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Dr. John Dewey, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy of Columbia University, gave a radio speech recently, for the WEVD university of the air. In his speech he maintained that the capacity of teachers to produce their "goods,"--intelligence, skill, and character among their pupils, had been curtailed during the depression. The reason for the curtailment was "in part the inability of large numbers to pay taxes, combined with the desire of those able to pay taxes to escape what they regard as a burden." His reference was, of course, only to the educational facilities supported by the government.
There has been much half-backed thinking on the question of rich men not paying taxes in the depression, but one would not expect the foremost philosopher of America to fall into it. Men who took losses on the stock-market through the depreciation of their securities were allowed to write off those losses against any income they may have received from other sources. Not to have followed the law in this case would have been plainly and simply and merely donating funds to the government. Rich men as a class undoubtedly did give to charities which were supporting the government against the depression. It is just conceivable that they thought they could spend their money for the good of the country better than the government could do.
It is absurd to claim that rich men who are excused for one reason or another from a certain variety of taxes should pay them anyway, out of the goodness of their hearts, they will spend their money as they see most fit. Considering that the government is made up of politicians who are more interested in keeping people at work in the industrial system than in keeping up the educational facilities of the country, donations to the government would undoubtedly not have lessened the curtailment which Dr. Dewey has found. Obviously the fact that rich men did not pay income taxes had nothing to do with the question.
It is impossible that such a man as Dr. Dewey should not have understood so simple a fact. Perhaps the solution lies in his pragmatism. An idea is true if it works. This sort of cant with its innuendo against the rich certainly works in most audiences in the country. It is the stuff of demagoguery. For that reason Dr. Dewey can get away with a lot of loose thinking and still be consistent to his philosophy. But this very fact is what makes intelligent and stupid alike have less faith in the power of the human mind. If the greatest philosopher in the United States thinks sloppily, we can all join Dr. Townsend, who says of those who have spent their lives studying the economic system that they know "no more about it than you or I."
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