The Evil of Egalitarianism

Murray N. Rothbard delivered what is now a very famous essay at a conference on human differentiation held by the Institute for Humane Studies at Gstaad, Switzerland, in the summer of 1972.  It began thus:

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals. A common view, for example, is that socialism is splendid “in theory,” but that it cannot “work” in practical life. What the conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat. For if one side is granted ethics and the “ideal” from the start, then that side will be able to effect gradual but sure changes in its own direction; and as these changes accumulate, the stigma of “impracticality” becomes less and less directly relevant. The conservative opposition, having staked its all on the seemingly firm ground of the “practical” (that is, the status quo) is doomed to lose as thestatus quo moves further in the left direction. The fact that the unreconstructed Stalinists are universally considered to be the “conservatives” in the Soviet Union is a happy logical joke upon conservatism; for in Russia the unrepentant statists are indeed the repositories of at least a superficial “practicality” and of a clinging to the existing status quo.

Never has the virus of “practicality” been more widespread than in the United States, for Americans consider themselves a “practical” people, and hence, the opposition to the Left, while originally stronger than elsewhere, has been perhaps the least firm at its foundation. It is now the advocates of the free market and the free society who have to meet the common charge of “impracticality.”

In no area has the Left been granted justice and morality as extensively and almost universally as in its espousal of massive equality. It is rare indeed in the United States to find anyone, especially any intellectual, challenging the beauty and goodness of the egalitarian ideal. So committed is everyone to this ideal that “impracticality” — that is, the weakening of economic incentives — has been virtually the only criticism against even the most bizarre egalitarian programs. The inexorable march of egalitarianism is indication enough of the impossibility of avoiding ethical commitments; the fiercely “practical” Americans, in attempting to avoid ethical doctrines, cannot help setting forth such doctrines, but they can now only do so in unconscious, ad hoc, and unsystematic fashion. Keynes’s famous insight that “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist” — is true all the more of ethical judgments and ethical theory.  ~ M. N. Rothbard (1972)

The central concept of egalitarianism is that all people should be the same. Not only should they be treated the same and have the same opportunities as everyone else, there should be equal outcomes. The socialist-leftists among us believe that the very fact that there are more male plumbers than female plumbers proves that there is discrimination against females in the plumbing business. Now normally the egalitarians do not mention plumbing as the job has its off-putting aspects. No, they would rather say that the prevalence of males running international corporations proves that the business world discriminates against females since we all can imagine ourselves enjoying running a large corporation and traveling about in private jets to wonderful areas of the world.

Egalitarianism leads to collectivism or socialism of course, and that leads to impoverishing the masses. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is coming to visit the President of the United States. Both of these men are committed socialists even if neither care to admit it. Some argue that the egalitarian or the socialist has his “heart in the right place” or that he is working for the “good of all people”. It always turns out that there is some “elite” that has to “live large” and live well so they can enforce their supposedly beatific vision of life upon the rest of us. If egalitarianism was so wonderful it would not take armies of police and mountains of rules to accomplish.

I have been a close observer of education in America for decades. I have seen thousands of children who all exhibit great diversity in interest, ability, preparation, home life, and all sorts of other factors. I have watched as the educrats have decreed that “every child can go to college” and that teachers only need a great lesson plan to make sure that all children are working their way up to being proficient at calculus. Well, I am here to tell you that teaching even Algebra to a child who has very low cognitive ability is not possible. Trying is very painful to both child and teacher. It is also true that the teacher will not have much luck with the child that refuses to learn. We used to say that you could lead a horse to water but you could not make him drink it. The modern educrat says that better lesson plans will cure the problem — even if the kid’s home-life is horrible, his IQ substandard and he is drug addicted; such is the intelligence level of the people who are said to be “experts” in modern education.

But even worse, we no longer honor the many trades that an industrial society needs. Try telling an educrat that some kids will be great carpenters and they will seek to have you fired, and that includes the Catholic Schools where the object of their religion, Jesus, was himself a carpenter. Besides the fact that we no longer teach or honor the trades, we have laws preventing young people from getting a job and learning many life skills that having a job will teach. We have minimum wage laws that make it impossible for the young to get a job as they often are not worth the hourly minimum wage. We also have laws preventing children under a certain age from working period. The result is widespread unemployment of most of our youth. Some would say that is egalitarianism at its best.

The egalitarians have also pushed us toward an ever more generous welfare state. The idea is that since we are all equal but some of us are in poverty then it must be the fault of the society that these poor people have not succeeded in life and need help. At some point there may be arguments that we need a national wage where every single American gets the same pay. With the generous welfare state in place for decades we see horrific and dysfunctional lifestyles among the poor. We see generation after generation trapped in low income and living in crime ridden areas. One wonders if leftists really hate the poor or if they are merely blinded by their collectivist ideology.

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Many people wonder why so many come here illegally. The welfare state is an obvious draw to people in other countries. You can deal with the illegal immigration in whatever way you want; but the central reason and draw is the welfare state. Let us not refrain from discussing the issue just because it hurts the egalitarian’s feelings.

The biggest problem with the idiotic idea of egalitarianism is that the government has tried to force equality of outcomes in all areas even though the people have natural differences in interest and ability. This has led to politics that deals mainly in groups. This has led to and increase in one group hating another. It is almost as if the government was running a “divide and conquer” operation.

The egalitarians may claim high moral ground, but the fact is that they are among humanities worst enemies. They seek to have everyone, but not themselves of course, live in equal misery. I consider that evil and not moral.

Tax consumers and the brutality of the state

As the U.S. becomes more and more a police state, the population needs to realize that the government is not “us”. The government is the enemy that divides us into various groups in a divide and conquer strategy. It views the mundane citizen as a milk cow to produce the things that enables the government’s own agenda.

The risible idea that public servants share the burden of government when public servants are the burden of government is yet another ideological scale that the libertarian must remove from the eyes of the masses so that they can see the truth. The truth as classic libertarian class analysis demonstrates is that the State divides the people into two classes: tax payers and tax consumers. Tax payers are those who produce and exchange in the market. Tax consumers are those who live off of the production of those who exchange in the market. And without a clear delineation between who is a tax payer and who is a tax consumer, the tax payers will never see that they are the exploited class. They will never realize that the tax consumers live off of their production and that the tax consumers composing the ruling class uses tax payers own resources to crush their freedoms. Instead the tax payers will continue to think that their rulers are actually on equal standing with them. — Brutus

The tax consumers are legion. It is not just the “welfare queens” or the local bureaucrats that everyone loves to malign. The tax consumers are all those people who do not “produce and exchange in the market“. In other words, the tax consumers are those people who do not live by voluntary, mutual exchange but rather they live be coercion and threat — the state is their weapon. Everyone from the president down to the guy who runs the local street sweeping machine for the city are tax consumers and live by the force and brutality that is the state. This tax consuming class amounts to more than half of the country at the present time, so the battle for freedom and liberty is going to be a long row to hoe. America was founded on the ideas of the classical liberals but in these modern times we have rejected their policies as a people.

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As the president claims that he can take the country to a new war in the middle east without any vote by congress authorizing the action we see some big government conservatives complain about “presidential over-reach”. But these same people who are worried about the constitutionality of the president’s claim are happy to see the vast amount of new private prisons being built to cage people for ingesting or smoking a weed without the expressed permission of the state. This is, obviously, unconstitutional to anyone capable of reading and understanding the document but our conservative friends love big and intrusive government as long as it is making people do what these conservatives think they should do.

But let us not just blame the neo-con war-mongers who are so beloved by the mainstream media these days. Anyone who believes in democracy or the collective will is responsible for the actions of the state that they support. Every instance of police brutality, deaths in no-knock drug raids by SWAT teams, massive “collateral damage” in our continuing brutal occupations in foreign countries, or any of the other countless wrongs committed by the state is a crime that all state supporters share in. It is like all members of a criminal gang share in the culpability of the crimes the gang commits. And so supporters of the state share in the responsibility for all the crimes of the state — yes even down to the public school teacher. There is no such thing as the ‘collective will.’ Democracy is merely tool used by the majority to trample on the rights of the minority; and those in control will ultimately use the state to trample on the rights of almost everyone. All states become ever more a police state.

The only real answer to our many problems is to stop asking the government to “fix things” in the first place. Don’t ask government to “create jobs” or to “fix” the situation in Iraq. Peace, prosperity and a state of well being can only be created by individuals agreeing to exchange their labor and capital by mutual, voluntary consent. The use of force cannot create freedom, either here or anywhere else in the world.

“It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. ……The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.” ~Ludwig Von Mises

The brutal killer Mao of China once told us that all government flows from the barrel of a gun. We must educate the population that it is the very entity, the state, that they ask to “fix things” that is the problem in the first place.

Private Property in Society

There has been a lot of back and forth lately between libertarian supporters of property rights and those who call themselves libertarian (or even anarchist) who think that no one may “own” anything. And so, this post was born in my mind to address a few aspects of the nature of private property and society.

