Column on Eglitarian Fallacies

Egalitarian Fallacies

Tibor R. Machan

Very few duplicities are as blatant as those exhibited by academic
champions of egalitarianism. This is because most of them are extremely
well positioned in the academy, published by the most prestigious journals
and book publishers, invited to the fanciest conferences, and otherwise
singled out for privileges unknown to others, especially to those who do
not advocate egalitarianism.

Take, for example, a couple of famous law professors, one at the
University of Chicago, another at Yale University. They are both avid and
indeed fervent supporters of equal opportunity for people (although not
necessarily for everyone across the globe). They insist it is grossly
unjust for children to be born into widely varying economic circumstances,
ones that see them enjoy vastly different health, educational, and other
benefits. They champion, instead, public policies that would provide
everyone with nearly identical opportunities. They realize that in time
some of them would turn these equal opportunities into varying actual
advantages because of their own decisions or the vicissitudes of nature
and society. But as far as starting points are concerned, they insist it
is a categorical imperative of justice that we all begin just like
everyone else does, akin to how those running a marathon race must all
begin at the same point.

However, none of these champions of human equality volunteer to share
their professional positions with others who do not enjoy the benefits
they enjoy from theirs. I once actually asked the late John Kenneth
Galbraith, who was then a professor at Harvard University and whose works
would get published in the best places—the joke is that someone like
Galbraith would have publishers’ representatives rummage through his or
her trash to find something to include in the house’s latest catalog—but
received an instant brush off instead of an answer as to why he, the
fountainhead of egalitarianism, should not share his riches with, say,
some community or junior college professor.

The late Robert Nozick, himself an unapologetic beneficiary of high
academic appointment at Harvard University, gave a fine illustration of
how egalitarianism is a complete nonstarter. Let’s assume a society enjoys
public policies that manage to start everyone off with nearly identical
benefits. As soon as this occurs, people begin to redistribute the
benefits among themselves and upset the established equal pattern.

Nozick’s example was Wilt Chamberlain, the famous basketball player, who
would immediately receive a disproportionately large amount of wealth from
all those who want to see him play. Multiply this case over all kinds of
athletes and other performers, as well as people with talent in the
sciences, law and, yes, the academy, and you can see how the hope of a
same starting point immediately crumbles.

What is morally odious to me is how little the champions of egalitarianism
try to walk their talk. I know that none of them has ever offered to
exchange their powerful academic post with my meager one. Nor have I ever
heard of any of them make such an offer to anyone else. And for good
reason—such an effort would be in vain. The result would look like what
George Orwell illustrated so poignantly in his novella, Animal Farm, where
in no time the equal distribution of benefits among members of the farm
produced a condition in which some were clearly “more equal” than the
rest.

As the late Murray N. Rothbard pointed out, in his book, Egalitarianism as
a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (1977), that equality is simply
everywhere and cannot be erased if for no other reason than the simple one
that those doing the erasing of it would enjoy vastly
greater—unequal—powers from what those do who are subjected to the
erasure. I personally won’t ever understand what is so appealing to people
about everyone being equally well off. Kurt Vonnegut’s short story,
Harrison Bergeron, published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science
Fiction (October 1961), is another nifty bit of fiction that shows just
how unattractive is this idea once examined closely and how it wreaks of
envy rather than justice.

Those who are in dire straits or suffer disadvantages may well benefit
from some serious help but attempting to make us all equal just doesn’t do
it at all.

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