Excerpted from my forthcoming:
Since humans are each discrete, individuated beings, with a singular consciousness, born into a complex system of nature, humans are because of this infinitely diverse. This is a good thing, and it is a beautiful thing. This infinite diversity means, however, that humans are inherently unequal – in countless different ways.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
Diversity means inequality.
“The diversity of humankind is a basic postulate of our knowledge of human beings [and so] it can be shown that equality of income is an impossible goal for humankind,” wrote the economist George Reisman.
It is a fallacy to think that equal is or ever should be regarded as a moral virtue. But quite apart from the moral aspect of it, there’s this as well: it is from a purely practical standpoint impossible to achieve even approximate equality among human beings – though one of the most shocking and horrifying attempts is Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge (the name of his communist regime), which by some estimates massacred a quarter of Cambodia’s entire population in the attempt to reach an egalitarian society.
In the sphere of human activity, there is only one legitimate meaning of the word “equality,” and that is not “equality of opportunity,” as you hear so many on both so-called sides of the aisle say. It is equality before the law – or “equal in rights,” as it has been well-described by certain philosophers of the law. Equality before the law – or equality of individual rights – means full and total recognition of the individual’s inalienable right to life and property, regardless of the individual’s race, sex, sexual-orientation, color, class, gender, beauty, brains, or brawn: inalienable rights, as the very word inalienable denotes, are rights fully recognized, specified, sanctioned, and protected by law, among all individual humans equally.
Quoting Hebert Spencer, according to whom, in his excellent essay “Law of Equal Freedom” (from his book Social Statistics), “Every human has freedom to do all he or she wills, provided one infringes not the equal freedom of any other person. The freedom of each must be bounded by the similar freedom of all…. [And] every person may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his or her faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other person.”
This idea (which is a colossal intellectual achievement that took centuries to develop) owes a great deal to the post-Renaissance interest in the Ancient Greek philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism, both of which, working from the iron-firm foundation that all human beings possess the faculty of reason, maintained that each individual therefore must possess the “equal ability” to pursue a happy and virtuous life. (Happiness is not and cannot be guaranteed.) Epicurus and his followers were early proponents of the (still) radical idea of what is now often termed a “social contract,” which means a legally protected “sphere of autonomy” wherein every individual has self-interested reasons to respect the equal rights of every other individual. This idea, it is surmised by some (myself included), influenced later codifications of the Roman concept of jus (as in “justice”), which in many ways became the basis of Ancient Roman law, whose influence on modern legal systems has been almost incalculably immense: several legal systems of the world (including the current civil law system of Europe) were “shaped significantly by the concepts of Roman law” (source).
Inequality, I say again, is an inherent feature of existence, but more than that: inequality is an inherent feature of freedom, and it is a good and healthy thing. It means diversity — a celebration of diversity and the freedom to pursue individual happiness and the life you wish for yourself and your loved ones, which is not uniformly the same for all human beings, since we are each individuated, possessing innumerable different values, and not mindless, Borg-like automatons.
It has never been my goal or desire to be a billionaire. But maybe it’s yours. We should each by right be free to pursue the lives we want for ourselves, bounded only by the legally protected equal right and freedom of others. If we achieve all or even only a part of what we’re pursuing, it is ours inalienably.
When humans are left alone, humans naturally stratify.
Why so, precisely?
Because humans possess varying degrees of “energy, ambition, and persistence,” in the words of researcher Dr. Dean Simonton, of University of California, Davis, who studies genius, creativity, and eccentricity. These attributes are without question the greatest factors in determining achievement.
“Ambition,” Dr. Simonton also says, “is energy and desire.”
These attributes can be cultivated, fostered, developed, grown — because they remain within one’s control. I do not say that there aren’t possible factors of environment and genetics which may influence them; yet, even so, they still fall squarely within the realm of volition — primarily because they are rooted in the most fundamental choice there is: the choice to pay attention, or not.
“Energy level may in some measure be genetic,” Dr. Simonton says. “But a lot of the time it’s more just finding the right thing to be energetic and ambitious about.”
