The Risk Within

General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur, The Freeman, 1957

Excerpts from remarks to stockholders at the Annual Meeting of Sperry Rand Corporation, July 31, 1956.

 We approach for the first time in history an era in which the industrial tools provided by science and technology give promise to mankind of satisfaction of his basic economic and material needs. Poverty cannot be entirely abol­ished, but the welfare of all mankind can be raised. Tomorrow’s standards can make today look like a mere start.

It is not my purpose to attempt to conceal or minimize in the slightest degree the difficulties and dangers that beset the national way.

The national dangers are both external and internal. Externally, they are those incident to war. But this contingency I regard as logically only a remote possibility.

The almost incredible destructive­ness of modern weapons upon civil communities has brought to all mankind the realization that mili­tary force is no longer an exploitable method of settling interna­tional rivalries. The victor, if any such should emerge, would suffer almost as greatly as the van­quished.

If this nation is ever destroyed, I unhesitatingly predict it will not be from external force. Our own internal hazards, the spon­taneous combustions arising from the accelerating complexities of modern life in an ever-multiplying community, are the ones which give rise to anxiety. They are too numerous for me to attempt to enumerate, but surely one of the most dangerous of these is exces­sive taxation and its sinister by­product and offspring — inflation. In the lexicon of government there is no more grim and pertinent aphorism than Chief Justice John Marshall’s warning as early as 1819 that the power to tax includes the power to destroy. Indeed, this is the weapon that Karl Marx de­clared was the vital one to dis­place the system of free enterprise — the system on which our nation was founded — the system which has made us the most prosperous people of all history.

Reasonable taxation is, of course, an essential of govern­ment; but when taxation is used as a social regulator, it becomes a menace to freedom. When its rate is so excessive that men work month after month with all that they earn going to government, it amounts almost to forced labor. It practically reduces them for protracted periods to something akin to involuntary servitude. It is an unwarranted assumption that a handful of men, centered in gov­ernment, largely bureaucratic rather than elected, can spend the proceeds of toil and labor to greater advantage than he who creates the money. Excessive taxa­tion can reduce free men to serf­dom, can destroy initiative, absorb the capitalistic system, and level representative government to sovietism.

Taxation has been the cause of more bloody revolutions in the history of government than any other one provocation. It precipi­tated our own Revolution which resulted in the founding of the United States of America. The Boston Tea Party is still symbolic. The Biblical story of Christ’s re­pudiation and expulsion of the tax tyrants from the temple is still a warning. Its excesses and idio­syncrasies hang like a dark cloud over the destinies of those con­nected with this company and every other company in this be­loved land of ours.

Editor’s Note at The Moral Liberal: According to the Tri-City Herald, Sept. 6. 1956, General MacArthur was at the time of this address speaking in his role as Chairman of the Board of the Sperry Rand Corporation. Thank you to the Freeman, as well, for preserving this tidbit from that speech.  – Steve Farrell.

© Copyright 2012 Foundation for Economic Education. All rights reserved. Used with permission.