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Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

I have long believed the thing that Milton Friedman is quoted saying in this bit of graphics:

And I am pretty sure that I first clarified this idea in my head at around the time when I first heard Milton Friedman saying this, and that this was not coincidence.

I screen-copied the above graphic from this video, which is Jonathan Haidt giving a talk about Socialism and Human Nature. It lasts just under half an hour, and I recommend it. The above Friedman quote comes near the end, at 23m 05s.

The world is so full of nonsense that particular bits of nonsense often get neglected by the people who ought to be pointing them out, because these people are so busy with other bits of nonsense.

The particular bit of nonsense that Milton Friedman and I are not here neglecting is the claim that equality can be achieved by the forceful redistribution of resources, and the more of that the better. Not only is such “egalitarianism” tyrannical, which makes it bad by my preferred standards and by Milton Friedman’s preferred standards, because it is tyrannical. It is also fails by its own standards, hence the sneer quotes. It doesn’t achieve equality. On the contrary, it rearranges inequality in a way that makes the inequality worse.

The very act of imposing equality requires that the imposing “egalitarians” be unequally powerful and lavishly rewarded for their brutal efforts, compared to the wretches upon whom they are imposing the equality. Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality. You can’t, because there has never been one.

This is clearly the case in hell-holes like Cuba and Venezuela, where the masses languish in poverty, where the bosses live like kings and where the henchmen of the bosses get more or less lavishly preferential treatment (because if they didn’t they stop henching). But I include in the above assertion (that equality cannot be successfully imposed) the relatively genteel cruelties of the British welfare state, and other welfare states like it around the world. Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality. If the long-term purpose of the British welfare state had been to make poverty and inequality far more permanent and far harder to eradicate, it would have done almost nothing differently to what it has done.

Any critic of socialism who says something like: “the result of socialism is equality of misery” is being seduced by a nice sounding phrase into not thinking about what he is saying, and into conceding far too much. Here is no less a personage than Winston Churchill, who loved fine phrases to distraction, saying something a lot like this, among other and truer things, which perhaps explains why so many British Conservatives of my vintage still say things like this.

A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived. I’m not going to argue that point in detail. I merely assert it, to clarify that I regard myself and Milton Friedman as egalitarians of the best sort, as better at egalitarianism than the socialists, as egalitarians of the rough-and-ready, best-we-can-do sort, without any sneer quotes.

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60 comments to Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

  • Richard Thomas

    Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality.

    It’s always the wrong people in charge. It just needs the right people. Who is the right people? Typically whoever is trying to sell you on the egalitarian regime.

  • Jake Haye

    Q1 What is the causal mechanism by which ‘inequality’ affects human behaviour?
    Q2 How is ‘inequality’ defined anyway?

    A1 Good old fashioned leftist envy and sense of entitlement.
    A2 A stream of meaningless leftist babble to distract attention from A1.

  • Thailover

    Political equality (ie negative rights) are essential to any sort of civilization, but there is no sound reasoning to the idea that life is unfair if inequalities exist in any other context. Of course this is lost on people who erroneously insist, for no particular reason, that a) people are all identical under the skin and genitals, and thus things like gender are 100% social construct, and “diversity” is a desired parlor game about interesting “flavors” and superficialities, but otherwise we’re identical faceless cogs in the collectivist social machine. b) concepts like personal responsibility and above all EARNING goes undefined and unrecognized. Telling one of these people, “I own it by right because I earned it”…one might as well be speaking a foreign language. They consider private property a social sanction at best, to be revoked when Big Brother says so.

    And last but not least, when Walt Whitman and Donald Trump have wildly different ideas about what constitutes success, then of course personal goals will be wildly different as well as different outcomes. So even if initial conditions were identical, we can expect outcomes to be different, ergo different outcomes CANNOT be an indicator of unfair unequal initial conditions.

  • RAB

    I only recognize two categories of Equality… Equality before the Law and Equality of opportunity. Beyond that, all is Marxist twaddle.

  • Angry Tory

    Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality.

    That’s simply not true. The world of the workhouse, the charity hospital, and kids dying of cancer from sweeping chimneys is poor, cruel, and unequal. But it is also not the point.

    A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived

    This is also most likely untrue – ask any macroeconomist – but even if it was, that’s not the point.