The bartender and the miner, the server and the statesman, the electrician and the banker, the litigator and the soda jerk, the real-estate agent and the truckdriver, the baker and the beautician, the clerk and the custodian – they and everyone else, even humans within the same occupation, are “unequal” in a multitude of different ways, too many to ever quantify or calculate. Who could possibly be judge and jury over all this diversity and activity, and who would presume to determine which is superior and which lesser? Who?
There is nothing in nature – neither human nature nor nature apart from humans – which gives anyone legitimate authority over any other individual human being, person or property. Nothing. Do you feel me?
Do you see?
It is exactly for this reason that egalitarianism, as the term is commonly used in a poltico-economic context (i.e. “distributive justice,” as it’s sometimes now called by its adherents, or “entitlement theory,” or “welfare economics”) represents a monstrous injustice and violation of rights, since in order to equalize people, you must expropriate from others, whether they concede to it or not, so that you can “level the playing field” and “even-out the starting line,” or “level the training field.”
Please note that among adherents of egalitarianism and “distributive justice,” it is a conclusion categorically forgone that voluntary human action — which is to say, giving each individual the choice to help level the playing field and even-out the starting line — is not nearly sufficient for these adherents, because the control they seek cannot be gotten through voluntary human action. This one fact alone — the necessity of compulsion and force — should tell you everything you need to know about the ideology.
There exists, as well, a foolproof method for demonstrating the colossal fallacy of egalitarianism as a political-economic philosophy, and that is in asking this question: by what natural law or by what edict, right, or rule-of-nature do you or anyone derive the authority to take by force, without consent, coercively, the justly gotten gains of one person so that you can redistribute it and give it to others?
In the history of the entire world, no good answer to that question has ever been given, and do you know why? Because no good answer for it exists.
The obsession with wealth-inequality is, I do sincerely believe, solely responsible for the staggering amounts of misinformation that exists on this topic. I am, of course, fully aware that tomes have been written which are diametrically opposed to my thesis here – some of these tomes even penned by Nobel-Prize winners in economics; others by thoroughly mediocre economists like Thomas Piketty – all of which resoundingly hammering the apocalyptic clarion over the “growing gap” between “rich and the poor,” how “dangerous” it’s become, and only growing more dangerous by the moment
I, who am no economist, could myself write volumes refuting every single one of these claims, and perhaps I will – though, for the record, it has already been done by many, many, many different people, including Nobel-Prize winning economists, who disagree with the wild-eyed rage and ideologies, the dogmatic theories advanced by these egalitarian true-believers.
(See also the compilation book The Anti-Piketty.)
But the truth is that you don’t need to wade through all that dry technical economic data and discourse – and do you know why you do not need to?
Because the data is all around you, everywhere, and it is positively overwhelming.
Two-hundred-twenty years ago and for all of history before that, the entire world was poor – so poor, in fact, that even the wealthiest people in the world did not have access to the clean food, clean water, shelter, clothing, transportation, lumen hours, entertainment, and much, much, much, much, much more that even the poorest people in the developed world today now have instant access to.
Yes, you read that right, and it is incontrovertibly true.
Two-hundred-twenty years ago, the whole world was poor. Now, thanks entirely to the innovations which political-economic freedom unleashed, approximately two-hundred-ten years ago, less than ten percent of the world exists now in true poverty. And more than that: the wealthier the world grows, the more that true poverty shrinks.
Wealth begets wealth.
I furthermore madly want you to know and remember something else — a principle the importance of which simply cannot be overstated, and that principle is this: As long as any society remains poor, the means of dealing with societal issues remain proportionately poor. This is why wealthier countries are healthier countries: they are cleaner countries less environmentally degraded.
Poor countries are more polluted (by far), are dirtier and more environmentally degraded than wealthier countries. By far.
Wealth brings cleanliness.
Freedom fosters wealth.
The obsession with wealth inequality is, I am prepared to argue, the defining characteristics of virtually all progressive-leftist ideology, as it has been since the industrial revolution, when politico-economic freedom brought about greater specialization (the division of labor), which in turn brought about greater wealth and thus began increasing wealth inequality at last. Prior to industrialization, “egalitarianism” was the norm — and life was, as Thomas Hobbes famously described it, “nasty, brutish, and short.” Do you know why?
