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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Size of the State and Declining Equality

Podcasts | History Extra: Anglo-Saxon treasures, and did Britain invent freedom? (27th March 2014)

Rob Attar: Have there been any occasions in history where this level of freedom has actually had any detrimental effects. For example, in making it harder to govern people or reducing equality, perhaps?

Daniel Hannan (on "How We Invented Freedom and Why it Matters"): Y'know, it's a really fascinating question, that. In terms of making it harder to govern people, no. I think the answer to insurrection or violence or civil unrest is more liberty, it's not more control. If you give people more responsibility they behave more responsibly.

But the question of equality is a really fascinating one. This is something that I'd like to get into in more depth, it was something that I came across when researching the book and I haven't really properly had time to explore, but if you look at the really fundamental elemental indicators of human equality.

So, you know: age, longevity, infant mortality, literacy, calorie intake, height - we have been becoming a more equal society suddenly since the calamity of the Norman Conquest. That approximation, that growing equality only stopped within the last 60 years in the West, and on one or two measures it's gone into reverse. Now those 60 years, we can argue about why that happened - there are all sorts of different theories out there. Y'know, some people say it has to do with women having entered the workforce, and we find our spouses through work now and this has created a superclass - I'm not a sociologist, I don't know.

But one thing that I absolutely can say, because it's empirically obvious, is that slowing of the equalisation has happened when the government has been bigger than ever: when the tax take and the control of the economy by the state has been at its largest.

So it's not just a question of saying state-enforced equality carries a high price in terms of overall prosperity or overall freedom - the bigger the State is, the less equal society has been. That's the, the extraordinary paradox over the late 20th century. So absolutely I don't think there is a price. I think if you have competition, there is a automatic regulator that tends to level people up.
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