On Equality

My Recent Posts

“Equality” is a word often heard in political discourse. But those of differing views tend to use it with incompatible and even opposing meanings. So today, I’m going to look at different ways in which the word “equality” is used in a political context. And I’ll try to elucidate my own view on the matter.

 

As a first cut at answering the question “What is equality?” I’ll simply give two quotes from the great 17th-century liberal thinker, John Locke:

 

  • [Equality is…] “...that equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man.”
  • “A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another.”

 

So, in a state of equality, no-one has a right to control others or to order them around. And any one-sided power, which one has over another, must be counterbalanced by equal and opposite power, which the other has over the one. For Locke, equality is political equality.

 

And here are views on equality from four more fine thinkers of the past:

 

  • “Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons...” – Aristotle.
  • “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” – Milton Friedman.
  • “A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.” – Friedrich von Hayek.
  • “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell.

 

For a view from the political left, I’ll give you words of the American labour leader and pacifist, Eugene Victor Debs. “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” Such a criticism could just as well be levelled at today’s ruling classes; including politicians, those that set their agendas, and their corporate cronies.

 

Kinds of equality

 

So, what kinds of equality are commonly put forward as desirable for all?

 

First, political equality, as understood by Locke: no right to rule over others, and no subjection to others. Second, moral equality. Under this kind of equality, right and wrong are the same for everyone. This leads towards the concept of the rule of law.

 

Third, equality of opportunity. The idea here is that people should be allowed to advance themselves by using their own talents and abilities, and putting in their own efforts. And they should never be denied opportunities merely because they have, for example, the wrong skin colour, religion, gender or sexual tastes, or because they don’t belong to the right family.

 

Fourth, favoured by many on the political left, is equality of outcome. This is the idea that rewards should be similar for all, regardless of talents or of how well an individual applies them.

 

Areas of inequality

 

Those, that claim to favour equality, perceive problems of inequality in many areas. The most obvious is economic inequality. Some people are paid more than others. And there are those that think this is wrong in itself, even when an individual justly earns everything he receives. Some go even further, saying that it’s wrong for some people to possess more wealth than others.

 

Other areas in which they see inequality as an issue are: Gender inequality (which today is usually an accusation of mistreatment of women by men). Racial or religious inequality; for example, failure to allow civil liberties to those of particular races or religions. And social inequality, such as one class of people obstructing the prospects of other classes of people. Among such claimed divides we may include capitalists against workers, the “toffs” against the “plebs,” the public sector against the private, and the rich against the poor.

 

Then there is international inequality, which is said to favour unfairly those who live in relatively well run countries, against those who live in relatively badly run ones. And even within countries, there are claims of inequalities between groups in areas like education and health care.

 

Looking at these shades of inequality, I see that those that make inequality out to be a problem often want to go well beyond equality of opportunity, towards something much closer to equality of outcome. This, as Hayek pointed out, can only be accomplished by a tyranny. And moreover, a tyranny that has no compunction about taking resources from the talented, the hard-working, the honest and the deserving, and re-distributing them to the mediocre, the lazy, the dishonest and the undeserving.

 

My own view

 

I am a strong supporter of political equality. For me, no-one has an innate right to control other adult people. This is not to say that people may not, by mutual agreement, enter into a contract, in which one may tell the other what to do in a limited area of life. The relationship between an employer and an employee is a case in point.

 

I also do not mean to imply that I reject the idea of government. For when people form a government to defend themselves and their rights and freedoms against internal criminals or external attackers, they delegate to it sufficient powers to enable it to carry out these functions. But government should be like an umpire in a sporting contest. It must not try to become a player in the game. It must not take sides. It must not try to impose agendas. It must not let itself become a danger to, or a drain on, the people it is supposed to defend. And it must stay within the remit – for example, the maintenance of peace and the implementation of civil and criminal justice – for which the people gave it its powers in the first place.

 

On moral equality, my view is both strong and clear. Every individual, without exception, is morally equal. I like to put this as: What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa. And to those that quibble, I say: If not, then exactly who is to be allowed moral privilege over others? How much? When? For what reasons? Who are you to decide? And why should you yourself not be thrown down to the very bottom of the heap?