Because the natural condition of humankind is extreme poverty and insecurity, and it is nothing more than romanticized nonsense to lament the passing of these happy days, these bucolic, agrarian, egalitarian days of primitive humans, when teeth rotted by age twenty (if you were lucky), when one out of three children died at birth (often taken the mother with them), when strep throat or dysentery killed you and life expectancies were mid-to-late thirties — when, in short, human life was basic barbarism at best.
This wealth-inequality obsession is, I am here to tell you all, a colossal waste of time and energy, totally misbegotten. “The defining challenge of our time,” Obama described it as. He is wrong.
According to this anti-progress mentality, inequality is the primary problem of the modern world. It therefore demands a centralized solution. Thus, the oxymoronically named “progressives” — or the social democrats or the socialists (and the terminology here is inconsequential and irrelevant, purely a question of form and degree) – they push to use the power of the state in order to force the transfer of wealth from the financially productive and successful to those who are less so. This, they contend, is the right way to achieve “social justice.”
Their error is rooted in their very premise. In addition to which, justice is an absolute and takes no qualifier. To give it a qualifier is to nullify its meaning.
Contrary to what this ideology would have you believe, the way to generate wealth is not to “exploit” customers, or workers. It is the opposite. Wealth is created by identifying certain problems or issues or desires which people have, and then coming up with and creating a product or service or solution which fulfills or satisfies their desire or solves their issue – enough so that they’ll pay money for it.
It is critical to note that in this process, the consumer is the king and leader. I ask all readers to please never lose sight of this fact. The consumer leads the process by expressing her or his own preferences in the marketplace. Always. If a consumer feels that a product is overpriced, she or he will make no exchange. If a product seems worthwhile, the consumer will buy it willingly. It is a voluntary transaction in which both people gain and prosper. The sum of these individual choices — to purchase or not — make or break a business on the market, and this is the consumers’ prerogative. In order to meet her or his own needs or wants, an individual must produce something or provide a service that satisfies another’s needs or wants, whether they be rooted in labor, machinery, some sort of service, or a fine pair of pointy cowboy boots.
The consumer is free to purchase or good or service, or not. As long as the instigation of force is barred from human activity — as it should be — the power of choice remains entirely within the consumer.
Quoting the economist Antonis Giannakopoulos:
One of the socialists’ key assumptions is that there is always a losing side in a transaction. They think that wealth is like a pie, and that the rich take the largest slice, leaving workers and customers with almost nothing. In reality the market is always expanding the pie, and voluntary exchanges are always win-win when they are made.
Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and all the other “evil capitalists” have managed to create an unprecedented amount of wealth, but not only for themselves. Those working for them have benefited from their jobs, and the people who buy their products and services have benefited from better or cheaper goods (or both). Other benefits include more time to pursue more important things, and in ways that cannot be quantified (i.e. they are measured in psychological profit). The entrepreneurs, in turn, have benefited from the services of their workers—which are well worth paying for. Entrepreneurs also benefit from the voluntary purchases made by their customers.
The huge fallacy among virtually all progressive-economic thinkers is the notion that wealth is, as they so frequently say, “like a pie.”
The rich therefore “take the largest slice,” which leaves guests, customers, and workers with “almost nothing,” and the pie “dwindles and shrinks” until there is nothing left.
In the real world, though, where most people outside of academia dwell, freedom makes “the pie” continually bigger.
Do you know why?
Because wealth is produced. It is created. It is not some static thing for which people scavenge. Wealth is made. Wealth changes with new technologies. Which is why whale oil is no longer used, nor candles, nor kerosine, nor wood stoves, nor coal stoves, and so on.
Wealth begets wealth.
As energy begets energy, so wealth begets wealth — and for precisely the same reasons.
Because of the limitless ingenuity of the human mind when it’s left free, wealth and the creation of wealth is limitless and continual.
Voluntary exchanges are always “positive-sum,” or they wouldn’t be voluntary.
Neither do profit and competition nullify collaboration nor any sort of goodwill among humans.
Socialists pit profit and competition against an ideal of sharing and collaboration. But rather than being a wicked, stolen good, profit is a crucial incentive for collaborative human action.
People are always searching for the best and cheapest products in order to satisfy their needs, and their demands raise prices. The prospect of profit quickly pushes entrepreneurs into producing what people want—and what they are willing to pay for. Profits illustrate how much people value an entrepreneur’s services. Consumers only pay if the entrepreneur satisfies their desires.
