The Fallacy of ‘Economic Equality’
Spreading the wealth evenly isn't just impossible; it's immoral.
October 16, 2009 - 12:04 am
On the surface, the idea of economic equality may seem like an honorable moral goal, which explains its resilience and power over people. This is why it continues repeatedly and with impunity to bring one economic and social disaster after another anywhere it’s tried. On the flip side, opponents of economic equality are branded as greedy, selfish, and immoral — which is why few politicians dare oppose this absurdity.
The current political debates mostly end up in the following compromise: capitalism may be more economically efficient, but it’s still morally inferior to economic equality that benefits most people. Such a view has two big problems.
It is, in fact, efficiency that benefits most people by raising living standards, reducing the number of workers involved in low-paying and tedious manual work, increasing the number of well-paid intellectual jobs, continually improving everyone’s quality of life, and giving the poor access to things that only the rich could enjoy only a short while ago. Therefore, efficiency is moral — and, as such, it renders the above formula invalid.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that economic equality is also efficient, so that we could leave this part out and compare what’s left. The resulting picture still doesn’t stand moral scrutiny.
Since economic equality cannot be attained by bringing everyone up to the level of the achievers, the achievers will have to be brought down to the level of mediocrity, with most of their earnings and property taken by the government. Even the most “progressive” achievers wouldn’t submit to this voluntarily (see Hollywood tax returns), so it has to be a forced measure. To do this on a national scale, the state must assume supremacy over private citizens and limit certain freedoms. What’s more, forced extraction and redistribution corrupts the government by giving it arbitrary powers to determine various people’s needs, for which there can be no objective standards. Most bureaucrats are not paragons of honesty, and even if they were, in due course idealists will become replaced by eager crooks seeking to distribute entitlements in exchange for kickbacks. And finally, such a system corrupts the very people it intends to help, by demeaning the individual productive effort and encouraging a destructive collective scuffle for unearned privileges among pressure groups driven by greed and selfishness.
These are the reasons why all attempts at forced economic equality have always resulted in corruption, poverty, oppression, and moral degradation. What honorable and moral idea would bring such results? What honorable and moral idea would require a blind, endless sacrifice of people’s work, careers, ambitions, property, and lives, to an unattainable utopian goal that, at a closer look, isn’t even a virtue? The only way economic equality can benefit most people is by gratifying their class envy.
Some people understandably fear the uncertainty of outcome of their daily efforts, seeing it as a dangerous void separating them from a safe and comfortable future. A rational reaction to this would be to remind oneself that, ever since people lived in caves, nature has never offered us certainty, and that risk-taking, combined with intelligence and creativity, has built modern civilization — which may be imperfect, yet it’s as good as it gets historically in terms of comfort and safety for those participating in it.
An irrational reaction would be to panic, take offense, become impatient with the world, and join a self-righteous political cult that promises a guaranteed certainty of results on the other side, just as soon as they fill the void in front of them with other people’s property and the dead bodies of those who dare stand in the way of their brazen march toward the bright future.