 

Further, I contend that there exists a basic core of morality, which is, or should be, common to all human beings. Though I do, of course, recognize that groups of people may choose to get together, and to obey among themselves particular sets of laws and customs which differ from, or go beyond, this core. Such as, for example: Venerating a particular deity. Holding property in common, not privately. Not eating pork. Not drinking alcohol. Or not allowing abortions.

 

As to equality of opportunity, I think the idea is misconceived. What everyone should have is not equality of opportunity, but abundance of opportunity. No-one should ever put obstacles in the way of those who want to create and to take opportunities, both economic and personal, as long as their actions do not cause damage or unreasonable risk to others.

 

Lastly, I find that those, that promote equality of outcome, fail to acknowledge that the political action needed to bring about such equality requires huge inequality of political power. And they are, frequently, among the richest and the least productive in society – for example, politicians that are paid huge fees to give speeches.

 

Worse, the political actions they favour are often based on a zero-sum view of society. They seem to think that the only way to benefit the people they claim to want to help is to take resources away from other people and re-distribute them. They focus, not on helping the few who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own, but on forcing one group of people to help another. Moreover, they like to demand sacrifices from other people, but they usually won’t make any such sacrifices themselves. And they often take away from people the opportunity to help themselves, and end up doing more harm than good; as with minimum wage laws.

 

To sum up. I favour political and moral equality for all. I want to see, not equality of opportunity, but abundance of opportunity. And I am entirely opposed to those that seek to bring about equality of outcome without regard to talents and application.

 

Comments

John G Added Oct 28, 2017 - 6:14am
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 6:44am
Equality for me just means that all people, regardless of gender, race, creed, age or disability have equal worth. I don't really agree with Locke. People do need to be organised or we have anarchy and anarchy is a recipe for bullying. I think we need a hierarchy ruled by ethical laws that recognise the rights and freedoms of all individuals. Within that system, run democratically, I would look to set up a fairer and more equitable arrangement where the worth of all is recognised. Those who lead are of no more value than those who follow. We just have different roles.
Neil Lock Added Oct 28, 2017 - 7:44am
John G: Hasn't the book you link to been debunked?
 
I found http://oxfordsociology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/open-letter-to-prof-richard-wilkinson.html, where an Oxford professor of sociology, who is certainly not a right-winger, raises many issues - and he is discussing only a small part of the book. Certainly I would take a very negative view of anyone that won't respond to comments that aren't published in a peer reviewed journal. This reminds me very much of the way "climate scientists" try to shut down the ideas of those who don't agree with their alarmism.
 
The TaxPayers' Alliance has also gotten involved in this issue - there's a (long) discussion at 
http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/the_spirit_level_debate_a_summary.
Neil Lock Added Oct 28, 2017 - 8:01am
Opher: I partly agree with what you say, and partly disagree.
 
I don't agree that everyone has "equal worth" (though that may be because I don't understand exactly what you mean by those words). The worth of an individual, for me, is a function of how that individual behaves towards others. Albert Einstein, for example, had a greater worth than Pol Pot.
 
I agree that people need some kind of organization. But I don't think that a hierarchy is either necessary or desirable. I hope I explained my views on government clearly in the article.
 
I agree very strongly that we should have the rule of ethical laws that recognize the rights and freedoms of all individuals. But one of those rights is the right to justly acquired property; and re-distribution of justly earned wealth violates that right.
 
And if you want to set up what you consider a fairer and more equitable arrangement among a society of people to which you belong, I won't stop you. But in my view, you don't have any right - democratic or otherwise - to force people to join that society if they don't want to.
Dino Manalis Added Oct 28, 2017 - 8:46am
Inequality is normal but we shouldn't exacerbate it with our policies, for example, monetary easing has widened inequality, because record-low interest rates have hurt people who depend on public assistance or pensions, while corporations have been able to borrow much more, even though the economy was in long-term stagnation.  Pro-growth policies and stronger GDP are allowing the Fed to begin inching up interest rates.
Neil Lock Added Oct 28, 2017 - 9:12am
Dino: Yes, I agree; inequality is made worse by bad policies. Ultra low interest rates penalize those who want to save, and help those that want to borrow (and, most of all, help the government itself borrow more).
 
