Monday, October 5, 2015

The Menace of Egalitarianism

By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

This talk was delivered at the Ft. Worth Mises Circle, “Against PC,” on October 3, 2015.

A sharp Martian visiting Earth would make two observations about the United States–one true, the other only superficially so. On the basis of its ceaseless exercises in self-congratulation, the US appears to him to be a place where free thought is encouraged, and in which man makes war against all the fetters on his mind that reactionary forces had once placed there. That is the superficial truth.

The real truth, which our Martian would discover after watching how Americans actually behave, is that the range of opinions that citizens may entertain is rather more narrow than it at first appears. There are, he will soon discover, certain ideas and positions all Americans are supposed to believe in and salute. Near the top of the list is equality, an idea for which we are never given a precise definition, but to which everyone is expected to genuflect.

A libertarian is perfectly at peace with the universal phenomenon of human difference. He does not wish it away, he does not shake his fist at it, he does not pretend not to notice it. It affords him another opportunity to marvel at a miracle of the market: its ability to incorporate just about anyone into the division of labor.

Indeed the division of labor is based on human difference. Each of us finds that niche that suits our natural talents best, and by specializing in that particular thing we can most effectively serve our fellow man. Our fellow man, likewise, specializes in what he is best suited for, and we in turn benefit from the fruits of his specialized knowledge and skill.

And according to Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage, which Mises generalized into his law of association, even if one person is better than another at absolutely everything, the less able person can still flourish in a free market. For instance, even if the greatest, most successful entrepreneur you can think of is a better office cleaner than anyone else in town, and is likewise a better secretary than all the other secretaries in town, it would make no sense for him to clean his own office or type all of his own correspondence. His time is so much better spent in the market niche in which he excels that it would be preposterous for him to waste his time on these things. In fact, anyone looking to hire him as an office cleaner would have to pay him millions of dollars to compensate for drawing him away from the extremely remunerative work he would otherwise be doing. So even an average office cleaner is vastly more competitive in the office cleaning market than our fictional entrepreneur, since the average office cleaner can charge, say, $15 per hour instead of the $15,000 our entrepreneur, mindful of opportunity cost, would have to charge.

So there is a place for everyone in the market economy. And what’s more, since the market economy rewards those who are able to produce goods at affordable prices for a mass market, it is precisely the average person to whom captains of industry are all but forced to cater. This is an arrangement to celebrate, not deplore.

This is not how the egalitarians see it, of course, and here I turn to the work of that great anti-egalitarian, Murray N. Rothbard. Murray dealt with the subject of equality in part in his great essay “Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor,” but really took it head on in “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature,” which serves as the title chapter of his wonderful book. It is from Murray that my own comments today take their inspiration.

The current devotion to equality is not of ancient provenance, as Murray pointed out:

Read the rest here.

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