Column on Equality is Only A Cheap Dream

Equality Is Only A Cheap Dream

Tibor R. Machan

Two
academic researchers, both of them psychologists, have recently
rekindled all the fuss about inequality of income in the United States
of America.  Mostly this topic has been the province of political
philosophers, economists and theorists, many of whom have been urging
the government to engage in more aggressive coercive resource
redistribution.  (Such redistribution is, of course, what happens
routinely in the marketplace–where people take their wealth and use it
to obtain various goods and services, thereby handing to the providers
wealth that they, in turn, will redistribute–without any coercion
involved.)

But
the peaceful wealth redistribution of a free society and market doesn’t
sit well with these avid egalitarians because free men and women spend
their resources without worrying about distributing it equally, evenly,
or fairly, only with doing it peacefully, voluntarily and productively.
 So the goal of economic equality isn’t served vigorously enough for
them, thus they want the government to nationalize the process, take it
out of private hands.

OK,
so these two psychologists went around asking people about what kind of
society they would like to live in and the responses to the question,
“What kind of country would you like to live in?” convinced them that
most people, as
Bloomberg Businessweek
reports in its 10/25-31, 2010 issue, “shared a similar vision of what
they thought America looked like and what a fairer society would be.”
 The bulk, “Rich and poor, Republican and Democrats” tend toward
egalitarianism.

Well
that may be what many people wish for in their dreams.  It is fairly
cheep to dream like this.  But the two researchers–Professor Dan Airely
of Duke and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School–did not
ask the pertinent question, namely, “Would you prefer a fairer, more
egalitarian, society if it meant that your liberty to use your life,
time, labor and resources would be severely curtailed by the government
as it undertakes making people equal?”  But this question wasn’t asked
and accordingly the conclusion the researchers reached is completely
useless.  

People
have always had dreams of equality in their view of social life,
starting with Plato (who had Socrates imagine the perfect society
wherein equality reigned supreme).  But as most Plato scholars know, the
Republic
presents an impossible society, a highly distorted one.  Then, more
recently, we have Karl Marx whose communist society is supposed to be
populated by fully equal citizens who love one another intimately and
for whom the principle “from each according to his ability, to each
according to his need” governs the realm.  This is not a formula for
perfect equality but for a great deal more of it than any free market
system would generate.  However, people forget that Karl Marx imagined
communist society as populated not by men and women such as we are but
by what he called “the new man,” a different kind of (specie) being from
us. Those “human” beings would love the society above all, love
everyone as only intimate friends do now. Marx realized that an
egalitarian society cannot be the home to ordinary, normal human beings
but only to those who fit his idea of the new man.

Our
champions of egalitarianism fail to appreciate the significance of the
point Karl Marx made. They do not realize that human nature would need
to be re-engineered before an egalitarian social-political-economic
system could come about.  The so called findings of the two researchers
also fail to show any appreciation for the point Marx did appreciate.
 And the price of this error is that the sort of equality they think is
so desirable would require the systematic coercive remaking of human
beings (something Stalin once envisioned when he hoped that Lysenko, his
agricultural guru, could remake us to fit the communist dream).

If
the subjects of their study had been apprised of what Marx knew and
what has always been true, namely, that making people equal conflicts
with their liberty, it is doubtful that they would have jumped on board
of the egalitarian ideological train.

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