    Political equality… are essential to any sort of civilization

    Once again simply untrue on the face of it, and once again most likely the diametrical opposite to the truth.
    Consider the greatest civilisations: Greece, Rome, Mayan, China in the dark ages, China now, First and Second British Empires, American Empire – none of those civilisations were based on political equality. None at all. All of them in fact were based on slavery.

    Equality before the Law and Equality of opportunity.

    Equality before the law is foolishness. Equality of opportunity is communism.
    How can you measure either. Consider some kid born in a Birmingham slum (England or Alabama, you choose)
    vesus a kid born to two parents in Soho (London or New York). Both of ’em get caught with a joint. One is on his away to a careen in law, another to a career in housebreaking – they cannot be “equal before the law”. The complete communistic ridiculousness of those two kids having equality of opportunity should be obvious to everyone – the kid living in a soho apartment with parents who love him enough to pay for education, for medical and dental care, to feed him nutritious meals etc must have completely different opportunities to the slum kid who has none of the above.

    Even starting a conversation about equality gives ground to the leftist: ultimately, even engaging in such a conversation makes one an active supporter of communism.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Even “Equality of Opportunity” is fraught. Taken by itself, it is going to be understood as meaning that everyone should have the same “opportunities” in life. (Because that’s how the opponents of liberty think. Naturally that’s what it means!) E.g., Michael Jordan and I should both have the opportunity to be THE reigning basketball star.

    But from the instant his papa fertilized his mamma’s egg, and my pop did the same with my mom’s, that was impossible, because our physical bases were what they were, and even leaving Society and Culture and Politics out of it, they just weren’t the same. (Nor, of course, were the time place and manner of our circumstances, at any point in our lives.)

    So he had the opportunity to become Michael Jordan, and I had the opportunity to marry my Honey and fall in love with working with various IBM mainframes.

    Which I did, and which I enjoyed a lot more than I’d have enjoyed playing basketball. (And I assure you that even had M.J. had the opportunity to forgo b-ball and instead to become a computer geek, never ever could he have had the opp. to snare my Honey! Just not gonna happen….)

    What E-of-O does mean, is that there will be no law prohibiting a given person’s taking whatever opportunities come his way, provided they don’t involve criminal activity of any sort (and discrimination of any sort should certainly not be a criminal offense, except where the gov itself — i.e. its agents — is favoring some people over other people on grounds other than those of competence [Pages of Disquisition]).

    So there’s no law preventing me from trying out for the Chicago Bulls. What prevents me is the fact that the opportunity is unavailable to me, always was, always will be. Although if I’d wanted to be a movie-star comedienne, I can imagine a terrific script where I try to try out for the Bulls and provide six months’ worth of hilarity to anyone who sees me attempting to play the game. Which results in the actual death of one of the scouts … but was this set in motion purposely? Perhaps a plot by the execrable Soros? Find out who dun it, and why — see the movie, opening at the best theatres next Tuesday!

    “Equality of Opportunity” is only meaningful insofar as no statute-laws prohibit it [Pages of Exceptions on prohibitions, such as those involving felons, and a few others]. Other than in the sense that there are no legal prohibitions, no two people ever have the same opportunities, nor ever will. (Jack & Elizabeth may both want to marry Jill, but I promise you that while the opportunity may or may not be there for one of them, it is not there for both. Well, at least not in the same sense and at the same time. Although with polygamy next up as being within the proper purview of Federal law….)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Equality before the law is foolishness, says Angry Tory. What’s specifically foolish about this, exactly? Give some examples. Seriously.

    And I see AT says all the great societies were based on slavery. Actually the UK economy became even richer after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished. Free(ish) societies tend to be richer than unfree ones, as a perusal of postwar Asia, for instance, or Western Europe, shows emphatically. And by the way, the Roman Empire collapsed did it not and its highly arguable that its reliance on slavery was a fatal weakness in the end.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    What E-of-O does mean, is that there will be no law prohibiting a given person’s taking whatever opportunities come his way, provided they don’t involve criminal activity of any sort (and discrimination of any sort should certainly not be a criminal offense, except where the gov itself — i.e. its agents — is favoring some people over other people on grounds other than those of competence [Pages of Disquisition]).