 
Mind you, it was even worse back in the 1970s, when government inflated the currency by 25% a year or more, and people on fixed incomes (like pensioners) were left with sod all.
George N Romey Added Oct 28, 2017 - 12:07pm
More equal societies as we had decades ago are much more efficient. People are much more self sustaining and far less dependent upon the government state. This is what the financial and corporate elites miss as they have fashioned an economic system that steers most of the financial rewards to a very small subclass of citizens.
 
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 12:12pm
Thanks for that Neil. It is an interesting point you make about the worth of Albert Einstein and Pol Pot. I can see exactly where you are coming from. One was a genius who did much good and one was a tyrant who killed and tortured millions. But I would still contend that they had intrinsically equal worth. We can't all be Einstein's but we are still all equally valuable in our own way as sentient people. Those, like Pol Pot, who do immense wrong, are flawed and damaged. They should probably have been either cured or prevented from hurting others. But his intrinsic worth (or should I say value as a human being?)? I say they are the same.
I would suggest that in a perfect society we should operate as equals and those who are violent, aggressive and have abusive natures should be addressed in the appropriate manner.
Dave Volek Added Oct 28, 2017 - 12:28pm
What everyone should have is not equality of opportunity, but abundance of opportunity.
 
Well said. When that opportunity has been provided, then we will let people settle into their appropriate economic class.
 
Leroy Added Oct 28, 2017 - 1:09pm
Thanks, Neil, for a very well thought out article.
 
Equality is a dangerous word.  For a lack of a better way to describe it, I have always supported the notion of equal opportunity.  As you pointed out, it is not quite correct.  I would also say the abundance of opportunity doesn't quite satisfy the notion either. 
 
Take for example the notion that the rich are getting richer in today's economic environment.  I would say it is true.  The markets have gone up to unseen levels.  The average person may want to participate but doesn't have the same opportunity due to the lack of wealth.  Even an abundance of opportunity doesn't help if you are trying to survive.  The only opportunity that most of us have is a savings account.   With the advent of negative interest rates, we are now compounding loses.  The rich are getter richer in the markets because they have an opportunity that most of us don't have.  The average person is getting poorer. That's the argument that many want to make.  It is a short-term view, IMHO.
 
Some people do the right thing while others make the wrong choices.  Most all of us have the opportunity of a high school education.  Many people drop out of school.  We all have the opportunity to save some money.  We don't really need that swimming pool in the backyard, do we?  Or that shiny new SUV every year or two or that 300 sq. meter house?  If you take two identical people with one living for the moment and the other planning for retirement his whole life, one has nothing but social security to depend on while the other may have amassed a nice nest egg for retirement.  At retirement, the two are not equal.  One may be able to live in a nice house, drive a nice car and maybe a vacation home, and may be able to travel the world.  The other may have no choice but to live in a dump.  I think Opher would have a problem with this situation.  One person is living the good life while the other is struggling for survival in his old age.  The obvious answer is to take from the one who planned his life well and give it to the one who didn't to make things equal.  And, of course, I would disagree.  We all make life choices.  Those who make the right choices shouldn't be penalized.
John G Added Oct 28, 2017 - 4:03pm
John G: Hasn't the book you link to been debunked?
No.
The TaxPayers' Alliance
Are you serious?
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 8:20pm
Replace Gross National Product with Gross National Happiness. That might even things out a bit.
Leroy Added Oct 28, 2017 - 9:33pm
Yep.  Just give everyone a million dollars and we will all be happy.
John G Added Oct 28, 2017 - 10:46pm
To imagine that less social mobility can lead to better outcomes, I think, is beyond naive.
The notion that a monied elite can cause better social outcomes via self interest (greed) than an engaged, more equally powerful populace with greater access to the levers of power and human ingenuity is one of the most bizarre frauds ever sold to mankind.
Trickle down economics, which is what most commentators here subscribe to, is ipso facto absurd.
Leroy Added Oct 28, 2017 - 11:09pm
"Trickle down economics, which is what most commentators here subscribe to, is ipso facto absurd."
 
