The New Political ism: Egalitarianism
Fascism and Nazism were defeated in World War II. Communism and Socialism were presumably defeated in the Cold War, but they have mutated into a new political ism: egalitarianism. In Equal is Unfair, Don Watkins and Yaron Brook make the case that modern egalitarianism evolves as a comeback to the failure of communism for those intellectuals still committed to socialism, and for governments such as Cuba and Venezuela.
Egalitarianism encompasses the belief that people are, or ought to be, equal in a given aspect, say politically, or economically. Egalitarians claim that there are no relevant differences whereby one individual can have a greater inherent right to something than another individual. From this it follows that; an unequal distribution of benefits is unjust and should be remedied by the coercive action of government.
In the contemporary egalitarian reformulations, the advocacy is for the removal of economic inequalities. Egalitarians, like American economist John Roemer, argue for society to compensate individuals for their lack of natural talents due to their bad luck in the birth lottery. Using modern econometric techniques, Roemer and his like-minded colleagues reconstruct Marxism on new analytical foundations.
Most Americans believe that wealth inequalities are just, provided they are the legitimate result of our sacrifices and productive efforts. Egalitarians see it differently. Their reformulation goes something like this: If a person becomes successful as a result of his hard work, intelligence, talents, diligence, etc, that person is simply lucky and not deserving of the rewards of his hard work.
In the egalitarian worldview, the drive to work hard to succeed is something that we inherit, or that we develop in childhood as a product of our lucky environment. Just like our IQ, our desire to work hard is a matter of luck. Successful individuals are “society’s lottery winners.”
Egalitarians do not believe successful individuals should be credited for their success. Their success is a product of their luck. They were lucky to be born intelligent, or diligent, or to loving parents or to have mentors who instilled in them work ethic values. Or they are lucky to excel in sports by being able to run faster or jump higher. In egalitarian analysis, the person did not earn the “gifts” of intelligence, talent, ambition, and the like.
Therefore, society should not reward people for being lucky. In the name of fairness, society has the right, and the duty, to deprive the lucky people from the material results of their success to compensate unsuccessful individuals for their bad luck.
Installing egalitarian economic equality requires the abandonment of political equality so government can forcefully dispose of the time, wealth and effort of others. But either we are politically equal or we are not. Individuals should not have fewer political rights because they are poor, but neither should they have diminished rights because they are rich.
The egalitarian idea of equality of opportunity is, at first glance, alluring to many as it appeals to our sense of fairness. But consider where the egalitarian notion of equal opportunity takes us.
Egalitarians are not just concerned, as we should all be, with eliminating legal barriers to success. Egalitarians want to equalize our starting points in life. Sounds good, but what would it take to equalize our starting point in life? Do we agree with egalitarians, for example, that as parents we should not be allowed to provide our children with any favorable opportunities such as a better school, tutors, a trip abroad, vacations, books, unless other people’s children have the same opportunities? According to one egalitarian philosopher, it might even be wrong for parents to read to their children since this could give the children an unfair advantage in life.
Most of us find such suggestions revolting. Luck does play a role in our lives, but ultimately is not the luck we get, but what we do with it that really counts. Consequently, to promote success, we need to emphasize freedom. Egalitarians regard economic inequality as inherently unfair, but the principal demand of justice is that we respect each other’s freedom.
*José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”