Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - Further Paradoxes of Full Equality
by Tibor R. Machan

The folks who would rob us of our liberty in a pinch never give up. All you need to witness this is to read a bit—look at the magazines I check out regularly, The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, or the Op Ed pages of The New York Times. They keep coming up with different versions of roughly the same warmed-over arguments against the free society, even though no such society is anywhere in view. But they know its argumentative force, so they keep recycling every piece of intellectual ammunition they can think of.

Most recently the Times ran a piece by a professor from London—yes, they are importing them these days, as do many of our premier academic institutions (just think of Peter Singer at Princeton, who hails from Australia, or Alasdair MacIntyre at Notre Dame, who came to these shores from the UK)—arguing that when a society doesn’t equalize people’s circumstances, this is a very bad thing indeed. Overall health suffers, among other things, as does nearly everything else.

Professor Michael Marmot’s example—or journalistic hook—is the Academy Awards; he claims the winners live longer than the losers and he then segues into his main point: It would be so fine a thing if everyone could be made equal everywhere. This would help, of course, those who now end up at the low end of the totem pole. Never mind that there would be no totem pole, in this dream.

After a lot of razzmatazz—some of which is rather convoluted but aims to show that income and related inequality is responsible for all the bad things in America and indeed the world—Professor Marmot announces that he will not be looking at the Awards. As he puts it his "thoughts will be elsewhere." We may assume they will be devoted to worrying about why there aren’t more public policy efforts afoot trying to equalize everything in society.

I have a suggestion, though, for Professor Marmot—he might consider reading two classic literary works that address his dream world head one, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Kurt Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison Bergeron." What these wonderful tales teach is something our visiting professor—visiting, that is, the pages of The New York Times—fails to consider. This is that the attempt to equalize everything in the world ushers in the worst of all inequalities, namely, inequality of political power.

What would be needed to make everyone equally well/badly off? A police state, that’s what. The late Harvard political philosopher Robert Nozick made this point a crucial element of his classic Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974). He postulated the aggressive public policy of equalization, combined with the measure of liberty no one can reasonably consider giving up, namely, people spending their left over income—after the Draconian taxation such equalization would require—as they choose. So, millions of them would spend a bit on seeing Kobe Bryan play basketball—or Clint Eastwood direct a movie or Britney Spears perform on stage—which would immediately create enormous inequalities. To remedy this, what is needed? Nothing less than a massive police operation that removes the unequal wealth from these favorites and redistributes it all on a daily basis.

But this is no mere bad dream. Already progressive taxation is rampant in America and elsewhere but, of course, the editors at the Times want more. Yet—and here is the hypocrisy involved in all this—the Times wouldn’t think for a moment allowing someone to weigh in against Professor Marmot despite his clearly unequal advantage of appearing in its prominent pages, no. Their unequal advantage in the market place of ideas isn’t going to be given up for the sake of their very own proclaimed egalitarian treatment of, for example, those who proselytize for ideas the Times folks do not like. No dice on that score.

Which is simply to point out that this notion of full equality is nonsense from the word go. It isn’t only the Academy Awards that puts the lie to it but the editorial policies of The New York Times, a most vigilant champion of equality except where its editors could actually do something about it, namely, give a fair representation of competing political ideas. Just think what they would do if they ever got the power to foist equality upon us everywhere!
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