professor Pipes’s better themes; all utopias, he says unwisely, evidence the desire of their authors to mistreat everyone else and to force them to conform to some rigid blueprint of the author’s devising. Certainly, some do; but the belief that all are essentially coercive and monistic can hardly withstand a look at Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, and William Morris, to take three of the better-known utopians.
Professor Pipes fails above all to see that almost every defense of private property plays to some degree into the hands of its critics. The ability to see just this is perhaps the chief virtue of The Stakeholder Society by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott. If property is seen as a “natural” reward for hard work, the obvious retort is that the people who do the hardest work usually have the least property. If the right to acquire unlimited amounts of property is defended as part of the “opportunity society,” the obvious retort is that in a world in which less than 10 percent of the population owns almost 90 percent of its resources, opportunity is hardly distributed fairly. If it is said that individuals can only be free if they can dispose of their own resources, what are we to say about the vast majority of the working population who must depend for their resources on access to the resources of AT&T or General Motors or some other employer?
The increasingly unequal distribution of both income and wealth in the United States and Britain raises once more a very old question—what do the poor receive in exchange for keeping their hands off the property of the rich? Why should the propertyless working man and woman continue to pay the taxes that pay the police who protect other people’s property? We know part of the answer. Contemporary Russia shows what happens when the rule of law collapses. In general, and on average, even the worst-off do better under a law-abiding, property-respecting regime than they would where the rule of law is absent. Would the rule of law break down if governments tried to equalize property holdings? Very probably; it is certainly a safe bet that the economy would shrink dramatically. That, however, is a long way from justifying the particular distribution of wealth, income, and above all of opportunity that characterizes the United States. Between gross inequality and impossible equality, there is a lot of territory to argue over.
What Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott see is that once we ask whether we might equalize resources, the genie will not easily be put back in the bottle. Merely to say, as libertarians do, that owners own their property and that that is the end of the story, is not persuasive. Even if property is grounded in natural right, the rights that twentieth-century Americans have over their property are almost entirely creatures of the law. The arbitrariness of inheritance, for instance, raises the question why we allow owners of property to leave their property to just about anyone—or any institution—they choose. In France, it is impossible to disinherit your spouse and children; in Britain it is rather easy, though courts are increasingly inclined to overturn patently vindictive wills. It is absurd to suppose that only one institutional system of law is morally or economically defensible.
But Ackerman and Alstott also see that enthusiasts for the traditional welfare state are on the defensive; the libertarians have gained ground, the competence of government is not taken for granted, and tax-and-spend liberalism is a political position with few friends. Moreover, the fear that the welfare state is bad for a free society is not silly; the more we have to ask officials for the means of existence, the less free we are.
Ackerman and Alstott thus face a dilemma. The present state of affairs is both unjust because opportunity is not fairly distributed and sullied by the absence of freedom for the poor and uneducated. But the American people are in no mood to put this right by expanding the welfare state, and to do so would in any case diminish freedom rather than enhancing it. Ackerman and Alstott choose to go straight between the horns of the dilemma. They argue for giving all Americans a stake in their society by giving each of them an endowment of $80,000. Anyone who graduates from high school and stays out of serious trouble will get an IOU on her or his eighteenth birthday. Those who are heading straight to college get $80,000 in four installments starting at once. Those who are not collect their four installments from their twenty-first birthday.
The proposal is rather less novel than its authors suppose. Before he took Carnegie’s shilling and campaigned for the rights of the rich, Herbert Spencer proposed a form of libertarian socialism: the right to acquire property would be unlimited, but at death whatever we possessed would be returned to the common pot and distributed equally to the young as they reached maturity. John Stuart Mill’s proposals for an accessions tax were supposed to achieve the same end by restricting the amount anyone could inherit—the purpose of which was to encourage the well-off to leave their wealth in several smaller bequests rather than one large and highly taxed one. The philosopher Hillel Steiner is perhaps the only contemporary libertarian to take such ideas as seriously as they should be taken; he follows Herbert Spencer in regarding private ownership as sacrosanct in life and as ceasing entirely at death.
