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The Poverty of Equality


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the-poverty-of-equalityAmerican Spectator:

Scissors-32x32.pngSOCIAL SAFETY NETS that provide basic help for the needy to prevent human suffering are easily justifiable on moral grounds. Nearly everyone supports them to prevent severe hardship among those disabled, widowed, orphaned, or even just temporarily down on their luck. In modern and wealthy societies like ours, there is broad voter consent to such policies, which ensure people do not suffer deprivation of the necessities of life: food, shelter, and clothing. This recognizes we have a moral obligation to help our fellow man. It's always an open question how much of that should fall to private charity and how much should be done through government taxation. That said, the truth is, such safety nets, if focused on the truly needy and designed to rely on modern markets and incentives, would not be costly compared to the immense wealth of our society.

But once such policies are established, going further—taking from some by force of law what they have produced and consequently earned, and giving to others merely to make incomes and wealth more equal—is not justifiable. Vonnegut's story helps explain why.

First, achieving true and comprehensive equality would require violating personal liberty, as the talented and capable must be prevented from using their advantages to get ahead. Under this philosophy, the most productive must be treated punitively through high tax rates simply because they used their abilities to produce more than others. What we have just described is a progressive tax system. Work and produce a little bit, and we take 10 percent. Work and produce more, and we take 20 percent, and so on. Some societies take as much as 90 percent of the marginal output, as the U.S. did after World War II.

In a society where men and women are angels who always put the welfare of others ahead of their own, this system—from each according to his ability, to each according to his need—might even work. High tax rates wouldn't have any negative consequences because everyone would work for everyone else's benefit. Society would be like one, large commune, with everyone working for the common good. The ambitious, hard worker would get the same pay as the one who sleeps in and lives a lazy lifestyle. Output would be high, and we would have almost complete equality of outcome.Scissors-32x32.png

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