Advancing a Free Society

Three Cheers for Income Inequality

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The 2008 election was supposed to bring to the United States a higher level of civil discourse. Fast-forward three years and exactly the opposite has happened. A stalled economy brings forth harsh recriminations. As recent polling data reveals, the American public is driven by two irreconcilable emotions. The first is a deep distrust of government, which has driven the approval rate for Congress below ten percent. The second is a strong egalitarian impulse that directs its fury to the top one percent of income earners. Thus the same people who want government to get out of their lives also want government to increase taxes on the rich and corporations.  They cannot have it both ways.

I voiced some of my objections to these two points in an interview on PBS, which sparked much controversy. The topic merits much more attention.

What are the origins of inequality? Start with a simple world in which all individuals own their labor. Acting in their self-interest (which includes that of family and friends), they seek to improve their lot in life. They cannot use force to advance their own position. Thus, they are left with two alternatives: individual labor and cooperative voluntary ventures.

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