Freedom and Equality

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need – Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program – 1875

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It sounds fair. It sounds equal.

I was reminded of this by a comment (again) by our lone Leftist, Markadelphia. Specifically, this partial line:

My point was that if you want to have true equality in this country…

Interesting point.

Interesting because I don’t want “true equality”.

That may shock some of you. Let me explain.

The Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

All men are created equal. We are all born equal. It’s a fundamental founding principle of this nation and one I expounded on a bit in That Sumbitch Ain’t Been BORN! a while back. It’s the belief that no man, no matter how much he’s worth or how far back he can trace his ancestors is better than anyone else because of it. But this concept has been distorted by the philosophy of egalitarianism, coming out of revolutionary France and, at a guess, the writings of Rousseau. For far too many people, “egalitarianism” means equal in all things. That’s the meaning Mark has.

In a comment before the first one referenced he said this:

I would have no problem if the rich paid the same amount of taxes next year that they did this year. In fact, how about if they pay less? No problem….only it has to be a law that every taxpayer…and I mean EVERY FUCKING TAXPAYER…regardless of how much money they make gets the exact same level of legal and financial advice that the top 5 percent get.

So, Joe Smith, annual salary of 20k a year gets the same legal team and financial team that Warren Buffet gets as a buffer between anyone or any institution trying to take their money. Now, I know that you are thinking that I am thinking that the government should be pay for it…but no sir, not at all. All of the white collar criminals (lawyers, accountants etc) serving time in our prisons will be put to work, for time off their sentence, to help these people for free. It’s a win-win. And here’s the best part…

Joe Smith will be able to rip off the government, sneak around laws, fuck people over and end up with all the same perks that rich folk get. Well, what do you think?

Well, what I think is that’s a raw and blatant example of the politics of envy. It’s also an example of someone with absolutely no grasp of economics (as other commenters proceeded to point out.)

But it’s apparent that Mark thinks the unequal distribution of wealth in this country is unfair, dammit!

In short, Mark is convinced that rich people are rich only because they “sneak around laws” and “fuck people over.” I hate to say it, but this is typical of my experience with people on the Left, especially ones who believe that they’ve chosen a career that’s meaningful and important (and woefully undercompensated because of RICH FUCKING REPUBLICANS!). Typically these people are journalists, teachers, Federal Park employees, etc. They believe they fulfill a crucial role in public life – in those examples, informing the electorate, educating the electorate, and defending the environment – that is underappreciated. It’s a sacrifice they’re willing to make for the betterment of society, but that doesn’t stop them from wondering why they can’t afford a 52″ plasma TV, or why the NEA can’t negotiate a better health care plan.

We’re all supposed to be equal, right?

Well, no.

You see, nobody seems to pay much attention to the last part of Thomas Jefferson’s immortal line.

We have, Jefferson says, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That’s a modification of the inalienable rights list that philosopher John Locke wrote of in his Two Treatises on Government. Locke listed them as “Life, liberty, and property,” but I think Jefferson’s genius won out. In Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America he writes:

In America your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist. This notion of being the architect of your own destiny is the incredibly powerful idea that is behind the worldwide appeal of America. Young people especially find the prospect of authoring their own lives irresistible. The immigrant discovers that America permits him to break free of the constraints that have held him captive, so that the future becomes a landscape of his own choosing.

If there is a single phrase that captures this, it is “the pursuit of happiness.” As writer V. S. Naipaul notes, “much is contained” in that simple phrase: “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation, perfectibility, and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known [around the world] to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”

More of that “jingoism,” eh, Mark?

An inalienable right to “pursue happiness” means freedom. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” means control. No one can tell you what will make you happy. You may, in fact, never find it. Your life may serve only as an example to others of what failure looks like, but you are free to pursue whatever you think might bring you happiness.

That freedom, that immense human idea, is what has made America what it is. It is responsible for the vast wealth we have made here. It has drawn the best minds from every culture around the world, fired their imaginations, and it has made people rich.

Instead of admiring this, instead of pursuing it themselves, the Left hates it, because everyone is not equal. Milton Friedman had something to say on the topic:

A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.

Guaranteeing equality requires management. Someone must be in charge of determining inequality and righting it. It is, as I mentioned to Markadelphia, an old and well recognized problem. It is the Procrustean bed, and someone must take the role of Procrustes. Human nature being what it is, well, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But freedom? It merely requires people to get the hell out of the way.

There’s still a role for government. Enforcing contracts, settling disputes, establishing reasonable limits. Friedman had something to say about that as well:

The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the “rule of the game” and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on.

But that government should be strictly limited:

Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances.

And we forget this at our peril:

Because we live in a largely free society, we tend to forget how limited is the span of time and the part of the globe for which there has ever been anything like political freedom: the typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitude, and misery. The nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the Western world stand out as striking exceptions to the general trend of historical development. Political freedom in this instance clearly came along with the free market and the development of capitalist institutions. So also did political freedom in the golden age of Greece and in the early days of the Roman era.

History suggests only that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition.

I don’t want “equality,” but I’m not for going back to the days of serfdom, either. I want freedom, because with it can come a level of equality you can’t get any other way.

All people are born equal – squalling babies unable to care for themselves – but they don’t stay that way. America was founded as the nation where everyone gets to pursue happiness, to avoid having your life prescribed for you. It may not lead to “true equality,” but there is literally no such thing. There can’t be. “True equality” requires someone to decide what each person’s abilities are (put the peg in the designated slot, whether the peg wants to go there or not) and what each person’s needs are.

But who gets to be the “equal” of the person or people who make those decisions? Orwell understood that problem well. Some are, under that system, inevitably “more equal” than others.

UPDATE: Markadelphia responds. I reply.

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