Liberals Love the ‘General Welfare’ Clause

In a previous article, I pointed out that one commenter to an article I had written tried to argue that Jesus was an advocate for socialism. It’s an old story that lacks facts to back up the premise.

In the same comment, he made the absurd claim that the United States Constitution was designed to promote wealth distribution. It’s no wonder that more than 50 percent of voters supported the most socialistic president in United States history. Here’s what he wrote:

“The Constitution, which we all revere, explicitly states that Congress has the power to levy taxes to provide for the common welfare — to include roads, bridges etc. The common welfare includes ALL people. To argue that taxes are all inherently stealing from you is to deny the very Constitution that is the foundation of the United States. I don’t agree with everything Prof. Krugman says but in this case he is right. We have the largest wealth inequality since the 1920’s and that did in fact hasten the collapse of the markets and the advent of the Great Depression. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend history is unimportant.”

Since the income tax amendment wasn’t ratified until 1913, it’s hard to make the case that our founders were pushing ways to abolish “wealth inequality” since there was no instrument to tax people unequally.

Here’s the introductory text of the “general welfare” provision in Art. I, sec. 8 of the Constitution:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

It’s clear that the “general welfare” (not “common welfare”) clause is not about wealth redistribution. There are 18 powers granted to the Federal government in the full context of Article 1, section 8 with no mention of wealth redistribution, education, retirement security, or health care.

As James Madison made clear in Federalist 41, the phrase “general welfare” is immediately followed “and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon.” He went on to state that “[n]othing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars,” which the Constitution does.1 Read the list for yourself.

“General welfare” in constitutional terms means welfare that benefits everybody more or less equally. This can be clearly seen in providing “for the common Defense.” Taxes collected to defend the nation benefit everybody generally.

Taxing some people so other people can have decent housing or a college education or healthcare is not general welfare; it’s particular welfare. Taking money from some people so it can be given to other people is not what the constitution means by general welfare.

Bridges and roads are paid for by people who use them. The more you drive, the more you pay. If you don’t own a car, you pay the tax indirectly in the goods that travel over the roads by trucks that purchase fuel and pay the tax, an expense that’s passed on to consumers, as is every other tax.

  1. The Federalist No. 41: General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution (January 19, 1788). []
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