    LOL. Well, if “Equality of Opportunity” does not account for the enormous differences of types of opportunities two identical twins will experience when one is raised from 2 days of age by two wealthy, loving, caring, and sensible parents and the other is raised starting at 2 days of age by an unemployable welfare-addict in a slum, then the term “Equality of Opportunity” A) means almost nothing except to those who define it and B) can be guaranteed without at all diminishing most of the effective barriers to an egalitarian society.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Equality before the law is foolishness, says Angry Tory. What’s specifically foolish about this, exactly? Give some examples. Seriously.

    Equality Before the Law is foolish in my opinion because: two different perpetrators committing the same crime will face highly divergent punishments in many societies that worship “Equality Before the Law” like the USA for example. This is very well documented. For example, statistics show that a rich white girl who is caught smoking pot in an affluent suburb isn’t going to face nearly the same legal trouble as a poor black teen in a slum.

    Actually the UK economy became even richer after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished.

    Source? Data regarding one country at one point in time prove nothing except in the minds of those suffering from confirmation bias, anyway.

    Free(ish) societies tend to be richer than unfree ones, as a perusal of postwar Asia, for instance, or Western Europe, shows emphatically.

    Countries with higher IQ populations tend to be richer than those with lower IQ population, as a perusal of Asia or Western Europe shows emphatically.

    FTFY

    And by the way, the Roman Empire collapsed did it not and its highly arguable that its reliance on slavery was a fatal weakness in the end.

    Everything collapses; republics founded on “liberty” faster than almost anything else. So I presume you do not dispute the reality that the Roman Empire would not have developed into one of the most extraordinary empires the world has ever seen without slavery.

    Anyone who thinks that the Roman Empire could have stretched from London to Jerusalem without using a ton of slaves is living in a dream world.

    Indeed, as Angry Tory has pointed out, most (virtually all) of the great civilizations in all of human history have used slaves en masse to become great.

  • Anyone who thinks that the Roman Empire could have stretched from London to Jerusalem without using a ton of slaves is living in a dream world.

    The Mongol Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to Persia, Siberia and China without much in the way of non-transitory slavery (that said, some of their subject nations practices some degree of slavery). Likewise the British Empire was not predicated upon slavery (which was why they could eventually afford to suppress it).

    Forget the moral aspect, if the Roman Empire had had relied upon a more economically efficient system than slavery, it probably would have been more economically resilient when it really needed to be in its final two centuries.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    The Mongol Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to Persia, Siberia and China without much in the way of non-transitory slavery (that said, some of their subject nations practices some degree of slavery). Likewise the British Empire was not predicated upon slavery (which was why they could eventually afford to suppress it).

    The Mongols did use slaves to some extent; upon defeating an enemy nation the Mongols would systematically identify anyone of use and ship those people, such as artisans and skilled engineers, to particular locations in their empire to provide service and share knowledge, for example. In any case, though, the Mongol Empire largely used vassals to expand their empire and many of these vassals practiced slavery in a more organized and systematic way so the Mongol Empire indirectly depended on the use of mass enslavement quite significantly. And plus quite often the tributes these vassals sent to the Mongols were partly composed of humans.

    And yet I’m not convinced that the Mongol Empire qualifies as civilized (for its time) as the Roman Empire does, anyway.

    The British Empire may not have been “predicated” on slavery but the Brits certainly did engage in the slave trade. The British Empire was responsible for shipping an estimated 3.5 million African slaves from Africa to the New World, which was a whopping 33% of all slaves shipped across the Atlantic Ocean from the 15th through 19th centuries. In fact some of the earliest British colonies were successful largely because they depended on slaves such as the sugar plantations in Barbados and St. Kitts. The Brits had to abolish slavery in the early 1800s because they used slaves quite prolifically.

    Citing the Mongol and British Empires to disprove the assertion that great civilizations depend on the use of slaves is… not persuasive at all.

    Forget the moral aspect, if the Roman Empire had had relied upon a more economically efficient system that slavery, it probably would have been more economically resilient when it really needed to be in its final two centuries.

    Maybe, maybe not. Without slaves the Roman Empire would not have become one of the most prodigious civilizations in all of history, stretching from London to Jerusalem.

