Equality Is Only A Cheap Dream

Tibor R. Machan

Two academic researchers, both of them psychologists, have recently rekindled all the fuss about inequality of income in the United States of America. Mostly this topic has been the province of political philosophers, economists and theorists, many of whom have been urging the government to engage in more aggressive coercive resource redistribution. (Such redistribution is, of course, what happens routinely in the marketplace–where people take their wealth and use it to obtain various goods and services, thereby handing to the providers wealth that they, in turn, will redistribute–without any coercion involved.)

But the peaceful wealth redistribution of a free society and market doesn’t sit well with these avid egalitarians because free men and women spend their resources without worrying about distributing it equally, evenly, or fairly, only with doing it peacefully, voluntarily and productively. So the goal of economic equality isn’t served vigorously enough for them, thus they want the government to nationalize the process, take it out of private hands.

OK, so these two psychologists went around asking people about what kind of society they would like to live in and the responses to the question, “What kind of country would you like to live in?” convinced them that most people, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its 10/25-31, 2010 issue, “shared a similar vision of what they thought America looked like and what a fairer society would be.” The bulk, “Rich and poor, Republican and Democrats” tend toward egalitarianism.

Well that may be what many people wish for in their dreams. It is fairly cheep to dream like this. But the two researchers–Professor Dan Airely of Duke and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School–did not ask the pertinent question, namely, “Would you prefer a fairer, more egalitarian, society if it meant that your liberty to use your life, time, labor and resources would be severely curtailed by the government as it undertakes making people equal?” But this question wasn’t asked and accordingly the conclusion the researchers reached is completely useless.

People have always had dreams of equality in their view of social life, starting with Plato (who had Socrates imagine the perfect society wherein equality reigned supreme). But as most Plato scholars know, the Republic presents an impossible society, a highly distorted one. Then, more recently, we have Karl Marx whose communist society is supposed to be populated by fully equal citizens who love one another intimately and for whom the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” governs the realm. This is not a formula for perfect equality but for a great deal more of it than any free market system would generate. However, people forget that Karl Marx imagined communist society as populated not by men and women such as we are but by what he called “the new man,” a different kind of (specie) being from us. Those “human” beings would love the society above all, love everyone as only intimate friends do now. Marx realized that an egalitarian society cannot be the home to ordinary, normal human beings but only to those who fit his idea of the new man.

Our champions of egalitarianism fail to appreciate the significance of the point Karl Marx made. They do not realize that human nature would need to be re-engineered before an egalitarian social-political-economic system could come about. The so called findings of the two researchers also fail to show any appreciation for the point Marx did appreciate. And the price of this error is that the sort of equality they think is so desirable would require the systematic coercive remaking of human beings (something Stalin once envisioned when he hoped that Lysenko, his agricultural guru, could remake us to fit the communist dream).

If the subjects of their study had been apprised of what Marx knew and what has always been true, namely, that making people equal conflicts with their liberty, it is doubtful that they would have jumped on board of the egalitarian ideological train.