Humble equality vs. haughty equality

In the history of the United States, the word equality has been held in the highest esteem. It has also been subjected to a multitude of meanings. Our understanding of equality has drifted far from what it was when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” In Jefferson’s day, had one seen one man rich and one man poor, he would wonder if the two men we being treated equally in the civil realm. If they were, then the two men would have been considered equal. This is humble equality. Now, when one sees the same sight, he assumes that there must be an inequality between the two that society must rectify. This is haughty equality.

First, let us look at the concept of humble equality—that we can only level the playing field in the public realm (law, the courts, government, etc.) by ensuring that people are treated equally regardless of race, class, and gender. We do not know you should live your life, nor do we know how you should run your business. You have the same chances to succeed, and fail, as we grant ourselves. We do not care how you live your life not because we are mean or selfish, but because we are simply not qualified. Sadly, we are in the minority.

Now, let us contrast that with haughty equality. Such equality, in fact, is not equality at all. It is illusory. It relies on a fundamental inequality—that some people know, better than you, what you should have or how you should live your life. In thinking about equality, it is an amazing proposition—that people are truly not equal, and should not be treated equally, so that they may appear equal to observers. It is also an incredibly dangerous proposition, since it relies on people to determine what way of life is good and how to enforce it.

Imagine you come upon two people, one rich and depressed, the other poor and happy. They are clearly not equal and your goal is to change that. What do you do to change it? Do you take from the rich man to give to the poor man on the rationale that money is good and the poor man does not have enough? Do you do the same thing on the rationale that the rich man is too rich to be happy? Do you reckon that the poor man is happy as he is and take from the rich man to make him emulate the poor man, keeping the takings for yourself? What is the right course of action for these people? How do you know? Do you even care what is right for them, instead focusing on what you think is right?

How much information would it take for you to make a good decision in this case? Would you need to know why the rich man is depressed? What if he were normally quite happy but had just lost a close relative? Would that impact your decision? What if he had gotten where he is by betraying everyone around him and he was burdened by guilt? What if he were suffering from cancer and needed the money to fight it?

What about the poor man? Would you like to know why he is happy? What if he were married to someone wonderful and wanted nothing more than he had? What if he were about to have a child? What if he were an artist or writer who cherished the way he lived?

Would you make a better decision if you knew any of those things? Absolutely. If the rich man were suffering from cancer and needed his riches to fight it, you would (hopefully) find it unconscionable to take some of those riches to give to a happy, albeit poor man. Likewise, if the poor man actually cherished his lifestyle, you would probably think it futile to give him riches he did not want.

Believe it or not, I gave you more information about the two men than most “haughty equality” crusaders have. Usually, they can only see the cold bottom line: one man makes a lot of money, another makes a little money. They, based on this, decide that the rich man should—must—give up some of his riches to help the poor man. Of course, they do not often deal with two individuals. Instead, they seek, through government, to impose their beliefs on a multitude of individuals—a multitude of lives, of circumstances, of temperaments.

They may deprive a rich man dying of cancer the money he needs to save his life. They may give money to a poor man who does not want or need it. It does not matter. The advocates know, by virtue of intelligence and belief, what is good for each of those individuals even without knowing the details of each life. The advocates are more equal than the multitudes they impact.

This ego trip, though, is not the end of the issue. If, in a democracy, a minority used its power to the detriment of the majority, they would not hold that power long. The “haughty equality” advocates always manage to garner a good amount of support for their efforts. How? The advocates get a good number of people to believe that they will benefit from the scheme. Listen to FDR, perhaps the greatest of the “haughty equality” advocates:

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding straight of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.

-From FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech.

With words like this FDR convinced an entire generation to trade away their liberty, and the liberty of their fellow citizens, in return for the promise of a brighter future. Roosevelt convinced a good part of the American population that the government could make better decisions for them than they could themselves. They saw the promise of mighty civic heroes acting to save them from the vagaries of circumstance.

The decision to give up control of one’s life to another, of course, is one every individual is free to make. The problem here is not that people are choosing to do this for themselves, but rather they are choosing to do it through the state, an institution that affects everyone. We all participate in and pay for FDR’s “great defense” program, even though a good number of us would rather not. Because FDR’s program is run through the state, a democracy, our preferences were ignored in favor of the majority.

Sadly, this process has been repeated time and again in this country and many others. Time and again, people decide that they deserve to run the lives of others. Time and again, they convince those others that they should be running their lives. Time and again, they will do this in the name of equality. Time and again, these people declare themselves more equal than others. Time and again, these people inflict harm. Yet, if enough time passes, it will happen again, unless we stop it. We should not bow to “haughty equality” again.