  • Roué le Jour

    Equality before the law can only be an ambition. It cannot be achieved in practice because an encounter with the criminal justice system will have markedly different effects on different people. To be accused of inappropriately touching a child will destroy the career of a teacher, but can be shruggered off by a self-employed plumber. Similarly a six month spell in prison will quite likely be catastrophic for the family of an employee but have little effect on the family of a welfare claimant.

  • Chester Draws

    Everything collapses; republics founded on “liberty” faster than almost anything else. So I presume you do not dispute the reality that the Roman Empire would not have developed into one of the most extraordinary empires the world has ever seen without slavery.

    Everyone had slaves back then. You need to measure things relatively.

    The rise of Rome was based around a large enfranchised citizenship, which was prepared to fight for their rights. Rome was considerably more free than the states around it for the average citizen. They got to vote rather than have kings. Liberty was a very big deal to them.

    It rose further as other states were happy to join, provided they got citizenship. That was a key to ending the strife of the Social War. The new parts were self-governing — they were not ruled directly from Rome — preserving some of their liberty.

    The key conquests that led to empire were made by that Republic of citizens.

    After the Empire started, the average person still had citizenship and was free — and the franchise was constantly expanded. Equality of law was a big thing, and local areas were still largely self-governing too. Slaves were often manumitted. Big landowners often had slaves, but plenty of farms were worked by free peasants. The early empire wasn’t particularly tyrannical.

    Towards the end of the Empire the peasantry fell and the society became less equal than their competitors, as large landowners became the norm. It was the relatively free Germans who did for them (not that the German society didn’t have slaves). Liberty won over slavery again — as it has a tendency to do until it too ossifies into slavery.

  • Maybe, maybe not. Without slaves the Roman Empire would not have become one of the most prodigious civilizations in all of history, stretching from London to Jerusalem.

    Sorry but that is a completely unsupported statement. Explain why slavery, rather that some system that produces a higher output from a unit of labour, was essential to the Roman Empire. If you own a farm, it is cheaper not to have to pay your labour wages, but when viewing the economy as a whole, owner-farms and tenant-farms are typically much more productive, at least if certain unfortunate cultural practices do not take hold (such as dividing land amongst all children rather than giving it all to the eldest son).

    And yes, the British Empire was a major facilitator of the slave trade, but did not build its empire based on slave labour itself, so actually my point stands.

    I mentioned the Mongols because in terms of sheer size, they were the biggest empire ever, and again did not expand on the back of slave labour.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Equality of Opportunity” does not and cannot exist in the real world if it is taken to mean that everyone has, or ought to have, the same exact opportunities as everybody else. “Anyone can become President.” No, only some can. The opportunity to try to become President is theoretically open to all; but actually, the opportunity even to try is not available to a person who is singlemindedly focussed on something else, be it farming or bringing up children or making music or being the next Einstein. What opportunities exist for him depend on a person’s particular internal and external circumstances; and that will always be the case.

    The concept is meaningful only if there is no law (and no outlaw malefactor) preventing people from taking such opportunities as they wish, from among those that they find open to them.

    It’s the same sort of thing as the statement that “all men are equal.” Taken literally, that’s simply and obviously not true. It is only true if it’s understood to mean “all men are equal before the law.” (And of course, that’s an ideal; as long as knowledge and judgment are imperfect, and as long as there are those with legal power who don’t try to follow the principle, perfect “equality before the law” will not exist in the real world. But we humans can, and at some times and in some places we have, reached for the ideal knowingly, and every once in awhile, we come within hollering distance of achieving it.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Indeed, Perry, the Mongols were equal opportunity employers! I read a book on empires, and the mongols knew their own limitations, and employed people according to the talents of the person! Well, they started off that way- doubtless, they would have succumbed to nepotism and cronyism in time, once they settled down.

  • Angry Tory

    Hayek is brutally clear on the matter: equality of opportunity (and equality of outcome or equality before the law or indeed any other kind of equality) is a huge step on the road to serfdom.

    Even debating equality surrenders the ground to the communists.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    No it doesn’t, Angry Tory! Are you angry because you’re wrong so often?
    One of my favourite sayings, which encapsulates my libertarian philosophy, is ‘Share Power’. I like this because it is the antidote to the centralists who want to win monopoly power by talking about sharing wealth or sharing money, or equalising income.

