Celebrate Inequality!

Modern inequality is a sign of growing wealth, not oppression.

Come good times or bad, a favorite plaint of the left is American inequality.  American society contains both the very rich and the very poor, supposedly unlike more socialist places such as Europe where the difference between the two is said to be less.

There are many ways to express this concern.  One is to compare the average pay of CEOs to that of ordinary workers: in 1960 the average CEO made 50 times what the average worker did, whereas in 2005 the multiple was around 350.  A more scientific-sounding number is the Gini coefficient, in which 0 indicates complete equality and 1 indicates complete inequality (i.e. one rich guy owns everything and everybody), and the real world is found somewhere in between.

Rarely addressed is the underlying assumption: Inequality is generally bad, a high inequality is ipso facto evidence of injustice, and striving to make things more equal is a good and worthy cause.

Rubbish!  The exact opposite is true: far from being a sign of wrongdoing, inequality within the range observed in the real world is a sign of increased opportunity and increased general wealth.  Greater equality means that the people at the bottom are worse off, not better.

Neanderthals and Jedi

How can this be?  First, let's look at the logical extremes.

Once upon a time, scientists say, there was a world that would score very close to 0 on the Gini coefficient as being purely equal.  This was the Neanderthal world of the cavemen.  Everybody lived on the dirt, in a cave, wearing at best an animal skin.

There might be a better-dressed tribal leader, but he didn't own his finery; it was community property, owned by the tribe as a whole, to be passed down as a symbol of office to whoever next held that spot.  Even so, the "royal robe" was no more than a slightly fancier animal skin; us moderns would view them all as dressed in rags and filth.

Spare sets of clothes?  Of course not - there'd be nowhere to store them.  A supply of food?  Just enough for today and tomorrow, whatever could be carried away from the last hunt before the sabretoothed tigers and other scavengers showed up.  Assets of any kind?  Maybe a string of bone beads or a stone knife at the very most.

The world of the Neanderthal was a world of financial equality - equality in filthy, stinking poverty.  A lefty sociologist's dream!  But nobody with any sanity would consider Neanderthalism to be something any of us would tolerate, much less strive for.

The Neanderthals themselves would hardly consider their world to be equal.  Assuming they even understood the concept, they'd know that the big strong young chief was much more advantaged over the toothless old guy who'd had a leg crushed by a mammoth.  Equality of physical abilities is impossible to achieve, but to the Neanderthal, physical ability was really all that mattered.

As for the technological advances of our modern world?  Wanting them is so obviously rational that even a caveman would.  It takes a highly educated tenured professor to think that we should get rid of our technology in pursuit of a phony "equality."

Now, let's move on to the opposite extreme - the futuristic universe of Star Wars.  In this world, there are found dirt farmers like Luke Skywalker's late uncle and chattel slaves like Anakin Skywalker's lost mother.  Then there are people who personally own starships capable of making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs - though the mortgage terms for such equipment may be onerous.

Obviously, a Star Wars economy has inequality that dwarfs anything we see today.  There is still the same abject poverty that there has always been throughout human history, but technological advances have made things possible for some at the very top that were previously impossible for everyone.

Raising The Bar Doesn't Lower The Floor

So we come to the truth: by its very nature, technological improvement will always increase inequality.  It can't be otherwise - there is no way that every last person on earth can have access to each and every technological improvement.  There will always be someone who doesn't have a phone, or doesn't have a computer, or doesn't have shoes.

A hundred years ago, nobody owned an airplane; we were all equal regarding air transport.  Today, some people own planes and others have never even seen one; the coming of the age of aircraft has made us more unequal.  Is this bad, or good?

Eight hundred years ago, kings and peasants alike had never heard of a hot bath, soap, or any sort of effective medicine; we were all equally foul and equally ill.  Today, some people still don't have these things, but many do.  Making some people better off clearly increased inequality.  Have we gone in the wrong direction by discovering modern medicine?

What if somebody discovers a cure for AIDS?  There's no way that every last AIDS-sufferer is going to get the pill on Day 1; some will, and most won't.  The inventor will have increased inequality; would it be better if he kept the discovery to himself instead?

Of course not.  The fact that one individual has something that another individual does not have does not make the second person any worse off.  It just makes the first one better off, and over time, person #2 might be able to better himself too.  If nobody has anything, all are equally miserable and equally hopeless.

Yes, we are not all Warren Buffett or Bill Gates and mostly never will be.  But as Americans, we can all hope to be, and strive to be, even while knowing that precious few will actually reach that goal.  As long as nobody but ourselves stands in our way, we have true equality of the only kind that matters - the same right to make the best of life of which we are capable.

Thus we see that, with the application of a little logic, the left's obsession with "equality" stands revealed in all its naked ignominy: The only sort of equality that is possible is the equality of abject poverty.

Suddenly, all these new proposed taxes start to make sense!  If the Democrats have their way, we'll all be equally poor - except for our ruling elites, of course.

Celebrate inequality!  The more, the better.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments
Good points. Poor equality is the only equality. If you want to be equal, move to Cuba or Venezuela where they are happy to take your things and make you equally poor as everyone else. The rest of us will stay here.
July 13, 2010 8:48 AM
Yeah, and as we all know, the illegal alien problem is caused because America is such a much better place to be than anyplace else.

It's also a better place to commit crimes, unfortunately.
July 13, 2010 10:37 PM
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