(Cross-posted at News, the Universe, and Everything.)

Why Leftists Hate Thanksgiving

Leftist author and University of Texas Professor Robert Jensen wrote an article for Alternet (hat tip: Instapundit) where he bashed Thanksgiving as

“the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers. “.

In 2003, Mitchel Cohen had a Thanksgiving Day bashing article for Counterpunch where he describes himself as

“I am an American in revolt. I am revolted by the holiday known as Thanksgiving. I have been accused of wanting to go backwards in time, of being against progress. To those charges, I plead guilty. I want to go back in time to when people lived communally, before the colonists’ Christian god was brought to these shores to sanctify their terrorism, their slavery, their hatred of children, their oppression of women, their holocausts.

Clearly, these two leftists use Thanksgiving to attack America for its “genocide” against native Americans. What these men forget is that native Americans and white settlers fought a series of wars, wars that the native Americans happened to lose everytime. For reasons why Westerners have mostly won in warfare, I recommend Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hansen. I especially recommend the chapter dealing with the conquest of the Aztecs and Hansen’s explanation of the native American’s collectivism and lack of individuality held them back technologically.

But when you read both the linked articles, you also see attacks on capitalism as well. This is assisted by the leftist dominated government schools which omit the real story of Thanksgiving, which is that the real story of Thanksgiving is that capitalism works better than socialism. Mike Franc has an article about this at Human Events Online:

Writing in his diary of the dire economic straits and self-destructive behavior that consumed his fellow Puritans shortly after their arrival, Governor William Bradford painted a picture of destitute settlers selling their clothes and bed coverings for food while others “became servants to the Indians,” cutting wood and fetching water in exchange for “a capful of corn.” The most desperate among them starved, with Bradford recounting how one settler, in gathering shellfish along the shore, “was so weak … he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.”

The colony’s leaders identified the source of their problem as a particularly vile form of what Bradford called “communism.” Property in Plymouth Colony, he observed, was communally owned and cultivated. This system (“taking away of property and bringing [it] into a commonwealth”) bred “confusion and discontent” and “retarded much employment that would have been to [the settlers’] benefit and comfort.”

Just how did the Pilgrims solve the problem of famine? In addition to receiving help from the local Indians in farming, they decided allow the private ownership of individual plots of land.

On the brink of extermination, the Colony’s leaders changed course and allotted a parcel of land to each settler, hoping the private ownership of farmland would encourage self-sufficiency and lead to the cultivation of more corn and other foodstuffs.

As Adam Smith would have predicted, this new system worked famously. “This had very good success,” Bradford reported, “for it made all hands very industrious.” In fact, “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been” and productivity increased. “Women,” for example, “went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.”

The famine that nearly wiped out the Pilgrims in 1623 gave way to a period of agricultural abundance that enabled the Massachusetts settlers to set down permanent roots in the New World, prosper, and play an indispensable role in the ultimate success of the American experiment.

A profoundly religious man, Bradford saw the hand of God in the Pilgrims’ economic recovery. Their success, he observed, “may well evince the vanity of that conceit…that the taking away of property… would make [men] happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.” Bradford surmised, “God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

The real story of Thanksgiving is the triumph of capitalism and individualism over collectivism and socialism, which is the summation of the story of America. This is the real reason why leftists hate this day and seek to turn into a day-long Blame America fest. The Pilgrims are the historical reminder of the defeat of socialism, over 380 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. My biggest fear this Thanksgiving is that America is steadily abandoning capitalism and individualism, which why we as classical liberals (I like this much better than neo-libertarian or the other names that have emerged to describe people like me) must work to preserve the ideals of our Founding Fathers and those who settled America.

Crossposted to Louisiana Libertarian

Why <span style="font-style:italic;">progressives</span> really aren’t

The so-called progressives of whom I speak are actually collectivists, in that they abhor individualism and individual rights, insofar as such are symbolic of self-reliance. Generally, they think in terms of all-for-one and one-for-all. What’s more, they’re not satisfied with a mutual and voluntary communal arraignment. No, self-styled progressives seek to use the police power of the state to coerce others—those who cherish personal responsibility and freedom from tyranny—to fund their utopian welfare state. There are many such neo-liberal voices; e.g. the usual suspects.

The problem with collectivist ideology—beyond being morally indefensible—is that it does not work in practice. Ultimately, it turns individuals into wards of the state, rather than creating a truly egalitarian society. As pboettke of The Austrian Economists puts it: “When the State oversteps its bounds and constrains or chooses for us, we loose the capacity to live a self-governing life.”

