Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Is More Important For An Economy—Liberty or Equality?

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The desire for equality comes from within man, not his government. Every parent observes that each child wants to have either a larger portion or an equal piece of brownie. Although Human nature passionately desires liberty, it more diligently seeks and loves the idea of equality. Tocqueville penned the truth that the more equal men are; the more insatiable will be their longing for equality. Even a small degree of liberty will satisfy man, but no amount of equality will ever be enough. At first government will allow equality and later they promote it through special interest regulations under the seemingly harmless guise of socialism.

What do democracy and socialism have in common? “Equality,” says Tocqueville, “but while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” Gradually, the coveted equality turns against a people as government intervenes at a continually increasing rate to grant equality at the price of liberty. In their book, Free to Choose, Milton and Rose Friedman explore three levels of equality. These are equality before God, equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. The first two kinds of equalities did not limit freedoms, but expanded them to be greater than ever in the history of the world during our Nation’s founding and beyond. Since the early decades of the last century a new kind of equality has emerged that is destroying our freedoms—it is the equality of outcome. Let us explore deeper into the different levels of equality to understand their effect on the human race.

During the United States’ founding period it was the equality before God that was desperately sought to break free from an increasingly oppressive government. Inspired by John Locke and other great thinkers of the past, Thomas Jefferson composed the Declaration of Independence to proclaim that all men are created equal. The indicator to Jefferson’s intent is phrased in the famous preamble,“[that all men are] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Man was given the liberty to shape his own life and serve his own purposes, provided he did not interfere with similar rights of others. Invading these God-given rights was to be prohibited; therefore, government was instituted to protect these rights.

Conflict between the Declaration of Independence and slavery took center stage until finally resolved by the Civil War. Jefferson agonized over the tyranny of slavery in his notebooks and correspondences. He pondered over solutions to eliminate it. Similarly many of us today agonize over the enslaving power of the welfare system and of its ineffectiveness and degradation of the human soul, but in like manner to Jefferson, we ponder the ways it could be eliminated and find that it seems virtually impossible. Terminating welfare immediately by legislation may cause a war, but could it be phased out gradually? Will we have another civil war? Not likely, however it is quite possible to have a great many statesmen who will rise up and lead us out of the quagmire.

Shortly after the Civil War greater opportunity for all men provided a new equality never before enjoyed by men of all races—it was the equality of opportunity. It would not be an equal opportunity of “identity” in the sense of an individual’s geographical location; whether there existed a careful or neglectful upbringing; or whether there were limitations of or lack of birth defects. Equal opportunities would mean that “no one should be prevented by arbitrary obstacles from using his capacities to pursue his own objectives… and from achieving those positions for which their talents fit them and which their values lead them to seek. Not birth, nationality, color, religion, sex, nor any other irrelevant characteristic should determine the opportunities that are open to a person—only his abilities” (Friedman). The “melting pot” of all races, religions and culture shows evidence of the vast equal opportunity available in the United States. After the Civil War an explosion of free market ideas promoted extraordinary expansion of free enterprise, competition and laissez-faire. Writes Friedman, “Everyone was to be free to go into any business, follow any occupation, buy any property, subject only to the agreement of the other parties to the transaction. Each was to have the opportunity to reap the benefits if he succeeded, to suffer the costs if he failed. There were to be no arbitrary obstacles. Performance, not birth, religion, or nationality, was the touchstone.” Wealth increased exponentially and charitable activity abounded with non-profit hospitals, charitable foundations and privately endowed colleges and universities.

Equality before God and equality of opportunity provided favorable conditions for freedom and liberty to prosper. We find that when liberty and freedom existed people were allowed to live according to the dictates of their conscience. The society would become a mixture of abundance and poverty, charity and unkindness, master and laborer, honest and dishonest. Not aware they were trading freedom for their security, the people went grappling to the government for security against the “appalling activities of the corrupted”. The security they desired was in the name of socialism. It would be a system that would promote the good of and for all people. Tocqueville feared that a democracy carried too far might undermine civic virtue and replace it with social servitude, "There is a manly and lawful passion for equality which incites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.” No longer satisfied with the freedom and liberty of the first two levels of equality, the people desired a third equality that would threaten and destroy liberty, but that would ensure security. Just as the child desires an equal piece of brownie, the masses desired the security of having an equal outcome of everything. Tocqueville observed that the chief passion, which stirs men, is the love of equality of conditions.

