Sunday, February 20, 2011

But I want to eat my cake too!

Hayek states “Nothing, however, is more damaging to the demand for equal treatment than to base it on so obviously untrue as assumption as that of the factual inequality of all men” (86). I can’t help but recall Atticus Finch’s monologue from To Kill a Mockingbird where he is saying that all men are not created equally but there is one place where they should be treated equally which is in a court of Law; ironically Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird the same year Hayek published The Constitution of Liberty, perhaps they knew each other, or perhaps this is simply just not a new thought.
I find it depressing that Hayek thinks that the “equality before the law which freedom requires leads to material inequality” (87). I find it depressing because I think I agree with him. I guess I am just the type of person who wants to have her cake and eat it too… Why can’t equality be a two way street? Why (as Hayek points out multiple times) does equality in one area lead to inequality in the other… My interpretation of chapter 6 is that while the state can enforce equality as far as minimal laws and government are concerned, the state cannot enforce material equality without taking away personal freedom.
But is there a point where the government should step and say, this is just to much of a disproportionate distribution of monetary wealth? I understand when Hayek argues to the extreme side of government manipulation of equality, but is there a point in the middle where it is okay?


  1. Would this fall under the logic of the good of the many outweighing the good of the few? The many in this case being the vast majority of citizens whose net worth fall under the less than $200k a year bracket? This is the way I see the issue, and please, point out any flaws you may find.

    We have two choices in seeking equality:
    1) Staying completely uninvolved at allowing the natural flow of things to bring about equilibrium. If a government truly wants to avoid any form of coercion, it will avoid coercing the few to benefit the many, even in the event of rising disparity. (i.e. taxing the rich and providing tax relief to the poor)

    2) Becoming involved insomuch as imposing more stringent taxes on the rich or more advantaged in order to relieve those that are less well of, either inherently or due to circumstance.

    One would argue against the second point that this inevitably leads to a free riding system where those that fail are rewarded for their failure, and those that succeed are punished for their success, to some degree at least. I would counter-argue by pointing out that, at least from a moral perspective, it would be better to protect the less advantaged and have the symptoms of some free riding, than allow for the exploitation of the less advantaged by those that are more well off.

  2. Good Ideas Caleb. I would like to point out though that I am posing the question of a third way. I think none of the above are good options. Option one gives the wealthy an advantage with nothing and no one to prevent the few from coercing the many. Option 2 implies that taxes must be stringent... I am don't want stringent taxes either... in theory.
    What about a third option of Government as watchdogs over the few who are in situations where the could coerce the many, and a Government that provides opportunity's for the many to work their way out of their present situation in which they are at risk of possibly being coerced? This might involve taxing the few, but I believe this is a situation where the needs of the many outweigh the "needs" of the few.
    I think of coercion and I think of the people in third world country's working in sweat shops for a few dollars a day. I don't buy the arguments of economist like Ben Powell saying that these people are not being exploited for their poor opportunity cost. The act of billion dollar corporations paying workers a fraction more than they would make if they working on farms, is a wicked form of exploitation, wrapped in a pretty box and sold to the Upper-class citizens of the world.