I’m actually an advocate of egalitarianism. That is, I favor full equality for everyone, with respect to individual rights and treatment under law. However, I adamantly oppose the forced equality of stuff, which utilizes wealth redistribution and other such tools that deplete liberty. Roderick T. Long explains it this way:

But to ignore or mask the violence upon which

socioeconomic legislation necessarily rests is to acquiesce in the unconscionable subordination and subjection that such violence embodies. It is to treat those subordinated and subjected as mere means to the ends of those doing the subordinating, and thus to assume a legitimate inequality in power and jurisdiction between the two groups. The libertarian revulsion against such arrogant presumption is ipso facto an egalitarian impulse. Those who feel no such revulsion should not expect their egalitarian credentials to pass unquestioned; they may revere equality in theory, but they fail to recognize it in practice.

Coercion is the means, but what are the ends of nbso progressives? Their purported goal is to achieve a classless society, where poverty is eradicated and—perhaps more importantly—the accumulation of wealth by individuals will cease. A strong centralized government—according to statists—is necessary to bring this to pass. Theoretically, state officials would be democratically elected and utterly selfless. But in practice, such a society inevitably devolves, resulting in two distinct and very unequal classes: the ruling elite and the impoverished masses. To be sure, there are exceptions. Some have slightly more resources (relatively speaking), but like the rest, they are subjects of the state; they are by no means free citizens.

A notable current example is the ironically named Peoples Republic of China, whose Marxian revolution has certainly not lived up to its billing. Such is the subject of a balanced analysis of China’s social experiment at Monthly Review.

The political apparatus that was used to destroy old inequalities had itself given rise to a new set of inequalities. The power of the state was supposed to be wielded in the interests of the working people, to be sure. But in fact, the subordinate working classes were at best to be the dependent beneficiaries of a paternalistic bureaucracy—not to mention that such hard-won benefits can be easily taken away as political circumstances may change, as recent developments in China have so clearly demonstrated.

In a similar vein, Eric points out that free people participating in free markets is a large part of the solution to the problems attendant to disparate socioeconomic classes.

In fact, this continuous characterization of upper, middle and lower class is part of the problem. Our economic system is one of the most classless in the world, although the imposition of socialist and quasi-socialist government programs is having the effect of stratifying the classes more and more firmly.

It would seem, then, that the goals of modern liberals (e.g. state run healthcare, individual transfer payments, increased government pensions, etc.) are actually regressive. For the motivation of America’s founders was to move away from tyranny and towards greater individual liberty and personal responsibility. Therefore, in light of numerous historical examples, true progress is exemplified by increased freedom for individuals, rather than its antithesis, which flows from collectivism.

[cross-posted at Eric’s Grumbles]


The United States: An Authoritarian Oligarchy?

After a variety of conversations with people on how our country can move forward I have come to the conclusion that most of them need to read the Constitution before having that conversation. There is a very limited understanding of what that document says, and yet it is written in plain English and is not difficult to understand. This country was set up so that most power was retained by the states and the people, not the Federal government. But, to avoid situations that many are concerned with, for example a same sex couple who is legally married in California being considered not legally married in Nevada, the framers put this in.

Article 4, Section 1: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

The men who wrote the Constitution thought it was obvious that the Federal government had only been granted the powers and privileges enumerated in the document. But Jefferson convinced them that this was dangerous and so they included Amendments IX and X in the Bill of Rights to ensure that the government would not take upon itself more powers than had been granted.

Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me. I have a really hard time understanding how we have managed to get ourselves into our current situation where the Federal government is involved in every aspect of our lives and consider this to be legal, but I’m not a lawyer. The intent was that if the federal government needed additional powers because of a new or changed situation then an amendment would be proposed and passed. In order to protect us from ourselves, passing amendments was deliberately made difficult. Of course, they didn’t foresee that we would simply put judges on the Supreme Court who would find obscure ways to interpret the words in this document to mean things that were never intended.

What most of us who are for having a federal style of government (which we de facto do not, even if we de jure do) want is a return to the Constitution, not 50 separate countries. The argument against a return to a true federal system is that it would result in a patchwork of laws and standards across the country. That is just what the founders intended because they were well aware that each state had different cultures and needs.

An argument against decentralization of power is that you could find yourself moving from a state with substantial welfare programs and to a state without such programs, which could cause you significant problems. My answer to that is that you should take responsibility for yourself and either not move or make plans to adjust to the situation in the state you are moving to. It’s called personal responsibility.

The men who founded this country certainly had no intention that the government should provide welfare and there is plenty of evidence to support that view. If you disagree with them politically, that’s fine. But realize that they tried to create a situation where the government would not be involved with the welfare of the individual citizen, and such things happened then too. Welfare is not a modern invention. In fact, one of the reasons that they set things up as they did is the lessons they drew from the fate of the various Greek and Roman governments.