Is there any social problem which, at its core, is not produced by a disrespect for the inviolability of property interests? Wars, inner-city gang conflicts, environmental pollution, the curricula of government schools, the “war on drugs,” restrictions on free expression, affirmative action programs, monetary inflation, same-sex marriages, realty, eminent domain, taxation, gun control, displaying the “Ten Commandments,” violent crime, rent control, terrorism, government surveillance of telephone and computer communications, zoning laws and urban planning, prayer in schools, government regulation of economic activity, . . . the list goes on and on.

In each such instance, conflicts are created and maintained by government policies and practices that forcibly deprive a property owner of decision making control over something he or she owns. Whether the ownership interest is in oneself, or in those external resources that a person requires in order to promote his or her interests or to otherwise express one’s purpose in life, the state is inevitably at war with property owners. ~ Law Prof. Butler Shaffer

One of the problems that arise is that most people don’t understand the definition of ownership in the first place. Ownership means that you have total control over the use of a thing. You may use it, give it away, leave it to whomever you choose when you die, or exercise control over the property for any other purpose. In this meaning of ownership we see that every state that has ever existed was socialistic to some degree or the other.  No matter what form the state’s government took, the state claimed the rightful authority to control the individual’s property anytime it saw fit to do so.

The communist system is based on the premise that the state owns all productive assets and that there is no private ownership at all. Other socialist systems nationalized only certain tools of production and communication, at least openly, but all socialist systems asserted the right of the state to take anything at any time from any subject under its rule. Fascism is a socialistic system in which title to property remains in private hands, but control is exercised by the state and always remember that control is ownership. In reality, the modern U.S. is not all that unlike the fascist systems of the past.

The question of how property is to be owned and controlled and who has this control is the most fundamental question we must address because the answer tells us whether the state owns us and we are slaves, or if we own ourselves as free men and women. We hear many claims that the communist regimes of the U.S.S.R. were the polar opposite of the fascist Nazi regime and most people do think of these two regimes as polar opposites;  but they were exactly the same in that the state claimed total control over the lives and property of every single subject within its geographic borders. Both systems thought that no one could exist outside of the state. These two states were both extreme examples of the totalitarian state — modern real world examples of dystopia.

All political systems are wars against the private ownership of property but most desire to hide that fact and so build up myths that make it appear like the people are able to “own” property and personal items. The state does this by excluding property rights from almost every political argument or policy. For example, if a company pollutes a river and thus harms people downstream, the company will face sanctions for breaking the law of the state and harming the environment, but in a just society it would be the owners of property downstream that would bring suit against the company for damages to their righfully owned property.

Ludwig von Mises once wrote that private ownership of the means of production is the fundamental institution of the market economy. He wrote that private ownership was the institution that characterizes the market economy and if it was absent then there could be no question of a market economy. The U.S. is a country that pretends to be a market economy but, in fact, is a crony-capitalist or corporatist economy.

We could go down a list of “social” problems and see that each one is easily solved if there is private ownership of all things, but becomes intractable if the matter rests in the hands of the state. One of the most important examples is the difference between a crime committed against a victim like murder, rape, assault and so forth and a “victim-less crime” like drug use, prostitution, gambling and so on.  Victim-less crimes are an assault against the property rights and liberty of the people. I have every right in the world to bet my money on a pony if I chose to do so. The criminalization of any voluntary action is a violation of individual property interests.

Should prayer be taught in schools? What about the new Common Core State Standards for Math and Language? If there were no government schools and all education was a private mater then there would be no controversy at all. It would be a matter of the family’s choice on how and were to have their children educated.

We should all know about the economic problem often called “the tragedy of the commons” were “public” property is mismanaged and overused while private property is maintained and used as wisely as the owner can. The state can not manage anything as well as the highly interested private owner can, nor can the minions of the state even have access to the vast array of information that is available. What over 300 million Americans know by daily observation and experience is not available to a relatively small, finite bureaucracy in the capital.

Individual liberty and social order are the two sides of the same coin. Individual liberty can not give rise to the voluntary and mutually beneficial division of labor that leads to social order and stability without the basis of private property.  If “everyone owns a thing” then in reality no one owns it, but in fact the criminal gang called the state does. The modern Americans who call themselves “liberal” (but are anything but that) love to claim that they are working for “social justice” by using the state to impose their vision upon the rest of us by force, fraud and intimidation. In reality, they are just making all of use poorer than we would otherwise be as they make themselves feel good. As the wag once said, it is easy to be very generous with other people’s money.

