NOVEMBER 9, 1949
NEW YORK, Tuesday—On Sunday at Hyde Park our luncheon guests increased as the day approached. His Excellency, the Vice Premier Venizelas of Greece, who is leaving for home shortly, came up with his wife and Mr. Vardinajannis, his private secretary, to lay a wreath on my husband's grave and to lunch with us. I deeply appreciated this mark of respect on the part of the Greek government and was very glad to have a chance to talk informally with these delightful people. The economic situation of the world is, of course of deep concern to them. We found ourselves discussing the perennial topic of taxes and the incentive to earn.
As it was a buffet luncheon with a large and mixed group—Mrs. Anna Rosenberg came up with her son and daughter-in-law and several other people were present—there were many and varied ideas expressed.
Someone made the remark that there was altogether too much taxation nowadays. They maintained that heavy taxes choke business initiative and keep people from working. As an example, one person related the story of a brilliant London businessman who said that all that he could keep was made in the first fortnight of the year. What he earned during the remainder of the year he gave to the government. Therefore, what incentive was there to work hard since he got so little return personally?
This point of view was emphasized by someone else who remarked that people only cared to work to satisfy their own desires or to make the future secure for their children.
Taking the opposite point of view, another said it made little difference whether your objective was achieved through taxation, which was designed to give greater security for all people but which did accomplish greater security for your own children, or whether you had to save the money instead of paying it in taxes and provide certain things for yourself and your children. In other words, in this person's view, taxes were designed to permit the government to give all the people certain things that were desirable. Taxes did make it difficult for certain people to have a great deal more than the average, many agreed, but on the whole a country was better off when these benefits were widely distributed and no one should feel that high taxes provided an excuse for less work.
I imagine there are some people who would work even if they received no remuneration at all. They would work for the pure joy in the work itself. But I also recognize the fact that there is a great deal of work which must of necessity be done because of the financial return it brings, even though the task is rather dull.
It is this latter type of work that creates our difficulty. How to find an incentive that will make all people, regardless of the work which they do, work as hard as they can—because the world community profits by their work—is one of the problems of education which we are certainly far from solving.