I sometimes feel that I was trickled on.
John G Added Oct 29, 2017 - 3:11am
Oh well you right wing snowflakes win. Enjoy your echo chamber.
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 4:33am
George: I think I understand what you mean. 50 or 60 or even 120 years ago, people were expected to be independent as far as they could. Help was available in extreme need, but it was seen as demeaning to take it. Then enter the welfare state and the idea that it's OK to give up your independence and just live off others. Then enter the crony capitalists, that use the power of the state to enrich themselves and to damage their competitors. The result has been far more unequal societies than all those decades ago.
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 4:40am
Opher: in a perfect society we should operate as equals.
 
That's basically what I'm saying too, when I talk about moral equality. But I suspect you're looking for a wider kind of "equality," which I don't agree with. For me, criminals (including politicians) are not equal to honest human beings. For by allowing themselves to behave badly, they have made themselves inferior.
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 4:41am
Dave Volek: Yes, thanks for that.
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 4:46am
Leroy: Thanks for the compliment. But I think the true situation is worse than you say. As I implied in my reply to George above, there is a cabal of politicians, financiers and crony capitalists that are using political power to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. And that includes damaging, and taking away the retirement prospects of, those they don't like. I myself am a victim of such a scam (but that's a story for another day).
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 4:50am
John G: What makes you think I'm against social mobility, particularly of the upward kind? In fact, that's an argument against progressive taxation of incomes. The person who has lots of capital, but a relatively low income, is taxed far less than the person who has no capital but is earning well. This hurts social mobility, not helps it.
Doug Plumb Added Oct 29, 2017 - 6:07am
Either you are in favour of common law or you are not. People that demand any other kind of equality are against common law. The PTB, above all else, absolutely hate common law and will do anything and everything (multi-faceted attack) to see that fundamental notion of a common human consciousness destroyed. This is why the Left exists. In the end these people hate gays, transgender, etc but they are useful for destroying common law. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 6:53am
Leroy - it's not about money. Some of the poorest nations are the happiest. I suggest we're in pursuit of the wrong thing.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 6:56am
Neil - We're nearly on the same page. I think what I am suggesting is a bit ephemeral - that all human being are of equal worth but not equal value. The deeds and lives of some make them less or more but their intrinsic worth is the same. But I can see exactly what you are saying and can agree with it. I think for me the status, wealth and position of a person does not make them superior - it is the character of their 'heart' that is important.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 6:59am
Doug - I don't follow what you are saying. I'm left and I like the idea of common law and common human consciousness.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 7:00am
Leroy - I was trickled on too - and without the l.
Neil Lock Added Oct 29, 2017 - 7:22am
Doug: I assume that by "PTB" you mean "Powers That Be." (The Free Dictionary gives me 52 different meanings of that acronym!)
 
Where I come from, "common law" usually means the English common law. But you could certainly use that phrase to mean what I called a "basic core of morality, which is, or should be, common to all human beings." So, if I've understood right, I think I agree with the first part of your comment.
 
That "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" I'm not so convinced of. The Soviets, for example, ended up fighting on the same side as the Allies in WWII. But the minute the war was won, they weren't friends any more - if, indeed, they ever really had been.
Leroy Added Oct 29, 2017 - 8:02am
Sometimes I think we are a little too harsh on the rich.  Most of those that I have known have been decent people.  There's the notion that the rich don't pay their fair share of taxes and the middle-class pays the brunt of it.  It is simply not true.  The top 20% pay 95% of the taxes in the US.   Ok, it's just a statistic and statistics can be deceptive.  The super-rich skew this kind of statistic.  I'd wager that majority of people on WB are among the 20% and are rich and don't know it.  I believe it was the illustrious KKK senator from West Virginia who said on Sunday morning TV that if you could survive more than a few weeks without your job, you were among the rich.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 8:38am
Neil - the falling out with the Soviets after World War 2 wasn't all one sided was it?
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 8:42am
Leroy - in terms of the world's population we are certainly well up there in the top percentage. But I do not believe it is healthy for a country, or indeed the world, to have such a disparity between rich and poor. The rich can use their power and privilege to advantage themselves and do. Society runs for their benefit.
I do not doubt that the bulk of taxes are paid by them but they need to be. IMO we need a fair progressive tax system to create a fairer less unequal society and world.
We have the technology for everyone to have a decent standard of living and nobody should be earning billions. I find that obscene.
Leroy Added Oct 29, 2017 - 10:33am
Opher, you might be right if the rich hid their money in buckets of gold or under the mattress.  But, most invest the money which has the side effect of producing jobs.  We tried taxing the manufacturer of yachts, the play toys of the rich and famous.  What happened?  They stopped buying yachts and the yacht builders became unemployed.
opher goodwin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 10:37am
Leroy - I'd prefer the money was taxed off the rich and invested in the country for the good of everyone - not gambled on the stock market or invested abroad or anywhere that they might get a good return. I'd rather not be at the whim of the rich. IMO there are better things to spend money on than yachts.
Dave Volek Added Oct 29, 2017 - 11:10am
Leroy: Man, have you ever added a lot of good things to this thread. I will just comment further.
 