  • Lee Moore

    I was about to agree with Angry Tory – equality of opportunity is a bone, thrown to the mob, by people who can see the horrors of trying to pursue equality. Except that some people have come to believe it’s actually a thing. It’s not. It shares all the same horrors as equality simpliciter.

    But – did Hayek really say that equality before the law is a huge step on the road to serfdom ?

  • Tomsmith

    Hayek is brutally clear on the matter: equality of opportunity (and equality of outcome or equality before the law or indeed any other kind of equality) is a huge step on the road to serfdom

    Interesting. Can you provide some quotes please?

  • Alisa

    I was about to agree with Angry Tory – equality of opportunity is a bone, thrown to the mob, by people who can see the horrors of trying to pursue equality. Except that some people have come to believe it’s actually a thing. It’s not. It shares all the same horrors as equality simpliciter.

    Indeed.

    It is only natural to compare oneself to others, but it is still an urge that must be resisted as much as possible.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Shlomo writes in response to my point about how free(ish) societies tend to be richer than unfree ones: Countries with higher IQ populations tend to be richer than those with lower IQ population, as a perusal of Asia or Western Europe shows emphatically.

    So how does he explain why mainland China, under Communist Mao (who treated the whole place as one big serf holding) was dirt poor, while Hong Kong, composed of people with similar IQs, was rich? Or Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. Or how come West Germany was richer than East Germany, despite, you know, both being full of those clever Aryans? Surely the difference is largely around political ideology: one bunch of people of similar cultural/genetics adopted forms of statism to varying degrees of loathesomeness, and others lived in a rather freer basis, and prospered. And there are dozens of examples; they cannot be dismissed by reference to IQs, as is your wont.

    As for Rome, it is hardly proven to a high level that a civilisation could only have flourished with slavery; I guess of course if you start from the assumption that a great civilisation needs to treat over half of the population like shit, you are going to allow your preconceptions to shape your conclusions. As to whether free republics are less durable than forms of serf-state, of the sort you seem so keen on, time will tell. The US Republic, say, or Swiss republic, have been around quite a while now, warts and all.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    And on the issue of equality before the law, when Shlomo points to examples (which may be accurate) of different people being treated very differently for the same offence (possession of drugs, or whatever) these surely are examples of the principle not being honoured in practice. That is a bad thing, right? Legislators and judges are always being urged to practice consistency, or, if there are circumstances in play, to make it clear what their reasoning actually is, and defend it.

    The broader point is that everyone, lawmaker and law-taker, are and should be subject to the rule of law in a free society, lest we end up with a caste of people who enact laws, and serfs.

  • Lee Moore

    Even if one is a fully paid up member of the genes’R US school of IQ league tables (as I mostly am) a tiny pinch of salt is required when it comes to reviewing populations with high immigrant percentages. Emigrants, to the great annoyance of statisticians, do not always sort themselves into strictly representative samples of their home population before departing and becoming immigrants somewhere else. So the United States may be knee deep in, say, Indians and Jamaicans, who are way cleverer (on average) than the Indians and Jamaicans who stayed at home.

    Nevertheless, however useful the light dusting of clever and ambitious refugees from Shanghai that Hong Kong received, it seems more likely that Hong Kong’s wealth and Communist China’s poverty had more to do with the policy thing, as JP suggests. Or in Hong Kong’s case, the determination of the late great Sir John Cowperthwaite not to have a policy thing at all.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Lee, Sir John Cowperthwaite was one of the wisest officials who ever lived. A shame he is not better known. Here is an item about him.

  • I am not personally at all keen on the case for equality of treatment (except somewhat by government). People are different. If they were not, economic (and other) specialisation would provide no benefit – and either intrinsically or by forcing for it, we would all be far worse off.

    Also, I was taken somewhat by the calling on Hayek by Angry Tory, and Lee Moore asking for references/quotes, so went in search of his view. I chose “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960) as more extensively thought out, more on liberty and less of WW2 than “The Road to Serfdom” (1944). Very fortunately, there is Chapter 6 on “Equality, Value and Merit” and I think the opening paragraphs help a lot with the current discussion.

    There is a lot to this and it does require very careful reading.

