Much consternation is spent on income and related inequality. Or call it unequal advantages in life. As if it were some kind of moral or political imperative that we must all enjoy equal benefits and burdens, though few will say why that would be a good thing or why it is right to aim for it, considering that throughout nature inequality is clearly the norm.
Isaiah Berlin is supposed to have stated that equality is a virtual axiomatic norm of social-political life, so Amartya Sen, the Harvard Nobel Laureate in economic science tells us in his book, The Idea of Justice (2009). Professor Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago Law School and Philosophy Department also adheres to this idea. Indeed, it is widely embraced by philosophers at the top schools everywhere. It has made its appearance in political history mainly in the writings of the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Yet, as hard as I have tried to locate an argument for the idea, I haven't been able to find any. Even as a matter of moral intuition, something many contemporary thinkers in ethics favor, it doesn't appear to be plausible that everyone ought to be enjoying the same conditions of life and that when they don't, it becomes a political and legal imperative to rearrange things so that they will. It was the late Robert Nozick who, in his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1973), advanced an argument against the intuitive power of egalitarianism. He did this with his famous Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment in which we are all equally well off but then many of us decide to contribute some of our resources to Wilt so we can see him play his fabulous basketball game, which immediately upsets the supposedly desirable equality among us all since, of course, Wilt will be but the rest of us will not be very rich. So this will require constant readjustment, wealth redistribution, by the government, which will, of course, have to be very powerful, much more so than the rest of us, and this once again shows that inequality is unavoidable.
Of course, we have different kinds of equality before us and some do appear to be imperative, such as equal protection of our rights in the legal system. But this is about procedural matters, not about results. But perhaps the fact of our humanity alone supports the equality that egalitarians promote? Yet while people are alike in all of them being human, this itself goes hand in hand with immense legitimate diversity and inequality among us.
Just take a peak around you and confirm the plain fact that inequality is everywhere – in talents, beauty, athletic prowess, luck (good and bad), etc. And there is, of course, the fact of the widespread inequality of wealth enjoyed by us, the inequality that appears to annoy so many people. I am not convinced it really is since we all live with it day in and out everywhere and peace still prevails among most of us. No doubt there are people who are heavily beset with envy and for them all inequality of advantage justifies massive political efforts to even things out. (Consider Occupy Wall Street as a case in point!)
Of course, in some areas equality is imperative, if only to make things more interesting. For example, in foot races and such the competitors all start at the same point – none is supposed to enjoy an unequal advantage, at least not in their initial positioning. (Yet even there, some start with a good night's sleep behind them, others with nerves having kept them awake all night long.) The oft-mentioned "level playing field" is a myth, too, since while the field may be level in some cases, much else isn't.
In life, including human affairs, inequality is routine. What matters is that whatever inequality exists not be the result of violence, if coercion. If my fellow marathon runners are unequal in their readiness for the race, so be it. But if they try to undermine the readiness of their competitors by spiking their breakfast or water bottles or tripping them up during the race, that's where things become intolerable. Similarly with wealth. If you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but got there peacefully, without using force against those who didn't, such is life and upsetting it merely increases the coercive power of some people (thus introducing the most insidious form of inequality among human beings).
So unlike in the wilds, where many animals rule others by means of physical strength and brutality, in human society advantages are to be gained and kept without resorting to force or fraud. Once those are ejected from the sphere, the outcome cannot be objectionable other than as a matter of a wish or hope. Even those would be unbecoming, which is why envy is a vice, not some admirable sentiment toward those who are well off.
*Tibor Machan is the author of Equality, So Badly Misunderstood (2010).
Posted by christof on 11/24/11 09:32 AM
"Yet, as hard as I have tried to locate an argument for the idea, I haven't been able to find any. Even as a matter of moral intuition, something many contemporary thinkers in ethics favor, it doesn't appear to be plausible that everyone ought to be enjoying the same conditions of life and that when they don't, it becomes a political and legal imperative to rearrange things so that they will"
Of course perfect income equality will never exist and a degree of income inequality is necessary for progress on all fronts. But not at all price and not in the decadent way it has evolved in the US over the past decades. Not finding any moral argument Tibor ? What's the merit of being born stone rich ? Equal opportunities but can everybody afford to be educated and at what price ? Oh yes, you should take a student loan then, only those motivated will bring the nobel home. Sad part is that the "only in America" successful stories we hear about once in a while (home of the brave !) are overshadowed by hundreds who tried in vain and we never hear about. And that you call Darwin justice and morality, we applaud ; I would respect the guy if he would label himself a-moral, something like Nietzsche. But in the meantime, lock him up safe in his ivory tower where he can contemplate about why is he is not more rich than average joe-six-pack
Posted by Levantine on 11/23/11 06:02 PM
"What matters is that whatever inequality exists not be the result of violence, if coercion."
How are violence and coercion to be defined, and how should they matter? Perhaps a topic for another article.
