But with some libertarian claimants to Smithian economics, the argument is not that hard to make. Take this recent post by David Friedman:
"I just came across a blog which contained the following:
The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than that proportion.
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
The actual quote is:
It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."
Now if you stopped reading Friedman's post there you would have thought he was harping on some strange technicality that he started quoting part-way through the sentence, but that what we've still got is fairly obvious evidence the Smith was sympathetic to progressive taxation. But that's not Friedman's view at all:
"Not only has the blogger removed without notice the first seven words of the sentence, sharply changing its meaning, he has capitalized the word that starts his truncated sentence, thus pretending that what he is giving is the whole sentence."
Huh?!? This sort of thing makes guys like Gavin Kennedy's job easy.
I'll agree, Friedman is right on a technicality. It's not clear why the blogger lopped off the start of the sentence. I googled it and I've seen it sometimes with the beginning and sometimes not, so he seems to have just copied it from somewhere. Not a big deal in my view, but OK - Friedman is right.
The point is, though, the meaning of the sentence is still there (unless I'm missing something, but I think I can manage Smith's doublt negative)!
This discussion is in the context of "house-rents". In addition for his explanation of how a house rent tax is naturally more progressive, Smith also approves of these taxes because they should be relatively easy to assess. He seems to somewhat prefer ground rent taxes to house rent taxes, although he admits they haven't been tried. I have to say I'm having trouble parsing why he prefers the ground rent tax. He's quite clearly positively disposed towards the inherent progressivity of the house-rent tax, though.