Liberty vs. Equality

by walterm on April 8, 2012

America has a serious problem.  In previous generations, Americans valued liberty over equality.  In other words, people were little concerned with equality of income, but were far more concerned with everyone having the same opportunity to achieve whatever level of prosperity their talent, hard work, and luck could bring.  Yet today, we have such a clamor over “income inequality” coming from the liberal ranks, with many of the most strident being those who have achieved the level of income of their dreams.  For some reason, now that they are successful, they suddenly want more government redistribution of wealth.  Of course, this government redistribution won’t affect them appreciatively, but it will affect those who aspire to their level of success.  The more government becomes a player in the economy, creating more complex regulations and picking winners and losers, the less access to capital there is for motivated people who want to create something new and make other people wealthy in the process.  We know these people well:  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Sergey Brin to name a few.  Surprisingly, all tend (or tended) to lean towards the very liberal causes that hinder the success of those just starting out.

No less, we have the President of the United States, Barack Obama, playing the class warfare game with abandon.  He constantly rails against Republicans as being extremists who want Americans to “fend for themselves,” and he recently asserted that Republicans are promoting a “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”  This is patently false about Republicans, as Obama doesn’t seem to realize that much of what the federal government is doing is actually not the function of government at the federal level.  Both Republicans and Democrats have dramatically grown the federal government over the years, encroaching more and more into territory belonging to the individual states, where it has absolutely no business constitutionally (with a notable example being the healthcare law which will hopefully be struck down).  Yet Obama and the Democrats keep hammering for more.  That’s why we’re going bankrupt just like the European countries that Obama wants to emulate, such as Greece and Spain.  The reason these countries are in such a mess is because of the mistaken view that a central government can actually control an economy and make decisions for people that they can and should make for themselves every day in free markets.

I was listening to the Andrew Wilkow show on Friday, who on this day had an outstanding guest commentator.  A gentleman called in asking the question about which is more important when in conflict:  liberty vs. equality.  Both the guest commentator and the caller agreed that liberty trumps equality every time.  The commentator quoted Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education.  Reed published an article titled Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy, which is well worth reading for those who believe in freedom and liberty.  In principle one, Reed states the following:  “Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.”  This “equalness” of which he speaks is not equality before the law, as before the law we are all equal in terms of race, sex, creed, gender, or religion.  What he speaks of is equalness as it relates to income or material wealth.  Free people are not equal because when people are free to be themselves, there will be vastly different levels of wealth.  We are all unique beings, and it is foolhardy to expect that we will somehow be equal in the marketplace, since some are more industrious and willing to work.  Some have more talent than others.  Yet politicians such as Obama encourage people to be jealous of others, and seek to punish success (except for theirs) instead of celebrating it.  This is unbecoming of the President of the United States, and is utterly destructive.

Reed further makes the point that equal people are not free.  Wherever you look in the world where people are “equal” economically they are certainly not free.  And this doesn’t include just communist countries, but it has been the direction of western European countries that are now finding out that this path ultimately leads to economic collapse.  Trying to make people equal that are inherently unequal takes away incentive, striving, and industriousness.  Yes, every society needs to take care of those who are disabled, elderly, or truly indigent, but those who have the ability to work need to work out their problems for themselves.  If there are people that are cheating each other in the market, then the government does have a role in creating and enforcing laws that maximize win-win situations while minimizing win-lose or lose-lose situations.  In other words, government should be a referee in the economy, and not a player.  And government needs to be close to the people, at the local, county, and state levels.  At the federal level, the duties should be few and enumerated just as our Constitution says it should be.

Getting back to the original question about liberty vs. equality, conservatives believe first in liberty, while liberals tend to believe in equality first over liberty.  Isn’t it obvious?  I don’t believe liberals always have the best intentions, but even liberals with the best of intentions of bringing up those on the bottom economic rungs don’t realize that the unintended consequences are to actually bring people down since dependence is created instead of greater independence.  That is the ultimate result, as conservatives argue, even though it may not be the intent.  Unfortunately, government programs are often judged on their intent and not their result.  And thus we have a failed “war on poverty,” as well as entitlements that are taking the country into bankruptcy such as Medicare and Social Security.  These are examples of government making promises it knows it can’t keep, and now liberals demagogue almost any attempt by Republicans to fix these problems even though they know too what the end result will be.

So what is true equality?  For liberals, it is equality of outcome, which we know has never worked, and never will work.  For conservatives, it is equality of rights, of opportunity, of pursuit, of freedom of worship.  This latter view is the wisdom passed down to us by the framers of the Constitution and the great men such as Locke and Montesquieu whose ideas molded the Constitution.  The idea is to avoid tyranny before it can take root, and provide maximum liberty and freedom in a properly ordered society consisting of these as well as the right to one’s own property.  It was C.S. Lewis who said “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”  The moral busybodies of today are liberals, and it is time that Americans stand up and say “enough of this.”  We will have that opportunity in November, and it cannot come soon enough.

Share