Wealth Redistribution, American-Style

Courtesy of Brad DeLong and Rick Pearlstein, here’s John Wayne’s view of non-whites:

I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from the Indians. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.

Whatever you think of Wayne’s moral judgment, I wish more people would tip their caps in the direction of his economic wisdom. In the 19th century, land was the main source of wealth, and the Native Americans possessed a great deal of it on a per capita basis. What the white population of the United States did was take the land for themselves and become rich in the process. People have somehow gotten it into their heads that the story of the United States is one of rugged capitalist individualism up until Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson or Barack Obama (or Abraham Lincoln for the Ron Paul fans in the audience) ruined everything. But that’s totally mistaken. It may or may not be the case that the white settlers of the American frontier saw themselves as rugged individualists, but they were in reality the beneficiaries of a massive campaign of wealth redistribution.