6a00d83452719d69e2014e86055c29970d-800wiWe have the situation were there are “things” and “land” on this earth that have economic value because people need or desire them. We have far more needs and desires than we do things, so there must be some way to balance out the needs and desires of the many — a hard task for anyone or any group to do. The way to do it is to let the free market and private property sort out the needs and desires via the free economy where the price signal will properly ration these “things”. It is only through the peaceful market rather than by the force of the state’s guns that we may achieve the maximum peace, prosperity, and pleasure in this world.

If you find someone who claims to be an “anarchist” or a “libertarian” who is against private ownership, then you have found one who is deluded or untruthful. There is no freedom without private ownership of property. Maximum liberty is when there is no state at all and all property is in the hands of individuals or groups of individuals.

Collectivism vs. Voluntaryism

I have an eternal hostility to collective thinking and some think that should mean that I want to be some sort of loner. Far from it. I think the key to people living well is to recognize that humans are social beings and that they have a deep physical, psychological, and spiritual need for cooperation with others. We are meant to be members of a tribe. But we also are meant to fulfill our own individual nature and direction in life. We are meant to cooperate voluntarily and not by coercion. Slaves cooperate under the lash of the overseer — that is not what humans need or want.

When groups of people rise up in a mob and act emotionally, what they do is rarely ever something to be proud of. Often the most heinousness of atrocities are committed by the mob. But what is the state and its continuous war making but mob violence? Wars destroy lives, property and take away opportunities from everyone but even worse they diminish all the qualities that go into making us free and humane. But we must see that all forms of collectivism do that to one degree or another.

What should be the interplay between the individual and the group? It is obvious that humans need to form groups and cooperate with the group. We are simply so wired. We must have some form of society. The simplest one to understand and the first we normally associate with is the family. Then comes our immediate neighborhood and community; and then often some organization like a church. It is when our membership in the collective becomes mandatory and the rules of behavior for membership are dictated from on high that the trouble begins. I can go into a Church and I can behave during services in a manner acceptable to the members there — and if the rules of behavior are to onerous for me then I can leave and go to a different church. I can associate voluntarily with the group that I desire to associate with.

Regardless of one’s politics, most people often think in a coersive and collective manner. Often people (even some libertarians!) want to enact laws and use the raw force of the state to force people to “do the right thing”. The whole point of “collectivism” always boils down to using force, fraud and intimidation to make the individual follow the rules of the collective. And yet only individuals act, not organizations; so that means that there must be someone or some small group at the top making decisions. So in a collective you end up with, no matter your stated goals, a tyranny run by a small elitist minority.

A “voluntaryist” society on the other hand is one where members of the society interact with one another in a mutually voluntary manner. Everyone comes to agreements on who does what and how one should act by an ever evolving natural interplay of people’s beliefs and opinions. This is the only real democracy — one where everyone votes every day with every action he takes. But what about crime? That has been dealt with in societies over time in many different ways in the absence of a monopoly collective. The Irish did that for, perhaps, 9,000 years. The key here is the non-aggression principle that tells us that it is immoral to initiate aggression against anyone who has not attacked you first. You may retaliate but not initiate.

The impulse to apply the force of the collective to coerce the individual to obey the rulers has a long history, and yet it is exactly those places where peaceful and voluntary cooperation was allowed to flourish where mankind found the most happiness and prosperity. Why then do we not see that a “voluntaryist” society is the best model to follow? I think it is the envy of the egalitarians that can explain most of the troubles.

Once upon a time not so long ago in this country there was near unrestricted freedom of entry into various trades and occupations. This was way of life was consistent with ideas of self-ownership which is a concept foreign to men and women of collectivist persuasion. This allowed for much better economic progress and stability as well as giving people much more control over the shape of their own lives than the totally regulated economy of our present police state. Economic decision-making was much more decentralized and mainly in the hands of individuals rather than centralized in institutions. Since most transactions and decisions were made between individuals face to face there was a much more personal nature to the interactions and this reinforced the concept that men and women were the authority in their own lives.

The collectivists and egalitarians, eaten up with envy as they are, have promoted the primary social evil of our time and that is the lack of respect for self-ownership rights. This lack of respect underlies the crimes perpetuated by the state as well as the millions upon millions of rules, regulations, laws, and other impediments to a laissez-faire free market where each individual interacted with others in a voluntary way. We have seen radical collectivism lead to the state claiming the right to total control over how your body is to be used.