Your analogy of the two workers with different attitudes (one saves and one spends frivolously) is a good example of how opportunity can be used. My mother lives in a senior's complex. She pays about $2400 a month for lodging, which is about the same when she had her own house. She still takes her senior bus trips and often eats in restaurants.
 
Some residents did not save during their life. Their pension checks and other incomes are "confiscated" by the facility because they cannot pay the $2400. However, they are left with $300 a month for spending money. The government makes up the shortfall so the facility can continue to operate. I think deep down inside, these residents know they screwed up with their finances and are now reaping the lack of opportunity they now have in their old age. There's no restaurants, no trips, no nice new things to add to their room.
 
But these are people born in different times. I wonder if the new generation will come to the same conclusion when the savers and spenders meet in the seniors' lodge.
 
In Canada, about 1% of workers earned $200,000 (50% marginal tax rate). The average worker earns about $65,000 (35% marginal tax rate). And of course, there's a whole whack of working poor at the $20,000 (25% marginal tax rate). Whenever I hear statistics that the rich are collectively paying much more tax than the working poor, the math just not add up to me. The middle and lower classes are not paying the higher rate, but collectively, they are putting more money into government coffers than the rich. 
 
And it's interesting to hear people who make $100,000 a year and somehow identify themselves as middle class. They are in the top 10%. If they are in plight of living paycheck to paycheck, it is their own damn fault. Someone making $30,000 usually does not have a lot of ways to reduce expenses.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Leroy Added Oct 29, 2017 - 11:55am
Opher, I would argue that the government spends money inefficiently.  It is not the duty of the government to pick winners and losers.  When it picked yachts as losers, the workers lost.  We will all be losers on solar energy.  It should stand on its own without subsidies.
Leroy Added Oct 29, 2017 - 11:57am
Good for your mother, Dave!  There are some here who no doubt feel that her wealth should have been confiscated as well.  In the government's quest for money, I am expecting means testing for social services before long.  No good deed goes unpunished.
Dave Volek Added Oct 29, 2017 - 12:45pm
My father was a farmer. I experienced my family's  transformation from the "working poor" to "quite successful".  When my father found that combination of circumstances that brought him wealth, he complained a lot about paying taxes. To reduce his taxes, he updated his farm equipment more than it really need to be updated. After a few years, I think he figured out that paying John Deere was harder on the pocket book than paying Revenue Canada. So he amassed a lot of wealth--and bitched the whole time about taxes.
 
Despite paying taxes, he retired comfortably. He and Mom went on lots of trips around the world and never lacked for whatever they needed. I think if you gave him a choice between (1) working hard, paying taxes, and enjoying wealth and (2) working not so hard, pay less taxes, and living month-to-month, he would have paid the taxes. 
 
 
 
 
 
Dave Volek Added Oct 29, 2017 - 12:52pm
Leroy
"Means testing" is only a justification for another bureaucracy. Politicians somehow design the rules; bureaucrats interpret the rules; some people who need the assistance fall through the cracks; some people who don't need the assistance cheat and abuse the system. And because our legislatures are plugged up with needed bills, it might be 20 years before the program gets fixed.
 
Better is a Guaranteed Basic Income. Start everyone off with $200 a month-->even the CEOs (and they will pay 50% of it back with their taxes). Slowly increase it over time. Very few bureaucrats to determine who gets paid and how much. 
 
