Introduction to Equality, So Badly Misunderstood

Introduction [to Tibor Machan’s new book, Equality, So Badly Misunderstood]:

        A supreme achievement of certain thinkers of the modern era has
been to challenge and ultimately overturn the idea that some human
beings are innately morally or politically superior to others and so
they may rule these others as they judge fit. That idea spawned some of
the worst practices and institutions among people over the centuries. It
was in time invalidated by the plain enough fact that members of the
human species were equal in one central respect, namely, their humanity.

       However, serious fallout from this welcome development has also
occurred. This is the popularity of the view, especially among political
and legal philosophers as well as some prominent political economists,
namely, that all changeable human inequality is unjust and is to be
banished, that individuality itself is something insidious since when
one pays heed to it, quite evidently people are quite different
individuals from one another. This latter idea, let’s call it bloated
equality, has helped, paradoxically, to reintroduce the former political
and even moral inequality, which had been nearly totally dis- credited
in much of the developed world. This is because in the effort to ban
most of the inequality in human communities, those who carry out the ban
must be vastly more unequal in the power they hold over others than
those they endeavor to make equal. And while their unequal power isn’t
being justified on grounds of birthright, the supposed imperative to
equalize us all turns out to be insidious and manages to reap the same
havoc with justice that the myth of innate inequality did that had been
largely abolished. This in the face of the fact that many champions of
such egalitarianism have tried to convince us all that justice itself
demands their program, the equalization of all, especially in economic

       One clear example of public policy influenced by the imperative
to establish the bloated conception of political equality came through
in the 2009 debate about government guaranteed health care (or
insurance) in the United States of America. Such a system is
approximated in many other countries across the globe and debate is
raging about just how wise and efficient it is. Whether justice requires
it, however, is often deemed moot.

Many, especially those who joined US President Barack Obama and his
administration, believe in economic equality as they seek to establish a
system of government-provided universal health care for American
citizens (especially the “public option”). In doing this they clearly
take it as a given that the resources required so as to establish their
policy may be secured by means of massive taxation and by borrowing
against future taxes the payers of which would not even have been born
when the policy would begin to be implemented.

      So, among other dubious results, this egalitarian effort imposes
burdens on yet unborn citizens, thus violating a precious principle of
classical liberal politics, one that helped set off the American
Revolution in fact, namely, that there must not be taxation without
representation. Furthermore the policy includes the Draconian measure of
legally requiring citizens to obtain health insurance, surely a measure
that would render those who would enforce this far more powerful than
those who would choose to abstain. Also, such egalitarian projects are
based on the policy of massive wealth redistribution and on the
conscription of people’s labor that’s needed to produce the wealth to be

      But these are just some insidious, unjust results, of the effort
to seek substantial economic and social equality among citizens in a
human community. The injustice stems from making use of individual human
beings against their will, without their consent, and thus from
unjustly imposing on them what amounts to involuntary servitude. In this
work many more examples of such results will be discussed, along with
various arguments and other considerations involved in the issue. It
will go some way toward establishing that egalitarianism of the sort
that underlies such efforts is badly misguided and, when implemented, it
is out and out unjust.

       What I will be insisting on defending is the idea that there is
no justification for the belief that enforcing economic or any other
type of substantive equality among members of human communities is a
moral or political—and should be a legal—imperative. No basis exists for
this view that, sadly, is widely held in our time.

       According to Harvard University Nobel Laureate
Amartya K. Sen, the debate over the importance of equality in social and political philosophy is over.

"We are all egalitarians now, because every plausibly
ethical theory of social arrangement tends to demand equality in some
‘space,’ requiring equal treatment of individuals in some significant
respect—in terms of some variable that is important in that particular
theory. The ‘space’ that is invoked does differ from theory to theory.
For example, ‘libertarians’ are concerned with equal liberties;
‘economic egalitarians’ argue for equal incomes or wealth; utilitarians
insist on equal weight on everyone’s utilities in a consequential
and so on . . . What really distinguishes the different approaches is
the variation in their respective answers to the question ‘equality of

       Yet this observation by Sen is about political economy, a very
fluid area of human life, so it doesn’t indicate what is most important
to most people but what people engaged in discussing public affairs
believe. Your neighbor and the watchmaker at the mall aren’t much
interested in substantive (e.g., economic) equality. It is mostly when
they turn their minds to public affairs such as voting, redistricting,
jury duty, and government service that equality starts to matter to

       More likely, what concerns a great many people is how to be
decent and just in their lives not whether people are equal in even the
minimal respect of protection for their rights. That may matter, in
fact, but isn’t of much concern to most people.
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