It is time for you to choose to “live and let live” and not seek to use the raw force of the gang of criminals writ large that we call the state (or government) to make others act as you would have them do. Do not support the state in any manner. Withdraw your consent to be ruled by the evil of the state. The first thing a slave must do is realize in his own mind that he is born a free spirit and that his condition of slavery is morally wrong in the extreme. Realize that it is you who owns your own body and the fruits of its labors.

Reject the state today.

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A turning point: War Collectivism

Any well-read individual would have to agree that the early U.S. was basically a Classically Liberal state with a nearly laissez-faire outlook on the market. Please note the qualifiers in that sentence, I am well aware that the founders were not perfect and that the early U.S. system was certainly not perfect either. It was, however, practically a heaven compared to today’s U.S. Empire if you desire a laissez-faire market approach.

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So when did the U.S. go wrong? There are so many points in history where the people allowed the state to grab more power that picking one is almost a fool’s errand. But there is one point in history that seems to be the birthing point of the corporatist system that we have now. I mean “corporatist” just as Benito Mussolini mean it — as a synonym for fascism. When did the U.S. make a great leap towards the fascist system that we have now?

Rothbard:

More than any other single period, World War I was the critical watershed for the American business system. It was a “war collectivism,” a totally planned economy run largely by big-business interests through the instrumentality of the central government, which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century.

The large business interests who were at the “top of the heap” naturally wanted to stay there, but there are always many who want to out-compete and take their place. Large industry and business leaders found that the cartels that the government enforced by legislation and regulation during World War 1 practically insured their place in their respective industries and that was a certainly a desirable thing to them. It is often an eye-opener for most people to discover that large business enjoys its symbiotic relationship with government in spite of its public denunciations of various regulations.

Throughout the western world the war showed the big business leaders that it was possible to move to a system that offered stability (for them), subsidies, privileges, control, and power. Extensive governmental intervention and planning became the means by which the wealthy would stay wealthy and reap even more profits as governments guaranteed their place in the hierarchy. War collectivism offered the advantages of monopoly, government contracts for the favored, guaranteed profits, restricted production for higher prices, and all the rest of the classical pattern of monopoly privilege. Even labor costs could be more controlled as the state would back the producer against the union in the interest of “the war effort”. Intelligent union leaders joined in and became partners in the fixed game which was, in many ways, a reversion to a form of  mercantilism.

In America the new mercantilism was more industrial and manufacturing based than the old form since the industrial revolution had come about since the days of the old mercantilism, and just as importantly, the new system had to appear to be more “democratic” and less class-based in America in contrast to the old English system. There was need to provide the appearance of promoting the overall good of the country and all her people rather than just the wealthy elite and their business interests. And so American “liberalism” was pressed into service to provide the ideology and cover. The so-called liberals proclaimed that the new system was not mercantilism at all but rather it was radically different than the old exploitative system and that its aim was for the betterment of all the people. This was seen to be democracy in action. It was claimed that the government would protect everyone from the business leaders and control those evil rich men — in spite of the fact that the business elites were the senior partners in this whole enterprise.

The new “liberals” gained prestige, income and power as many became the government planners who were needed to plan out the vast details and regulations of the new collectivist system. The liberal intellectuals helped  develop this new system of government intervention that they saw as superior to the two major alternatives available to them: laissez-faire capitalism or Marxian socialism. These “liberal” or progressive intellectuals saw this new order as the path to the future where government planning (done by themselves of course) would bring a heaven on earth — or as close to it as man can come. The state became their religion.

In various western countries the new system of collectivism was called by different names, but the system was similar at its heart. Benito Mussolini called the system “fascism” while some in England called it “the third way”. Americans never gave the system a name other than call it “progressivism” or “liberalism”. Regardless of the name or the various differences due to local culture, the system was war-collectivism. And so, it should not have surprised anyone that another war would be needed to bolster this war collective system, and soon enough along came World War 2 with all its destruction. Following the hot war of WW2 came the “cold war” and all the small proxy conflicts around the world. In fact, the U.S. Empire has been at war almost continually since adopting war collectivism in the 1920s.

America’s participation in World War One was a disaster for the limited government, laissez-faire system the country had enjoyed, and it was a disaster for her people. The evil legacy of Woodrow Wilson, the country’s first “progressive president”, who lied the country into war lives on to this day. Much evil is born during wars, and the side that looks to be the “victor” never escapes without its own woes. Wilson and WW1 brought America the final end of its Classical Liberal period.