Throughout nature, violence is widespread to the point of being the norm in many situations. We have equal protection against violence in the legal system, but this is about procedural matters, not about results. As for coercion, it may be seen as a natural outcome of inequality.
Posted by rossbcan on 11/23/11 05:14 PM
... as you say "an opinion". How 'bout "FACTS interacting under natural law are might"?
hmm... Burning at the stake. You sure you know where you are and what you are doing here?
Posted by Thor on 11/23/11 03:06 PM
I am not with an belief in Darwin. For me Darwin or those whom speak in his name are nothing but heretics that would be burned at the stake if they spoke but a little earlier in time. Might is right because the people are fooled that it is not might but "different opinion". The all accepted meme that people have different opinion and view things with different facts is were 'might is right' comes in. You see it is what facts count and what don't. And people are not aware that it is actually might deciding what they think.
Posted by rossbcan on 11/23/11 01:36 PM
"Might is right."
Nope. You might consider trading your hammer in for adaptation and collaborative (division of labor) skills:
Click to view link
... because when "might ASSUMES RIGHT", all of the little people collaborate against bullies and smite them, thoroughly. Periodically collapses civilization, but, hey, that is "other people's problem", until it becomes theirs also.
Posted by Thor on 11/23/11 12:52 PM
Inequality is just a stupid liberal superstitions and atheistical dogma alike the belief in home medicine (what people used to do like eat rat pee to be cured from a disease) and weird animals like imps, chimeras and such. Might is right. And the media might makes people belief equality really exists.
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 11/23/11 10:37 AM
"How's the Obama hopey-changey thing working out for serfs in the US?"
He has his instructions, hasn't he?
Click to view link
Posted by DwightJohnson on 11/23/11 08:56 AM
It cannot be denied that the gap has been growing at an increased rate between rich and poor. Our current course will result in the disappearance of the middle class, a continued growth in poverty, and the concentration of wealth among an every diminishing percentage ('I am the .0001%') of the population of the US and the world.
The concentration of wealth has followed a parallel concentration of power. To reverse the first trend, we must reverse the latter. I have proposed a concept of voluntary, ideologically-cohesive, non-territorial subsidiary units ("cantons") as a means to that end.
Posted by dotti on 11/23/11 08:32 AM
Bill: "... Our current collective non-survival is due to lack of collective intelligent choice because, perceptually, most are living in an elite coerced and constructed and subverted artificial reality (matrix), predictably controlled by "Environmental Control 101". This is why elites are "all in", for democracy. It provides the illusion of choice while providing no choice with the "voters" choosing exactly what elites manipulate / coerce."
Bill, this is very descriptive and concise. You hit the nail on the head.
Our fellow citizens are given the blue pill as they sleep. They exist in the false reality that is created by the PTB using the mainstream media and political/economic "experts". They do not see the world that we see and imagine that we are delusional when we see conspiracies that are all around us.
I especially like what you say about elites being "all in" for democracy because it provides the illusion of choice. Just how much "choice" did the Greek people have in creating a level of debt that now demands that they endure "austerity" in order to repay the bankers? They are now slaves, bought and paid for--and the rest of us are on the same road.
Even if one is trying to avoid being part of the system--debt free and self-reliant--any property owned can be taxed away.
I do not see the struggle as one for "equality". I see it as a struggle against corruption.
From Jim Rickards, I highly recommend:
Click to view link
BTW, I probably should have started out with how much I appreciated the article itself. Freedom to excell without being hindered by corruption is not the same as "equality" that requires intervention of the PTB.
Thanks DB and thanks for your comments, Bill!
Posted by rossbcan on 11/23/11 07:07 AM
TM: "without resorting to force or fraud. Once those are ejected from the sphere, the outcome cannot be objectionable other than as a matter of a wish or hope."
The outcome is not a matter of "wish or hope", it is a matter of collective intelligent choice (unseen hand):
Click to view link
... in the eternal battle for individual, group and collective survival:
Click to view link
Survival is physically measurable directly proportional to intelligent choice. Our current collective non-survival is due to lack of collective intelligent choice because, perceptually, most are living in an elite coerced and constructed and subverted artificial reality (matrix), predictably controlled by "Environmental Control 101". This is why elites are "all in", for democracy. It provides the illusion of choice while providing no choice with the "voters" choosing exactly what elites manipulate / coerce.
How's the Obama hopey-changey thing working out for serfs in the US?
or, for that matter, his other Hegelian dialectic pole predecessor:
Click to view link
No worries mate, with the correct amount of trust, you too can "feel" RICH:
Click to view link
Posted by Jeanna on 11/23/11 07:06 AM
Excellent. Thank you! A continual pursuit of equality leads to a forced deterioration of circumstances, so that everyone is equally miserable.
Posted by Saintpaulia on 11/23/11 12:11 AM
As Stephen Maturin was fond of saying, "That mumping great villain Rousseau!"