On to my issues. It’s not selfishness, although many “liberals” will characterize me as selfish. In fact, I believe that the welfare state is worse for the individual citizens of the state than individualism. The socialist or statist approach is inherently inefficient and deprives individuals of their rights. It’s paternalistic nature leads to a weakening of self-reliance and responsibility. This can be seen by the change, in just a few generations, from most Americans believing they and their family are responsible for their welfare and safety net to most Americans believing that the government is. The welfare state, by its nature, limits economic growth. The best solution to poverty is economic growth, not welfare. LBJ’s Great Society did not end poverty, nor did it even ensure that a lower percentage of people would be below the poverty line.

On the other hand, the rise of the welfare state in this country has, directly and indirectly, given the government more control over the citizens and eroded their liberties and privileges. Long before the Patriot Act the government had a tremendous amount of information collected on all of us and it could be (and sometimes was) used in unscrupulous fashion. Taxation is one of the main ways for the government to take and maintain power from the people, which we recognized when we revolted because we were being taxed without representation.

As mentioned many times before, the men who wrote the Constitution understood that they could not foresee all of the needs of the future. And that is why they built the amendment process into the Constitution. It has been argued that their intent cannot be the only factor when implementing the political system in this country because of those changes they couldn’t foresee. Why can’t their intent be the only factor considered when determining what powers the federal government does or does not have? How would you feel if you signed a contract 10 years ago with your employer and then your employer came to you today and wanted to change something they had guarunteed you in the contract because the situation was different, but they had no intention of renegotiating the contract with you? Remember, one of the premises of our political system is that the government only has those powers that we, the people, grant to the government. The instrument for granting that power is the constitution. Do you feel it is reasonable that government bureaucrats should renegotiate the meaning of that political contract without the input of the citizens? We have a word for that. The word is tyranny.

The purpose of the document was to guard against the problems that democracies, republics and confederations had faced in the past. Of course, we have managed to do just about all of the things they were trying to guard against, with altogether predictable consequences. Many of the things that both the left and right yell about today are consequences of those actions and inactions. I’m always surprised by people who say “all that history is nice, but it doesn’t tell me what to do now”. Of course it does. Either by showing you the way to move forward or showing you the ways that are not good ideas. But our country in the past century or so has had a significant segment of the population decide that history and science are of little value. Indeed many, especially in the so-called intellectual classes, actively dislike and hate the lessons of history and the value of science and technology. The rebirth of the Luddites. We also seem to be of the opinion these days that we can get something for nothing, the proverbial free lunch. The lesson of history is that entropy always increases, free lunch schemes always fail eventually. In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, aka TANSTAAFL.

Things I hear on a daily basis convince me that we probably can never move forward and out of the oligarchy we have gotten ourselves into. I hear things such as “the low income earners are the majority in this country” and that leaves me more and more pessimistic by the day about the hope that we will peacefully undo the damage we have done. If you look at the real income distribution of this country you find a solid majority in the middle class, income wise. Most of the wealthy in this country are one generation away from being middle class or poor and they got to where they are through hard work, not exploiting the lower classes. In fact, this continuous characterization of upper, middle and lower class is part of the problem. Our economic system is one of the most classless in the world, although the imposition of socialist and quasi-socialist government programs is having the effect of stratifying the classes more and more firmly.

How do we move forward? By realizing that we, individually, are responsible for ourselves, whether we are poor or rich. By recognizing that the government cannot fix things, that government programs do not solve problems but merely create more problems. By believing that we, the people, grant power to the government and the government has no right to take unto itself any power we have not explicitly granted to the government. We reject the oh so genteel and paternalistic desire of some to “take care of us” and stand on our two legs and take care of ourselves. We stop allowing bureaucrats and the oligarchs that we now have in our Congress to twist and interpret the Constitution to allow themselves more and more power and abrogate more and more of ours. We stop trying to use the Constitution to benefit our narrow special interest. Realizing that the power to tax is the most important power of the government and the one most likely to lead to tyranny we vote against any politician who too freely chooses to take our money as taxes and spend it on government programs. We realize that the government can provide for our security against foreign threats, can track down and jail those who cause us physical injury, but cannot make us prosperous or happy, those are things that only we, the people, can do.

How can we move forward? Well, I think it would help tremendously if each and every citizen of this country read and understood the Constitution. The average high school graduate should be able to, it is neither complex nor written in difficult legal language. That would make a tremendous difference when the boys in DC wanted to do something that the Constitution says they can’t do.

1 935 936 937 938 939 941