Editor’s note: You’ve probably heard well-to-do friends and neighbors talk about wealth inequality… and what “should be done about it.”
Bill’s long-time business partner and editor of The Palm Beach Letter, Mark Ford, calls this “buying cheap seats in the I Want to Feel Good About Myself theater of the absurd.”
Mark believes you can favor equality… or you can favor freedom… but you can’t favor both.
Fair warning: This week’s Weekend Edition is not politically correct. But we think you’ll enjoy it nevertheless.
Why You Can’t Have Freedom AND Equality
By Mark Morgan Ford, Editor, The Palm Beach Letter
At a dinner party last month, our hostess interrupted the small talk to make a little speech. She told us that she really hated oppression and inequality. She then invited us to talk about how we were combating oppression and inequality by doing good.
A young woman – a yoga teacher – said that she had recently volunteered to teach a class to women in a detention center. She admitted that yoga “might not” change their lives. But she was “very proud” that they could “at least breathe in freedom” for an hour every week.
The dinner guests oohed and ahhed.
A man – a successful executive – said that he collects his family’s old shoes, stores them in the back of his Mercedes-Benz, and then distributes them to homeless people on the side of the road.
The dinner guests oohed and ahhed.
As I stood outside the posh apartment building trying to sort out my feelings, a relatively well-dressed man approached me and asked for a light. As I lit his cigarette, he informed me that his car had run out of gas. And since he happened to have just lost his wallet, he wondered if I could lend him some money to fill up his tank.
I told him that I had heard that line before. He insisted that, in his case, it was true. I told him that my personal policy was to direct all my giving to my family’s charitable foundation. “But if you want to work,” I said, “I will pay you a dollar a minute.”
The look on his face was a mixture of surprise, indignation, and disgust. He uttered a few unkind words and stormed away.
Had he agreed to work, I would have asked him about his personal situation. I meant to keep an open mind. I don’t know nearly enough about homelessness and financial inequality. I wanted to know more.
I returned to the party to find the recitations going full bore. But the subject had veered slightly from poverty to victims of prejudice. In particular, to the plight of African Americans, gays, and some group identified by an acronym I can’t quite remember.
Not everyone was participating. But those who were speaking were positively brimming with good cheer. There is, apparently, nothing that makes some people happier than to tell other people how kind they are.
These are, for the most part, affluent people with college degrees. I sometimes wonder if they ever stop to think carefully about what they are doing? Do they ever wonder if they are simply buying cheap seats in the I Want to Feel Good About Myself theater of the absurd?
The economic foundation of such ideas are popularly represented by writers like Paul Krugman, a columnist for The Times.
Like so many of the guests at that dinner party, Krugman is proudly “in favor of” freedom and equality and worries that capitalism is making them scarce. He divides politicians and economists into two groups: The good guys that love freedom and equality and the bad guys that love capitalism and free markets.
For most human enterprises, in fact, freedom and equality are nearly polar opposites. Free markets inevitably result in some degree of economic inequality, just as free societies result in some degree of educational, cultural, and social differences.
There are many reasons for that. But the most fundamental reason is that human beings are not created equal. We are each a mixture of talents and handicaps, intelligence and stupidity, ambition and ennui, diligence and laziness. And even when we use the power of politics to enforce some degree of equality, people find a way to assert their differentness.
What I’m saying is this: Either you favor freedom or you favor equality. You cannot favor them both. It is intellectually shallow and/or insincere to pretend that you do.
Editor’s Note: Mark is editor of a monthly newsletter called The Palm Beach Letter. He has a simple goal – to help readers “get richer every day.” And he specializes in finding low-risk ways to generate wealth. Right now, Mark is offering Diary of a Rogue Economist readers the opportunity to try The Palm Beach Letter for a year (365 days) at his expense. If you’re interested in taking Mark up on his offer, you can find full details here