 
Leroy Added Oct 29, 2017 - 12:59pm
Dave, my dad worked hard and lived by his wits and did ok.  But, when he turned 65, he retired.  He wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his social security.  He lived off his social security and whatever capital gains he could muster.  I think he would have been better off to continue working and paying taxes.  But, that was his choice.  He had a plan, but life is full of surprises.
John G Added Oct 29, 2017 - 2:57pm
George: I think I understand what you mean. 50 or 60 or even 120 years ago, people were expected to be independent as far as they could. Help was available in extreme need, but it was seen as demeaning to take it. Then enter the welfare state and the idea that it's OK to give up your independence and just live off others. Then enter the crony capitalists, that use the power of the state to enrich themselves and to damage their competitors. The result has been far more unequal societies than all those decades ago.
Is this Taxpayers Alliance History (tm)? The Welfare State came about from the demands of labour brought about by the excesses of the elites in the pre WW1 to WW2 years which included the Gilded Age and the Great Depression.
Child labour, indentured servitude, 80 hour work weeks, debtors' prisons, widespread abject poverty, disease, no retirement.
Damn those socialists and the welfare state for getting rid of all that fun.
"Crony" capitalism is just capitalism. All that stuff about competition and 'free' markets is just marketing. The object of capitalists is to accumulate financial assets by providing the least for the most. 
John G Added Oct 29, 2017 - 3:03pm
Guaranteed Basic Income is an elitist scheme to pay below subsistence wages.
It would be inflationary (and thus require much higher rates of taxation on middle income earners.
It solves nothing socially because human being associate their social worth with their contribution by way of work to society.
People (falsely) complain about the dole being paid to the unemployed now. Imagine when their tax rates go up.
It would atrophy the labour force. The best training for a job is a job.
Tamara Wilhite Added Oct 29, 2017 - 5:13pm


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. - Jerry Pournelle
Dave Volek Added Oct 29, 2017 - 5:21pm
Leroy
 
People indeed make choices. Other farmers in the same area didn't work as hard as my father; they took family vacations and had their hobbies. They did not retire with as much money as my dad. And they probably did not pay as much taxes either.
 
I am not following the example of my father. I am going to retire poor. I had a couple of whacky business ideas that took away a lot wealth. And I had an illness for 10 years that sapped my income earning potential. I just might be one of those people in the seniors' lodge that gets an allowance of $300 a month. And I'm OK with that.
 
But, then again, I have my book coming out about an alternative system of governance. Is the world ready for it? I sure hope to be paying lots of taxes soon! 
 
 
John G Added Oct 29, 2017 - 6:38pm
Have any of you heard of the paradox of thrift?
John G Added Oct 30, 2017 - 3:10am
 The person who has lots of capital, but a relatively low income, is taxed far less than the person who has no capital but is earning well. This hurts social mobility, not helps it.
How?
John G Added Oct 30, 2017 - 3:32am
You don't tax the rich to pay for stuff. You tax the rich because they are too rich and that is bad for the economy.
Try viewing taxing the rich as you would personal hygiene. Not bathing is bad for you and for others around you. When you tax the rich, you give the economy a bath and clean it up.
It's economic hygiene.
Neil Lock Added Oct 30, 2017 - 5:40am
John G: The designers of the welfare state were individuals like Beveridge, Keynes, Churchill and the Fabians. Interestingly, often the very same individuals that favoured eugenics. Not nice people.
 
And if the welfare state is so great, why hasn't it solved the problems it was claimed to solve? Why, 75 years after Beveridge's report, do people still feel a need to have discussions like these?
 
As to how heavy taxation hurts social mobility, consider: A has 10,000 spondulix in capital and an income of 100 a year. B has 100 in capital and an income of 10,000 a year. If there were no re-distributory income taxation, B would reach "equality" with A in one year. But if B is taxed at 50%, and A not at all, he gets only half way.
 
You don't tax the rich to pay for stuff. No, you tax the poor - by making energy unnecessarily expensive, for example - and give the proceeds to the rich to build wind farms and the like.
Neil Lock Added Oct 30, 2017 - 5:50am
Tamara: Thanks for the quote.
Leroy Added Oct 30, 2017 - 6:03am
"You don't tax the rich to pay for stuff. No, you tax the poor - by making energy unnecessarily expensive, for example - and give the proceeds to the rich to build wind farms and the like. "
 
