Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity
Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity
Growing concern about inequality has led to proposals to remake American society according to ill-conceived and coercive egalitarian values that are fundamentally unfair.
This unique book reveals the modern romance with equality as a destructive flirtation. The elites who advocate such notions claim they champion the poorbut more often than not the nostrums of this managerial class undermine, rather than advance, mass prosperity and human well-being.
The authors of In All Fairness challenge all of the prevailing egalitarian ideas, including the claim that the country is riven by inequality in the first place. After all, our economy thrives with a division of labor that allows individuals who are unequal in interests and talents to pursue their own unique goals. Looked at in this way, equality is far more widespread than overheated rhetoric might lead one to expectas factual data show.
But it is an equality of a particularly valuable typeone arrived at, not by top-down attempts to impose economic uniformity, but by our respecting inviolable rules of fair play and the dignity of each person, a dignity that requires everyone to respect the voluntary transactions of others. This approach holds equity, liberty, diversity, and prosperity together. Would we want it any other way in America and anywhere around the world?
The authors draw on economics, philosophy, religion, law, political science, and history to provide answers to a perennial question that especially agitates the American public today: Can the coercive powers of the state be used to achieve a kind of arithmetic equality? The authors, each in their own way, make a strong case that they should not be used in this fashion.
Love inequality or loathe it, In All Fairness is full of key insights about the connections among fairness, liberty, equality and the quest for human dignity. You wont think about wealth and poverty, equality and inequality, in the same way ever again.
Table of Contents
The Theoretical and Practical Pitfalls in Egalitarian Thought
Richard A. Epstein
New Thinking on Equality, Liberty, and Human Dignity
Robert M. Whaples
PART I: Problems with the Modern Philosophy of Egalitarianism
- How Experts Hijacked Egalitarianism
Adam G. Martin
- The Misuses of Egalitarianism
James R. Otteson
- The Conceptual Marriage of Rawls and Hayek
Michael C. Munger
- The Role of Negative Rights
Aeon J. Skoble
- The Impossibility of Egalitarian Ends
Jeremy Jackson and Jeffrey Palm
PART II: The Historical Development of Egalitarian Ideas
- Religion and the Idea of Human Dignity
Peter J. Hill
- A Descent from Equality to Egalitarianism
- Why Redistributionism Must Collapse
James R. Harrigan and Ryan M. Yonk
- The Retreat from Equality before the Law
William J. Watkins Jr.
PART III: Egalitarianism, Economic Performance, and the Laws of Economics
- Classroom Egalitarianism
- Financial Egalitarianism in America
Robert E. Wright
- The End of Absolute Poverty
Art Carden, Sarah Estelle, and Anne R. Bradley
- The Unfair Cost of Reducing Inequality
Nikolai G. Wenzel
- Equality Comes from Economic Growth
- Taxes and the Myth of Egalitarianism
Brian J. Gaines
- Pushing for More Equality of Income and Wealth
Edward P. Stringham
- Good and Bad Inequality
Vincent Geloso and Steven G. Horwitz
Final Thoughts on Egalitarianism
Michael C. Munger
About the Editors and Contributors
- Progressive intellectuals and many of todays policy leaders are in the grips of a flawed ideology that some call the New Egalitarianism. What are its central claims about ethics and equality, markets and morality? What are its core problems? And why does egalitarianism inspire so many public-policy proposals that sound unrealistic? In All Fairness: Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity answers these and related questions in ways that both clarify the aims and shortcomings of modern egalitarianism and deepen our understanding and appreciation for civil liberties, free speech, free markets, and the rule of law.
- The New Egalitarianism amounts to a revolutionary new conception of human equalitybut its hardly new and improved. How does it differ from fair play and equal rights as traditionally understood? How does it view the egalitarianism of the Old Left? In what ways does it challenge, and in some cases threaten, various unique achievements of the West, including ideas and institutions that sprouted from its Greco-Judeo-Christian heritage? And why, in a culture that often praises meritocracy and achievement, does egalitarianism appeal to so many intellectuals?
- Can modern egalitarianism survive its self-contradictions? One of its major points of emphasis, for example, is the role of brute luck in determining economic success. The problem is, successful egalitarian remedies to such an injustice would also require brute luck: they would need to somehow escape the common perils of bad-faith political actors and incompetent bureaucracy. If egalitarians wish to champion social harmony and the underprivileged, why dont they focus on improving opportunities for mutual gain through voluntary exchange instead of quixotic zero-sum policies that would likely further politicize and polarize society?
