Consider the possibility of never having progressed to this level. For instance, if today’s labor laws were to be enforced prior to the Industrial Revolution, machines would not be allowed to replace the workers, and so most of them would be until this day engaged in mind-numbing manual labor. We would still be living in a pre-industrial society, with a handful of aristocrats and the vast majority of poor people toiling with hammers and sickles, living in filth, losing half of their children at birth, and dying at 40 because there would be no medical equipment and mass-produced drugs.

The Soviet Union’s backwardness was caused not by the lack of ingenuity of its people, but by the counterproductive economy of state-regulated socialism. Without capitalist achievements to learn from and copy, the USSR would have remained perpetually stuck in the 1930s. And so would the United States, if the American “progressives” who opposed Sumner were to get the upper hand a century ago and halt the development of capitalist entrepreneurship. In that case, the few remaining rich people in America would be living blissfully unaware of the unfulfilled possibilities of the 21st century, where even the poor could have had a better quality of life.

Likewise, today’s rich people, with all their combined wealth, can’t buy the material goods and the quality of life that will likely be available to the poor of the next century. Technological progress is known to have that democratizing effect. And the poor — whatever this word will mean a century from now — are likely to continue to enjoy free rides on the gravy train of capitalist innovation and mass production, unless the current trend towards class envy and forced economic equality stops this train in its tracks. That would bring everyone down, but the poor — to borrow a “progressive” media cliché — will be hit the hardest.

Thus, class envy is an unmistakably irrational perception. And since the demands for economic equality and redistribution of wealth are the derivatives of this perception, they are just as irrational, unsupported by reality, harmful, and immoral as class envy itself.

The very notion of economic equality implies that our lives are determined solely by material factors and that nothing spiritual matters. Granted, human dignity requires a certain minimum of material comfort. But once we are above that threshold and still continue to measure our dignity and our entire existence by the level of material comfort, we are, by implication, degrading free will, intellect, liberty, opportunity, and the greatness of the human spirit. This is an ugly distortion of human nature, to put it mildly. It is this philosophical view that allows the “progressives” to excuse skyrocketing crime by pointing to the “poverty” of its perpetrators, despite the obvious fact that no hardship during previous generations ever produced such an obscene crime rate.

After visiting a government housing project in the Bronx, P.J. O’Rourke commented that he himself had grown up in a poor home with a single working mother, among children who wore patched, faded, but neat clothes inherited from older siblings or neighbors. Most of them turned out well and succeeded in life. That was poverty, he writes. But this — $200 sneakers, gold chains, used condoms and needles in a dirty, urine-soaked stairwell with broken windows — this is not poverty; this is “something else.”