Amen.
opher goodwin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 7:30am
Leroy - green energy has become so efficient and cheap that it no longer needs subsidies.
opher goodwin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 7:33am
Neil - that is precisely why we need to take power, transport and postal services into public ownership along with health. The poor are being exploited by the rich. We should not be running these services for profit. The profit should be ploughed back in the services.
opher goodwin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 7:35am
Neil - the problem with the welfare state is that we keep changing governments. The Tories don't value it and grossly underfund it. They use the media tp spread scare stories about scroungers and misuse of funds and then bring in austerity and cuts.
The truth is that it is the tax evasions of the rich that are by far the biggest scam.
opher goodwin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 7:37am
John G is right. You tax the rich. It's good for the economy and society as a whole. This present iniquitous social structure is fuelling discontent. The poor are being blamed but in reality it is the rich who are scamming.
The Burghal Hidage Added Oct 30, 2017 - 8:00am
Opher-  the field of energy generation and distribution is something I happen to be rather knowledgeable on and I have to correct you. Green energy sources, by and large are not  efficient on a scale that is required.  Before you get your hackles up understand this. I do not suggest that these technologies should be scrapped. An all of the above policy should be embraced and technologies that show further promise should continue to be developed, however these should not receive public dollar subsidies.  I understand your perspective that this should be managed and directed by some public entity that determines how these dollars are best spent for the most benefit to all. I don't agree with the method, but I understand that is where you are coming from on this topic. The reality is that the subsidies for these budding "green" industries are little more than a form of corporate welfare.
A prime example exists in northwest Ohio along US 30 in Van Wert county. There is an enormous wind farm in operation there, one which was built by a specially formed subsidiary of the investor owned giant Duke Energy. Duke Energy is one of the largest and most profitable investor owned utilities in the nation. There was a substantial amount of investor dollars that were staked in the construction of this site, but they were also recipients of significant Department of Energy grant dollars from the Obama administration.
 
Wind power is but one of these alternative energy sources. All have a place in augmenting energy needs at certain parts of the power grid, but if they truly were cheaper and more efficient the industry would move more of their generating capacity into these areas. The fact that they have not, other than where subsidy dollars have been thrown at them, speaks to the lack of efficiency and affordability inherent in these alternative sources.
Dave Volek Added Oct 30, 2017 - 9:07am
"Efficiency and affordability of green technology" should be viewed in comparison to other sources of energy, not as single entities. If we compare green to hydro power, we have to accept that all those dams usually had a lot of government money backing them. And there really aren't too many more places to put dams anyways. Fossil fuels still pack the best punch in terms of energy per cubic centimeter. Nuclear power is even better, but the true costs of running such plants have not been undercutting other electricity generators as the early advocates were suggesting.
 
A private corporation has built a 160-acre solar farm near my town. I didn't get the impression that subsidies were involved. But government money was sure behind the distribution system. 
 
I'm no energy economist, but I suspect that all sources are fairly equivalent. Subsidies may be needed to encourage some forms, and pollution taxes may be needed to discourage others. But I can't see politicians subsidizing green energy with 90% to make it work economically. Maybe 10% or 20%. 
 
John G Added Oct 30, 2017 - 2:28pm
No you've missed the point. Taxes don't pay for anything.
Your eugenics comment is silly.
Neil Lock Added Oct 31, 2017 - 5:35am
The Burghal Hidage and Dave Volek: Thanks for your comments.
 
I would add that most so called renewable power is intermittent. This applies very strongly to wind power, and also to solar. I like to say: "When the wind don't blow, the power don't flow." This intermittency makes these kinds of energy completely useless as the only way to power a civilization - you need "base load" as well, for which fossil fuels and nuclear energy are currently the best.
 
I think there's a most interesting discussion to be had on this subject. A new thread would probably be more effective. Burghal Hidage, would you be interested in providing a headpost article on WB, so we can all have our cut at that discussion?
opher goodwin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 9:37am
TBH- my understanding of green energy is that the offshore wind farms are now much more efficient, cheaper and comparable in price to other energy sources. There was a need for subsidies to get them going but the costs have come right down.
Solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time. Solar energy is now cheaper than traditional fossil fuels. Solar and wind is now either the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.4 Jan 2017
opher goodwin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 9:40am
Dave - I would make the same response that I made to TBH - green energy prices have tumbled and no longer need subsidising like they did.
 
Solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time. Solar energy is now cheaper than traditional fossil fuels. Solar and wind is now either the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.4 Jan 2017
 
They are renewable and non-polluting. What's not to like? 
opher goodwin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 9:42am
Neil - while there is a degree of intermittency it is usually quite predictable. You do not need much sun or wind to generate energy. The wind farms near us are nearly always turning. Tidal is totally predictable.
Even if they are used to greatly reduce other methods they can reduce pollution quite substantially and are utterly renewable and clean.
Neil Lock Added Oct 31, 2017 - 11:36am
All: This thread is about equality, not about energy. Yes, I'm the culprit who introduced the subject of energy, but I did say "for example."
 
I've asked The Burghal Hidage, who claims (and, I strongly suspect, has) expertise on the subject, to be kind enough to write a headpost on the matter. If not, I'll write one. But don't expect it to be this year. There's a reason why Opher has written 55 books and I only 2.
The Burghal Hidage Added Oct 31, 2017 - 7:03pm
.....and, gentlemen, I am yet working on my first.  I had more that I would offer on the question of equality, though most who have sampled my contributions will likely already have a pretty fair idea of where I fall on the question. I am mostly in agreement with you Neil, especially in the disturbing blur which seems to have developed between the concepts of equal opportunity and equal outcome.
 
To your request I believe I could produce something on the general topic of the energy sector. I may get a start later this evening, but don't expect a finished product until later in the week. 
opher goodwin Added Nov 1, 2017 - 4:39am
TBH - looking forward to it.
Neil Lock Added Nov 1, 2017 - 4:40am
The Burghal Hidage: Many thanks in advance for your efforts.
The Burghal Hidage Added Nov 1, 2017 - 10:45am
Just posted
opher goodwin Added Nov 1, 2017 - 4:06pm
TBH - read it through once - need to read again. There's a lot of it.
Katharine Otto Added Nov 2, 2017 - 1:08pm
Neil,
There seems to be a discrepancy in your  belief in political equality and the belief in the rule of law.  Every law, by being a law, creates political inequality.  Moreover, enforcement of laws creates a political hierarchy in which the top dogs assume authority over others.  To support this political group of lawmakers and enforcers, the tax system allows the rule-makers to steal money from the people they've claimed, to support their system. 
 
(I can hear John G. squawking already.  Yes, I know all money comes from the government.  Maybe I should say the system steals productivity from people to support itself.)
 
Individuals tend to assume they need government more than the governments need them, but this is illusion.  We have reached a point where almost everyone works for the government, either directly or indirectly, or is at the mercy of its dictates.  The overhead has become unsustainable.
 
Neil Lock Added Nov 2, 2017 - 3:11pm
Katharine:
 
Great to meet you.
 
Broadly, I agree with your comment. But there's a big difference between ius and lex. Both are Roman ideas. One is about justice between people, the other about legislation imposed from above.
 
Don't worry: I'm planning to address these things (and lots more) in my next few (or many) essays here.
 
Oh, and I'm told that on this forum, John G is no more. Look for Michael Cikraji's latest thread.
Katharine Otto Added Nov 2, 2017 - 9:44pm
Neil,
I just read about John G.'s exile and am sorry for it.  
 
I look forward to seeing your future essays.  However, you only support my notions when you talk about "legislation imposed from above."  Who is above and how did they get there?  Which part of that is just?
Steven Ooi Added Nov 8, 2017 - 3:22am
Neil, thank you for the very lucid article.
 
I am curious to know why you say this:
"As to equality of opportunity, I think the idea is misconceived. What everyone should have is not equality of opportunity, but abundance of opportunity."
 
To your mind, why is the idea of equality of opportunity misconceived?
opher goodwin Added Nov 8, 2017 - 5:39am
Steven - I'm curious too. Abundance does not, in my mind, constitute quality. My belief is that things should operate as a meritocracy with equal access.
Neil Lock Added Nov 8, 2017 - 6:57am
Steven: To my mind, if you favour equality of opportunity rather than abundance of opportunity, then you want to restrict opportunities for some people. And further, you want to decide whose opportunities are to be restricted. But I don't want to restrict anyone's opportunities to do anything (unless it causes harm or unreasonable risk to others, of course). And I certainly don't feel that I have a right to make arbitrary decisions on what opportunities other people are allowed.