The Stakeholder Society is a curious exercise, however. In one interpretation, it only has one idea, and that is the eye-catching proposal for the $80,000 handout to the young. To many readers, its interest lies in the authors’ speculations about ways of financing the handout. Ackerman and Alstott settle on a 2 percent capital levy, or wealth tax. This would be needed for what they call “the short run,” which is to say some forty or fifty years; 2 percent of the existing capital stock would finance the transfer to the annually arriving cohort of twenty-one-year-olds. Over the long run, something closer to Hillel Steiner’s approach would kick in, as those who had received their $80,000 dowry in their twenties would give it back when they died.
The question uppermost in most readers’ minds will be whether the citizens of the United States would be willing to vote for such a tax. European countries have remained much less unequal in both wealth and incomes than Britain and the United States; they have also been less resistant to wealth taxes, and indeed to taxes of all sorts. It is said that they have now reached the limits of their taxable capacity, but the evidence for that is dubious and anecdotal. British lectures to the French and German governments on the virtues of flexible labor markets and low taxes are shrugged off as a bad joke when the British standard of living is lower than that of all European Union countries save Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
American boasting about such wonders of the 1990s economy as its continuing expansion goes down equally badly. Too few Americans benefit from those wonders, and the average real wage has still not regained the levels of twenty-five years ago. Still, Americans are tax averse, and for all the authors’ optimism, it is hard to see a wealth tax getting off the ground in the US. Indeed, the countries which would find it easiest to raise the taxes The Stakeholder Society has in mind need such measures least, while the countries that most need them need them because they are irrationally hostile to such measures.
In principle, however, The Stakeholder Society is where Professor Pipes and the egalitarians he despises could meet. Ackerman and Alstott argue that the ethical basis of American political life is essentially individualistic; appeals to workers’ solidarity do not strike a chord with most Americans. Any appeal to the American sense of justice has to be couched as a promise to give everyone the chance to make the most of themselves. Giving a helping hand to people who then will not need further helping hands consorts with the American slogan that we should give a hungry man a fishing rod rather than a fish. The delicate point, and one that the authors recur to often without quite offering a definitive resolution of it, is just how much of the welfare state we are then to throw away in favor of their updated version of “forty acres and a mule.”
On the face of it, the fiercer sort of libertarian might suggest that the entire welfare state would be redundant—save for a safety net for the disabled and mentally ill—if everyone had the wherewithal to fend for themselves. Such insurance as they cared to buy would be their business. But the egalitarian might have two distinct aims in mind—one being to give people the power over their own lives that the ownership of property provides, and the other being to secure them against bad parents, incompetent employers, sickness, and old age in the way that the welfare state does these things now. Ackerman and Alstott go for something else. They dislike the existing system of Social Security because its benefits go only to those who have paid Social Security taxes. They think Americans are entitled to a good life as citizens, not as former workers. That leads them to include in the citizen’s stake a retirement pension for all, detached from any employment history. It also leads them to expend much ingenuity on a “privilege tax” that would replace Social Security taxes with a surcharge on the taxes of people who have had privileged childhoods. They agree that this tax might fall a bit harshly on the children of the well-off who go into badly paid public service, but shrug off the problem as not large enough to worry about; to the further complaint that it falls much more harshly on a woman who stays at home to care for her children, they reply, first, that she will have her $80,000 with which to pay the bill, and second that the United States ought anyway to move to a European system of family allowances. They do not, however, suggest that the existing Social Security system should be dismantled, though it must be a consequence of their plans that some of it would wither away.
As with all utopian projects, The Stakeholder Society opens itself to attack at innumerable points. That, however, is just what the authors intend. Professor Ackerman has always written with a degree of bravado that some readers find irritating but many of us very much enjoy. Here, the authors throw out a challenge to the reader: if you don’t like their proposals, think of something better. The combative reader will have a good time doing just that. Oddly enough, the largest doubt The Stakeholder Society leaves in one’s mind has nothing to do with the difficulty of persuading Americans to embrace new forms of taxation. It is rather that what they expect young Americans to spend their stake on is above all education; although they sketch all sorts of possibilities, they always return to the thought that the obvious thing to do with the $80,000 is to get educated. That suggests that free higher education, together with a surcharge on the incomes of graduates to pay for it, might be a much simpler way of providing young Americans with a stake in their own futures.
September 23, 1999
For a discussion of Yale and Princeton, among others, see the Mellon Foundation Study in The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok (Princeton University Press, 1998). See also the review of the book in these pages by Ronald Dworkin, The New York Review, October 22 and November 5, 1998. ↩