    The great aim of the struggle for liberty has been equality before the law. This equality under the rules which the state enforces may be supplemented by a similar equality of the rules that men voluntarily obey in their relations with one another. This extension of the principle of equality to the rules of moral and social conduct is the chief expression of what is commonly called the democratic spirit – and probably that aspect of it that does most to make inoffensive the inequalities that liberty necessarily produces.

    Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only has liberty nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.

    It is neither because it assumes that people are in fact equal nor because it attempts to make them equal that the argument for liberty demands that government treat them equally. This argument not only recognises that individuals are very different but in a great measure rests on that assumption. It insists that these individual differences provide no justification for government to treat them differently. And it objects to the differences in treatment by the state that would be necessary if persons who are in fact very different were to be assured equal positions in life.

    Modern advocates of a more far-reaching material equality usually deny that their demands are based on any factual equality of all men. It is nevertheless still widely believed that this is the main justification for such demands. Nothing however is more damaging to the demand for equal treatment than to base it on the so obviously untrue an assumption as that of factual equality of all men. To rest the case for equal treatment of national or racial minorities is implicitly to admit that factual inequality would justify unequal treatment; and the proof that some differences do, in fact, exist would not be long in forthcoming. It is of the essence of the demand for equality before the law that people should be treated alike in spite of the fact that they are different.

    Then there is the rest of that Chapter 6. Also Chapter 20 entitled “Taxation and Redistribution” – which is of course different from equality before the law, and is (of itself) not equality of treatment; it is but attempting that which is both unachievable and undesirable.

    Best regards

  • I agree with JP that Shlomo is simply pointing to the fact of inequality before the law in practice, rather than demonstrating its undesirability in theory.

    However, much as I’m in favour of equality before the law, I’m not really sure what it means. Or rather I have a vague general idea about what it means, which crumbles to dust, when picked up and examined carefully. It’s rather hard to write a coherent leak proof explanation of equality before the law. It sort of boils down to “the law should not discriminate between persons on grounds that are irrelevant to the purpose of the law in question.” Which is at least as full of holes as “equality before the law.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Lee, I think what it means, at its most fundamental, is that there should be no difference in whether the police prosecute a billionaire or a bricklayer, and further, that those who craft laws, such as politicians, are as much subject to the rules as everyone else. I think this gets to the guts of how the idea of equality before the law squares with the idea of a non-arbitrary set of rules as being a protective of liberty, as opposed to arbitrary power and corruption.

  • JohnW

    J.K.Rowling is one of the worse culprits. She’s become a billionaire by taking money from little children and creating no end of inequality!

  • Alisa

    I think this can be clarified if a distinction is made between Law (as in what Paul Marks likes to call ‘Natural Law’) and legislation – where the former ideally represents moral justice, and the latter represents political manipulations. Consequently, equality before the Law is desirable and (imperfectly) possible, while equality before legislation is probably an oxymoron.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nigel,

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to find the quote from Hayek and to type it up for us. Very well put, and helpful.

  • Tomsmith

    Yes thanks Nigel

  • Laird

    This is developing into a very interesting discussion, and is probably a far deeper topic than (I imagine) Brian expected when he posted what at first glance seemed to be a rather innocuous (for a libertarian) quote.

    I am unconvinced by the arguments here concerning slavery. Almost every ancient civilization utilized slaves, for the simple reason that it was an economically efficient system in a non-mechanized world. I can’t agree with Perry that, in reference to ancient Rome, “owner-farms and tenant-farms are typically much more productive”. Not so. An owner-farmer might have been able to feed his own family (probably at a subsistence level), but such a system could never have fed the city. Until the industrial revolution came along and increased productivity by orders of magnitude, chattel slavery was undoubtedly the most efficient system available. Johnathan claims that “the UK economy became even richer after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished”, but that was (a) well after the industrial revolution had begun, and so isn’t really comparable, and (b) at a time when you were switching to transporting more profitable items such as tea and spices from India and the orient (and, is should be noted, if not actually “enslaving” India at least coming reasonably close to it). The eventual extinction of slavery as a widespread practice came about as a result of to economic factors, not moral imperatives. And should the world again descend into economic darkness it will undoubtedly return.

  • Jon

    What about the Scandis? They have high rates of redistribution in order to achieve social coherence and aren’t hell holes by and large.