As long as there are profits to be made, others enter the market. The competition spurs entrepreneurs to make production more efficient and cheaper, because the greater the competition, the more the businessman will have to do to earn the customer’s business. As more goods enter the market, consumers can be more picky about whom to purchase from, and prices drop. It’s their own demand that sets the prices, and once they are satisfied and there’s not as much profit in the business, entrepreneurs shift to making other things that people want.
Free-exchange is often described by laissez-faire economists as a “voting system” — a voting system of what needs to be produced. Every single cent that is spent acts as a vote for how best to use resources that must be created and developed. Profits direct entrepreneurs toward what people want most urgently. The resulting production is a form of collaboration rather than exploitation. People can do more, because they don’t have to do everything themselves, and they can focus on what they do best. This process is also called specialization, which is also known as the division of labor.
The progressive left commits an egregious error when it says, as it so often does — and without so much as a cursory glance at the hard statistical data — that “only the rich have gotten richer.”
The error is amplified when they then proceed to lambast laissez-faire, which, incidentally, has never existed in full, and certainly not for the last two-hundred years.
Free and voluntary exchange has made everyone wealthier — by light years — and nothing else in the history of the world has come remotely close to matching it. But more than that: free and voluntary exchange has made everyone wealthier not only in terms of income but also in terms of the overall quality of life, and in terms of the things people own, the technology to which people have access, so that today, in America, for example, over eighty percent of people officially below the poverty line nonetheless own televisions, computers, smart phones, and more, and have ready access to clean running water, food, and medicine.
There is a very specific reason there’s never been a famine in the United States, and it is the same reason that people don’t die of starvation in the United States, as they do in, for instance, much of India and Africa and North Korea. If that fact alone doesn’t tell you something significant about freedom and voluntary exchange — no matter where on the bullshit political spectrum you place yourself — you, I submit, are ignoring a staggering amount of factual data.
Studies show, furthermore, that “most people born to the richest fifth of Americans fall out of that bracket within twenty years,” while most of those born to the poorest fifth climb to a higher quintile and even to the top.
As Hayek and von Mises both, in absolutely no uncertain terms, showed:
“The businessman [and businesswoman] owe their wealth to his customers, and this wealth is inevitably lost or diminished when others enter the market who can better satisfy the consumer through lower prices and/or a better quality of goods and services.”
Elaborating on this insight, the previously mentioned economist Antonis Giannakopoulos, who is, like me, an admirer of the Austrian school of economics, writes this:
The problem with income inequality today is that it isn’t entirely a byproduct of the free market but instead is the result of a market crippled by interventionist policies, such as regulations, expensive licenses, and the most complicated tax system in the history of this country [America]. Such restrictions have limited competition and made wealth creation more difficult, causing the stagnation of the middle and lower classes.
Though leftists contend that these restrictions protect people from the “dangers” of the free market, they actually protect the corporate interests that progressives claim to stand against.
Colossal businesses like Amazon and Walmart in fact favor higher minimum wages and increased regulations. They have the funds to implement them with ease, and such regulations end up acting as a protective barrier, keeping startups and potential competitors from entering the market. With competition blocked, these businesses can grow artificially large and don’t have to work as hard to earn people’s business. Instead they can spend money on lawyers and DC lobbyists to fence small businesses out of the market.
Ironically, efforts to regulate businesses in the name of protecting laborers and consumers harms small businesses and makes everyone less equal than they could be in a free market.
Freedom is not the problem. Regulation is.
Humans must fight error by unmasking false doctrines and expounding truth.
The truth is that thing which corresponds accurately to reality. Truth and accuracy are in this sense synonymous.
The fundamental social phenomena is the division of labor, which includes corollarily freedom of exchange and human cooperation. The only alternative to this is some form of governmental coercion and state-sanctioned compulsion and force.
The entire premise of redistributive equality and egalitarianism – that equal is the total good and the total goal – must be rejected.
How do you help the poor? You allow people the freedom to voluntarily act charitably, which people will.
How do I know?
Because that’s exactly what they did in America — before government crushed private charity and made it compulsory.
Because when people are left free, the energy and enthusiasm and goodwill — as well as the wealth — all of which are the natural outgrowth of freedom, pours forth.