On Equality

Is equality really what a society should strive for?

Originally published in, “Teaching Economics to Bernie Sanders.”

Some people are more intelligent than others. Some are more attractive than others. Given no individual is exactly alike, no one can truly be said to be equal. Consider this implication of equality as an ethical norm: Some people have 2 working eyes, some 1, and some 0. This inequality could be addressed by surgically removing and redistributing eyeballs so that everyone may have 1 working eyeball. This way, the blind can now see, those with 1 eye will now be equal with everyone else, and those who originally had 2 working eyes are only marginally harmed as they can still see through their other working eye.

Child rearing by different parents will yield different results as far as the quality of their offspring. Whether it is genetic or a result of their parenting, different children born and raised by different parents will necessarily be unequal in certain skills and abilities. The implication of equality is that children would have to be raised by some central authority. Mandated public schooling has been a tool for the radical egalitarian in this way.

When seriously considered, the idea of equality as an ethical norm falls into absurdity or contradiction. I cannot say that LeBron James and I are equal. He’s taller and much more athletic than me which allows him to earn an enormous income as a professional basketball player. I could try my best, but it is very unlikely for me to ever have the same market value as LeBron James. This is clearly an inequality. How can me and LeBron James be made equal? By redistributing his income to me and everyone else who doesn’t earn an income as high as him. Should me and LeBron James be made equal? No. Any property acquired because of one’s labor, voluntary exchange, or contractual agreement must belong solely to that property owner. Who else can be said to have a rightful property claim to LeBron James’s income except LeBron James?

Lebron James is not earning a higher income than me at my expense. He earns an income because he is a very good basketball player who fans enjoy watching, thus bringing in revenue for the NBA and whatever team he plays on. Given the low supply of professionally skilled basketball players relative to the world’s population, the high demand of basketball fans naturally results in a high price for the labor (playing in games, attending practice, press conferences, etc.) of professional basketball players. James only earns an income at my “expense” if I buy a ticket to a basketball game or buy a jersey of his, and even then, it is not really at my “expense” because I am profiting by gaining the jersey or the experience of watching the basketball game.

In the same way, the owner of a company who provides a product demanded by consumers for a profit cannot be said to profit at anyone’s “expense.” (I don’t have time to fully refute the Marxist claim that wage laborers are necessarily exploited, but anyone proposing such a theory fails to understand the subjectivity of value as well as what interest is and how that explains the owner taking the “surplus value” from the laborers). Although I may purchase his product, I am profiting by gaining the value of that product. Such a mutually beneficial and voluntary exchange can’t be said to harm anyone. Yet, many politicians and their constituents demand for wealth to be confiscated from people who earn large sums of money through mutually beneficial exchange


Originally published at www.lessonsinliberty.net on August 29, 2017.