- Egalitarian impulses have contributed to some of the worst public-policy disasters in modern history. How did efforts to equalize rates of homeownership contribute to the financial crisis of 20082009? How would global anti-poverty programs that seek equal outcomes affect successful policies that have helped slash the worlds extreme-poverty rate in half? Without a solid understanding of past policy disasters and the function of market prices and the profit motive, the New Egalitarianism risks inspiring a replay of wishful thinking that ultimately proves counterproductive.
- Can anything worthwhile come from the New Egalitarianism? Some contributors to In All Fairness believe so. Motivated by concerns for the underprivileged, they propose integrating the justice as fairness framework of philosopher John Rawls and what is often viewed as its main rival: the private-property, general-rules perspective of classical liberal scholar F. A. Hayek. Other contributors believe the effort is futile. This diversity of thoughtall from within a broadly pro-market, pro-liberty paradigmhelps ensure that In All Fairness is adventurous as well as intellectually rigorous.
Recent hysteria about inequality has generated ill-conceived ideas about remaking American society. In All Fairness: Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity, edited by Robert M. Whaples, Michael C. Munger, and Christopher J. Coyne, brings together essays that challenge recent flawed egalitarian ideas, exposing the quicksand on which they rest and the self-serving interests they often promote. While each chapter offers unique insights, the overriding theme is that fairness must rest on a conception of humanity that recognizes the dignity of each persona dignity that requires everyone to respect individual choices and voluntary transactions.
Rejecting top-down attempts to implement economic equality because they violate inviolable standards of justice and rarely achieve their putative ends, the books contributors call on authorities to remove policies that shackle individual initiative and favor those with political connectionsand to rethink blunt redistribution because it transfers mere money, not the values and knowledge that allow us to flourish. Some of the essays carefully examine official statistics, concluding that they misleadingly exaggerate inequality.
In All Fairness knits together ideas from economics, philosophy, religion, law, and historyall firmly rooted in the classical liberal tradition. It will especially appeal to readers who are lost in the fog of a new egalitarianism that looks appealing but ultimately doesnt make sense. Cutting through the haze and exposing the range of errors in the logic and practice of todays egalitarians, it clears the path for a deeper understanding of equality, liberty, and the quest for human dignity.
Flaws of Modern Egalitarianism
Modern egalitarianism is a philosophy rife with problems running from its outer surface to its deepest core. After a foreword by Richard A. Epstein and introduction by Robert M. Whaples, Adam G. Martin kicks off the discussion by showing that todays egalitarianism rejects older common-sense thinking. For example, whereas traditional concerns about racism emphasize individual conduct motivated by a dislike for other races and/or beliefs in their inferiority, the New Egalitarianism views racism far more broadly, equating it with socially constructed, invisible systems conferring racial dominance. And because unseen systems can be hard to identify, the New Egalitarians assert the need for a cadre of experts to identify the culpable elements and propose remedies. This approach, which has more than a hint of elitism, opens the door for sundry witch-hunts as the self-appointed authorities go about exorcising the demons of racial and social privilege.
Brute luck is another invisible force that the New Egalitarianism lament for causing social inequality. James R. Otteson questions this emphasis by showingwith a telling example of romantic bad luckthat misfortune often results from choices whose outcomes should be respected, not corrected. And because policies intended to advance egalitarian goals are far more difficult to craft than is generally acknowledged, their success would require a strong dose of brute luck.
Egalitarians, modern and traditional alike, usually take the fruits of market capitalism for granted. The danger, Michael C. Munger notes, is that egalitarian redistributionist policies could harm, if not kill, the goose that lays the golden egg: taking away profits from the capitalists diminishes the source of investment funds available to produce and market goods and services that benefit all consumers, including the poor.
Egalitarians fancy themselves as the vanguard of justice, but their approach is prone to injustice. Aeon Skoble suggests this is because they emphasize a derivative issueequal distribution of wealthand slight a morally fundamental issueequal respect for negative (liberty) rights. Putting justice and liberty first, he argues, means prioritizing the ending of government actions that hinder economic opportunity; rethinking coercive redistribution that targets symptoms rather than causes of hardship; and repealing laws that target some groups disproportionately, such as incarceration arising from the war on drugs.
Short of a totalitarian regime, the objective of an equal distribution of wealth is utterly impossible, according to Jeremy Jackson and Jeffrey Palm. At root, this is because a key source of wealth in any economy is something that cant be redistributed: social capital. This includes access to social networks, the soft-skills of social efficacy, and even positive outlooks imparted in a childs home.
The Historical Development of Egalitarian Ideas
Modern egalitarianism clashes with the notion of human equality championed by classical liberals. Peter J. Hill explains how Western societies owe their commitment to human equality to the influence of Jewish and Christian ideas about human dignity and moral agency. Enlightenment-era thinkers also contributed by developing mores and laws that limited the use of power to enforce a particular definition of correct thinking.
Western ideas about equality have, over the past two hundred years, suffered conceptual deterioration, argues Jason Morgan. Egalitarianism has lowered the standards of good, better, and best and replaced them with the iron rule of absolute uniformity.
The corruption of the concept of human equality is evident in the arc of U.S. history, as James R. Harrigan and Ryan M. Yonk show. Belief in the rule of law and negative rights held sway for about one hundred years, after which the nation drifted to a system predicated on positive rights (i.e., entitlements to the fruits of others labors), resulting in redistributive policies that policymakers can propose rolling back only at their own electoral peril.
The historical effect of the egalitarian impulse can even be seen in the U.S. Supreme Courts Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence. After exploring the origins and evolution of due process and equal protection, William J. Watkins Jr. applies the wisdom and commonsense reasoning of legal scholar St. George Tucker and others to offer a jurisprudence congruent with F. A. Hayeks understanding of equality under the law.
Egalitarianism, Economic Performance, and the Laws of Economics
Aside from its philosophical dilemmas, modern egalitarianism is an unsound basis for effective public policy. Stephen Shmanske gets to its core difficulties by way of contrast: he explains how only a free-market pricing system functions in a reasonable manner, encouraging people to be productive, avoiding the false promises and unfairness of the other systems.
The pursuit of equal outcomes also resulted in one of the worst policy disasters of recent historythe financial crisis of 2007 to 2009. Robert E. Wright demonstrates that the subprime mortgage collapse resulted largely from government policies that attempted to render equal that which was inherently unequal: creditworthiness.
Nor is global poverty alleviation a good candidate for coercive egalitarian policies. As Art Carden, Sarah Estelle and Anne Bradley explain, absolute poverty is declining around the world due to economic growth brought about by improved institutions and a new esteem for innovation.
Moreover, the cost of fighting inequality is often borne disproportionately by those its supposed to helpthe poorest. Because of this tendency, Nikolai G. Wenzel argues that instead of equality of outcome, policy efforts should focus on equality of opportunity and economic freedom.
Egalitarians tend to err in their measurements of wealth inequality. As Ben ONeill explains, this analysis fails by taking money as the measure of all things. When inequality is measured in appropriate real terms, with a fixed measuring rod, it becomes apparent that economic growth reduces inequalities of real wealth, even when the distribution of monetary wealth remains unequal.
Egalitarians also overestimate public support for their policy prescriptions. Brain J. Gaines examines public-opinion surveys to show that Americans favor rather flat and low taxes and embrace equal treatment through (mostly) proportional taxation much more than through the equalizing of incomes or wealth via highly progressive taxes.
Egalitarians generally fail to appreciate one of the notable facts of recent economic history: the spread of myriad technological conveniences across all income levels. While most households are gaining ground in absolute terms, Edward P. Stringham notes that egalitarianism criticizes this trend because some people are getting wealthy faster than others. Although any policy marketed as We want to keep everyone more equal and poor sounds absurd, Stringham shows that many current policies do just that.
Egalitarians also mismeasure inequality when they focus on differences in pretax income rather than consumption inequality. More fundamentally, Vincent Geloso and Steven G. Horwitz explain, egalitarians dismiss socially beneficial good inequalities that result from the satisfaction of individual economic preferences or demographic changes and have no perverse impact on economic growth. Their focus should switch to bad inequalities that stem from government policies that push down the left tail of the income distribution (such as zoning laws and the war on drugs) while pulling up the right tail (such as bank bailouts and barriers to entry into markets).
Michael C. Munger concludes the book by examining the relationship between the putative aims of modern egalitarianism and its coercive methods of enforcement, noting that its hard to imagine anything less egalitarian than rampant coercion exercised by an entity holding a monopoly on the use of force.
How, between the covers of a single volume, could one hope to illuminate the vast sea of moral, intellectual, and political failures that add up to modern egalitarianism? Only by combining the expertise and insights of historians, economists, political scientists, philosophers, legal scholars and more. With the book In All Fairness, the Independent Institute has done so brilliantly. Each author's contribution stands on its own and can be read with profit. Taken together, they complement each other to create a whole that far exceeds the sum of its parts.
Steven E. Landsburg, Professor of Economics, University of Rochester
Fairness counts among humankinds most fundamental social desideratademanded even by small children on the playing field. The difficulty is that it is easier to say what fairness is than to determine what is fair. The many faceted book In All Fairness, edited by Robert M. Whaples, Michael C. Munger, and Christopher J. Coyne, does justice to the complexity of the topic in its historical, philosophical, and economic dimensions. Anyone who has ever been inclined to say but thats just not fairwhich includes just about all of uswill find enlightenment and information in this thoughtfully compiled, instructive, and constructive book.
Nicholas Rescher, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh; Founding Editor, American Philosophical Quarterly;author, Fairness: Theory and Practice of Distributive Justice
The authors of the timely book, In All Fairness: Equality, Liberty and the Quest for Human Dignity, edited by Robert M. Whaples, Michael C. Munger, and Christopher J. Coyne, dig creatively into the roots of inequality, drawing from philosophy, economics, and religion going way back in human history. This fascinating book shows that realizing proposed egalitarian wealth or income distributions requires a great deal of coercive power, unfairly affects The Forgotten Man, and breeds unintended consequences. The book rightly stresses equality of opportunity achieved through economic freedom over equality of outcomes.
John B. Taylor, Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics, Stanford University; George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics, Hoover Institution
The beautiful book In All Fairness describes how rapidly growing efforts to impose equality of outcomes necessarily damages everyones personal and economic freedom, creates harmful social and cultural divisions, and depresses economic growth that could give millions of people a better life. You will benefit enormously from reading this book, irrespective of where you stand on the debate about inequality.
Lee E. Ohanian, Professor of Economics and Director of the Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic Research, UCLA; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
In All Fairness is a masterful and insightful book devoted to exposing the shaky foundations and the likely moral, social, and political costs of the campaign for state-enforced equal outcomes for all. This campaign jettisons liberal concern for equal liberty and equality before the law for the elusive and yet destructive end of equal wellbeing or at least equal income. The goal of equality is elusive because of the deep difficulties of determining when equal wellbeing or income has been achieved and whose ox will be gored and which liberties must be denied to achieve it. The focus on equal outcomes shifts attention from growth-friendly policies that have raised many hundreds of millions up from poverty to redistributive policies that undermine growth. In many distinct but converging ways, the book convincingly argues that the crusade for equality undermines the core institutions of a free and prosperous society and drives us to a world of zero-sum, tribal conflicts.
Eric Mack, Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Member, Murphy Institute of Political Economy, Tulane University
In All Fairness is an insightful exploration of the tension between liberty and egalitarianism. Who will be better off if we opt for comprehensive redistribution and therefore against freedom? Its certainly not the poor. Read the book to find out why, especially if you think of yourself as an egalitarian!
Sam Peltzman, Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago
Few matters bedevil American politics as do the need to find proper understandings of liberty and equality and the way government should endeavor to promote them. The authors of In All Fairness: Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity approach these matters from philosophical, economic, and historical perspectives, all to great effect. This rare volume is an intellectual feast that will repay repeated readings, whether the reader is a beginner or an expert.
Kevin R. C. Gutzman, Professor of History, Western Connecticut State University
Equality is the theme, if not the obsession of our time. Yet it means very different things to different people. In All Fairness has brought together a range of scholars who explore the political, economic, and legal dimensions of different conceptions of equality dispassionately and seriously. Together they bring light to a subject that desperately needs it.
Samuel H. Gregg, Director of Research, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Every era has one or two hobgoblins that, by frightening the uninformed, increase the power of the state. One such hobgoblin today is economic inequality. Fortunately, we today have also the superb book In All Fairness that, if read widely enough, will reveal economic inequality to be the non-issue that it is.
Donald J. Boudreaux, Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Program on the American Economy and Globalization, Mercatus Center, George Mason University
Among the many important lessons of the book In All Fairness, one of the most powerful is that when governments implement policies designed to create more equal outcomes, those policies compromise individual liberty but rarely result in a more equal society. Every chapter of this volume offers readers a thought-provoking analysis of the concept of equality and the challenges involved in public policies to address inequality.
Randall G. Holcombe, DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics, Florida State University; author, Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History
Robert Ade, Communications Manager
|Sr. Fellow Robert Whaples, co-editor of In All Fairness appears on the Wayne Allyn Root radio show||Fri., Oct. 18, 2019|