In the last 60 years our nation has increasingly gravitated toward the security of equal outcome. “Everyone should have the same level of living or of income, [and] should finish the race at the same time.” write the Friedman’s. “As the Dodo said in Alice and Wonderland, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’” The goal today is the vague notion of fairness. There is a belief among many that some companies have an unfair hold on the market, that some children are unfairly abused, that some youth do not have the “fair” opportunity to go to college, or that some special interest group is not recognized fairly as it should be. Under this false notion of fairness the government must grow stronger and more comprehensive to make things more and more “fair” as the rapacious special interest groups grovel for more. “It becomes regularly necessary to qualify legal provisions increasingly by reference to what is ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable,’” says F. A. Hayek of increased government intervention. The Friedman’s continue, “’Fair shares for all’ is the modern slogan that has replaced Karl Marx’s, ‘To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability.’” Who decides what is fair? Who is to give the prizes? The people, having given up the liberty to choose for the want of security, have now delegated this power to the state. The state can now divide up our land, income and possessions and give it as “prizes” to others who “deserve” it. Surrendering our freedoms over to the increasingly paternal government, we gain what seems to be an increasing equality of outcome, but in reality, the disparity between the rich and the poor becomes greater and will eventually destroy the middle class. Reality is more like George Orwell’s Animal Farm where, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Fearing anarchy, the masses tend toward socialism feeling that the socialist pathway is a recipe for “the good of all.” Yet, in the end the talented have lost the incentive to achieve and the mediocre have been rewarded—all are in a decadent decline towards destruction. Tocqueville warns that “anarchy is not the greatest of the ills to be feared in democratic nation, but the greatest of ills will be the careful downward path to servitude. As equality increases and is never quenched, slowly the freedom will be.”

Many are beginning to look at security, or equality of outcome, with increased apprehension. Have they sensed the reality that this level of equality is squelching our delicate freedoms? Has it been leading us down the path of socialism? Is the collectivist creed destroying our democracy? If so, where did we go wrong? What turned us down the path of servitude? Perhaps we find our answer at the beginning of this article. I commenced by stating that no amount of equality will be enough for man. Later in our study of the three levels of equality we saw that our passion for equality will increase infinitely until we have destroyed our freedoms. The solution is as simple as instilling knowledge to the child who wants an equal piece of brownie. Virtues and ethics are learned; character is built; patience, kindness and charity are impressed upon the young heart. People without the knowledge of what Thomas Jefferson truly meant about equality have interpreted it to mean equality of outcome. Lack of knowledge is perhaps the main cause for our economic catastrophe today. Tocqueville suggests that we seek our education from the classics, “All who have ambitions to literary excellence in democratic nations should ever refresh themselves at classical springs; that is the most wholesome medicine for the mind. Not that I hold the classics beyond criticism, but I think that they have special merits well calculated to counterbalance our peculiar defects. They provide a prop just where we are most likely to fall.” It may be easier to be trained for a career at the local university, but it is essential for our freedoms that we be immersed in a lifelong education in the liberal arts.

Above, I mentioned the possibility of Statesmen leading us out of the quagmire of the welfare state. Statesmen build their character upon the high moral virtues found in the ancient and modern classics. Some are formally educated in the universities and some are self-educated from the mentor/authors of the classics, but both learn to understand human nature and the history of cause and effect. They are empowered with the knowledge that restores and maintains freedoms. It is essential that we relearn our true history and understand human nature or continue on the path of servitude and ignorance. Whether we have the statesmen to lead us out of our predicament or not depends upon the reader. What is more important to you—Liberty or equality?
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