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Valar Qringaomis

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Equality vs Freedom

Free To Choose Media - Free To Choose: Volume 5 - Created Equal

MILTON FRIEDMAN: From the Victorian novelists to modern reformers, a favorite device to stir our emotions is to contrast extremes of wealth and of poverty. We are expected to conclude that the rich are responsible for the deprivations of the poor — that they are rich at the expense of the poor.

Whether it is in the slums of New Delhi or in the affluence of Las Vegas, it simply isn't fair that there should be any losers. Life is unfair; there is nothing fair about one man being born blind and another man being born with sight. There is nothing fair about one man being born of a wealthy parent and one of an impecunious parent. There is nothing fair about Muhammad Ali having been born with a skill that enables him to make millions of dollars one night. There is nothing fair about Marlene Dietrich having great legs that we all want to watch. There is nothing fair about any of that. But on the other hand, don't you think a lot of people who like to look at Marlene Dietrich’s legs benefited from nature's unfairness in producing a Marlene Dietrich?

What kind of a world would it be if everybody was an absolute identical duplicate of anybody else? You might as well destroy the whole world and just keep one specimen left for a museum.

In the same way, it's unfair that Muhammad Ali should be a great fighter and should be able to earn millions. But would it not be even more unfair to the people who like to watch him if you said that in the pursuit of some abstract ideal of equality, we're not going to let Muhammad Ali get more for one night’s fight than the lowest man on the totem-pole can get for a days unskilled work on the docks? You can do that but the result of that would be to deny people the opportunity to watch Muhammad Ali. I doubt very much he would be willing to subject himself to the kind of fights he's gone through if he were to get the pay of an unskilled docker...

A myth has grown up that free market capitalism increases such inequalities, that the rich benefit at the expense of the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wherever the free market has been permitted to operate, the ordinary man has been able to attain levels of living never dreamed of before. Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor- nowhere are the rich richer and the poor poorer, than in those societies that do not permit the free market to operate, whether they be feudal societies where status determines position, or modern, centrally planned economies where access to government determines position.

Central planning was introduced in India, in considerable part, in the name of equality. The tragedy is that after 30 years, it is hard to see any significant improvement in the lot of the ordinary person...

New classes of privileged have been created to replace or supplement the old. The bureaucracy, secure in their jobs, protected against inflation both when they work and after they retire; the trade-unions, who profess to represent the most down-trodden workers but who in fact consist of the highest-paid laborers in the land, the aristocrats of the labor movement; and the new millionaires, the people who have been cleverest, most ingenious at finding ways around the rules, the regulations, the laws that have emanated from over there, who have found ways to avoid paying tax on the income they have acquired, to get their wealth and their money overseas beyond the hands of the tax collector. A vast reshuffling, yes; a greater equity, hardly.

The Yehudi Menuhin School in the south of England is also a place of privilege. Musically talented children from all over the world compete for a chance to come here to study.

Much of the moral fervor behind the drive for equality comes from the widespread belief that it is not fair that some children should have a great advantage over others simply because they happen to have wealthy parents. Of course it is not fair, but is there any distinction between the inheritance of property and the inheritance of what, at first sight, looks very different? These youngsters have inherited wealth, not in the form of bonds or stocks, but in the form of talent. That 15-year-old is an accomplished cellist. His father is a distinguished violinist. It’s no accident that most of the children at this school come from musical families. The inheritance of talent is no different, from an ethical point of view, from the inheritance of other forms of property, of bonds, of stocks, of houses, or of factories. Yet many people resent the one but not the other...

The ethical issues involved are subtle and complex. They are not to be resolved by resort to such simplistic formulas as fair shares for all. Indeed, if you took that seriously, it is the youngsters with less musical skills, not those with more, who should be sent to this school in order to compensate for their inherited disadvantage.

When the evening started, all of these players had about the same number of chips in front of them. But as the play progressed they surely didn't; some won, some lost. By the end of the evening some of them will have a big pile of chips; others will have small ones. There will be big winners; there will be big losers.

In the name of equality, should the winnings be redistributed to the losers, so that everybody ends up where he started? That would take all the fun out of the game. Even the losers wouldn't like that. They might like it tonight, but would they come back again to play if they knew that whatever happened, they would end up exactly where they had started?

What does Las Vegas have to do with the real world? A great deal more than you might think. It is one very important part of our life in highly concentrated form. Every day, all of us are making decisions that involve gambles. Sometimes, they are big gambles, as when we decide what occupation to pursue or whom to marry. More often, they are small gambles, as when we decide whether to cross the street against the traffic. But each time, the question is who shall make the decision -- we or somebody else? We can make the decision only if we bear the consequences...

The failure of the drive for equality is not because the wrong measures were adopted; not because they were badly administered; not because the wrong people administered it. The failure is much more fundamental.

It is because that drive goes against the most basic instinct of all human beings; in the words of Adam Smith, “The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition, to improve his own lot and to make a better world for his children and his children's children.” When the law interferes with that pursuit, everyone will try to find a way around. He will try to evade the law, he will break the law or he will emigrate from the country...

During the 19th century, and especially after the Civil War and on into the 20th century, the idea of equality came to have a much more definite and specific meaning than the abstract concept of equality before God. It came more and more to mean that everyone should have the same opportunity to make what he could of his capacities; that all careers should be open to people on the basis of their talents, independently of the race, or religion, or belief, or social class that characterize them. This concept of equality of opportunity offers no conflict at all with the concept of freedom. On the contrary, they reinforce one another, and it is no doubt the concept that, even today, is the most widely held.

But in the 20th century, beginning especially abroad and, at a later date in this country, a very different concept, a very different ideal has begun to emerge. That is the ideal that everyone should be equal in income, in level of living, in what he has; the idea that the economic race should be so arranged that everybody ends at the finish line at the same time, rather than that everyone starts at the beginning line at the same time. This concept raises a very serious problem for freedom. It is clearly in conflict with it, since it requires that the freedom of some be restricted in order to provide greater benefits to others.

The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both...

THOMAS SOWELL: First of all, I would disagree violently with the notion that the people are stirring. A very small handful of intellectuals have generated an enormous amount of noise. When I look at opinion polls, particularly when I look at opinion polls of blacks in the United States, most blacks in the United States do not take any strong position in favor of equality of results. In fact, most of the polls that I've seen of blacks put them, if you want to use this expression, very well to the right of most intellectuals on most of these social issues. It is not the people who are stirring; it is a handful of intellectuals...

Black people have never supported, for example, affirmative action, quotas, anything of that sort. Wherever polls have been taken of black opinion on such matters as should people be paid equally or should there be this or that, black people have never taken a position that you described. So it is not a question of what black people chose to do. It's what you choose to put in the mouths of black people and it's what you choose to project. It is not what any black people have ever said anywhere that you could put your finger on.
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