Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on March 6, 2020

in Inequality, Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 279 of George Will’s splendid 2019 manifesto, The Conservative Sensibility (footnote excluded):

Envy is the common denominator of the many flavors of populism and, paradoxically, envy intensifies as equality of social conditions increases. “When inequality is the general rule in society,” wrote Tocqueville, “the greatest inequalities attract no attention. When everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed. Hence the more equal men are, the more insatiable will be their longing for equality.” This longing is the fertilizer of envy.

DBx: Yes. And note two additional ironies, each of which has been pointed out by wise thinkers, but neither of which is sufficiently noticed by the general public or by intellectuals.

First, for government even to attempt to satisfy this longing for greater equality in monetary incomes or wealth, society must necessarily retreat from equality under the law. Government must treat individuals differently based solely upon their degrees of success in commercial markets. The state will treat unequally two individuals who are alike in all ways save their preferences for work in commercial markets.

The man who chooses a career that yields a more-sure income stream, but a stream with a smaller potential downside or upside compared to the potential income stream earned by a woman who chooses a career that yields a less-sure income stream – but a stream with a higher potential downside or upside – is treated more solicitously by government than is the woman if the woman succeeds in her career and less solicitously than is the woman if she does not succeed. With government committed to bringing about more economic equality through income or wealth ‘redistribution,’ this disparate treatment must prevail despite the fact that neither the woman nor the man acts or has acted in any way that violates anyone else’s rights.

Second, for government even to attempt to make the ‘distribution’ of monetary incomes or wealth more equal requires that power in society become less equal. The state – meaning, the group of flesh-and-blood individuals who succeed in politics – must be given power possessed by no one else.

That we should retreat in horror at the prospect of differences in monetary incomes earned peacefully but welcome warmly differences in power created to ‘redistribute’ these incomes seems, to me, to be perverse.

Comments

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: