by Doctor Science
In Chrystia Freeland's NY Times piece on The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent, she says:
In the early 19th century, the United States was one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet. “We have no paupers,” Thomas Jefferson boasted in an 1814 letter. “The great mass of our population is of laborers; our rich, who can live without labor, either manual or professional, being few, and of moderate wealth. Most of the laboring class possess property, cultivate their own lands, have families, and from the demand for their labor are enabled to exact from the rich and the competent such prices as enable them to be fed abundantly, clothed above mere decency, to labor moderately and raise their families.”It's a pretty picture, and completely untrue.
In the 1810 census, 16% of the US population were slaves. In Jefferson's home state of Virginia, 40% of the people were slaves. Yes, Jefferson was right that "[t]he great mass of our population is of laborers" -- but he was telling himself a story about "most" of them possessing property, cultivating their own lands, etc. He could only write -- and think -- this way by being willfully blind about the people he saw around him every day. And remember, the slaves that he pretended weren't there included his relatives, and quite possibly his children.
Freeland shares this delusion when she writes that "in the early 19th century, the United States was one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet". I'd even say that Freeland's delusion is wider than Jefferson's, because he had no way to know about as many "societies on the planet" as she should.
The bit that I've quoted from Freeland is nonsense, and it makes me really leery of the book she's plugging: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else . It doesn't help that her piece doesn't mention Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites, and that she quotes Peter Orszag -- a guy who really brings out my inner Madame Defarge, even though I can't knit. For him, though, I'll learn.
I've got Freeland's book on hold at the library, and shall report back after I've had a chance to read it.
I got this clear version of the image from a post on A Knitter Named Vengeance , about the tricoteuses who were the first to rebel in what became the French Revolution.