    I was asked about them today and had no good answer, except for the defence that taxation is almost always distortive and value destroying.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have slaves and weren’t the savages as Romans might have portrayed them. It seems that an assumption is being made that to have an economic surplus requires that some be reduced to the status of beasts.

    It’s being assumed here that prior to modern industrial society the only way to have any kind of prosperity, even luxury, is by enslaving and terrorising people into submission. There seems to be the assumption that in such a world life is zero-sum, and such coercion is unavoidable. Thst doesn’t convince: it sounds a bit self serving. I suspect one reason why slavery was used in certain societies was habitual: people tolerated it because they were told that was the way things were so shut up. In milder form today we see versions of statist thinking.

    The benefits of freedom predate the steam engine. Economics isn’t the only driver here.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Jon, Sweden and Socialism: see these videos by Johan Norberg, at The Most Favorite Video Site Ever:

    Swedish Myths and Realities — from Reason TV, ~ 6 minutes
    youtube.com/watch?v=HbTEzhaXZ3w

    The Swedish Model Myths and Realities — Future of Freedom Foundation, ~ 1 hour
    youtube.com/watch?v=2lbRkfsrt1E

    (Thanks to whichever Samizdatista posted the first link. My apologies for forgetting who it was.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sheer curiosity — why the requested smited?

    ANSWER: because you left the name field blank, thus I had to manually added it for you (based on the email) to get smitebot to unsmite you

  • Until the industrial revolution came along and increased productivity by orders of magnitude, chattel slavery was undoubtedly the most efficient system available.

    Simply ain’t true, it was not that efficient and thus was by no means universal prior to the Industrial Revolution. In England agriculture was not ‘slave’ based (or even serf based) from as early as the 14th century, being dominated by gentry and yeoman farmers who practised primogeniture, with free tenants providing much of the labour. And prior to the Norman conquest, the Anglo-Saxons did not even have continental style serfdom, let alone slavery, other that transient slavery in the form of prisoners of war (same was typically true of Scandinavia and Germany in the ‘Viking’ era).

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Everyone had slaves back then.

    Irrelevant to the validity of my assertion: “so I presume you do not dispute the reality that the Roman Empire would not have developed into one of the most extraordinary empires the world has ever seen without slavery.” Obviously I’m not claiming that slavery was the only factor that led to the Roman Republic/Empire developing into something extraordinary if that’s what you seem to be insinuating.

    You need to measure things relatively.

    Nope. I never claimed anything about the relative use of slavery in the Roman Republic or Empire. So, no I don’t need to do this.

    The rise of Rome was based around a large enfranchised citizenship, which was prepared to fight for their rights. Rome was considerably more free than the states around it for the average citizen. They got to vote rather than have kings. Liberty was a very big deal to them.

    It rose further as other states were happy to join, provided they got citizenship. That was a key to ending the strife of the Social War. The new parts were self-governing — they were not ruled directly from Rome — preserving some of their liberty.

    The question is NOT whether or not there were a large citizenship prepared to fight for their rights; the question is NOT whether or not Rome was more free than the states around it; the question is NOT whether or not they cared about liberty.

    The assertion I made to which you responded was: “so I presume you do not dispute the reality that the Roman Empire would not have developed into one of the most extraordinary empires the world has ever seen without slavery.”

    The Roman Republic absolutely used slaves en masse.
    1. The oldest legal document from Rome The Twelve Tables codified slavery as part of the customary international law.
    2. Have you never heard of the Servile Wars when slaves revolted against their masters in the Roman Republic several times starting around 130BC?
    3. The Roman institution of slavery began with the legendary founder Romulus giving Roman fathers the right to sell their own children into slavery, and kept growing with the expansion of the Roman state according to Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
    4. Enormous slave trade resulted from defeat and collapse of previously unincorporated foreign enemies/states such as with the collapse of the Seleucid Empire starting around 100 BC.

    The key conquests that led to empire were made by that Republic of citizens.

    I’m unsure about whether or not this is true (I’m skeptical) but I made no claim about whether or not Roman citizens were the ones fighting in conquests. For every soldier in the field there are often 5 or 6 guys required for training, support, logistics, manufacturing, supply chain, command and control, etc. Imagine how much better armed and trained and fed your soldiers would be if some of those 5 or 6 guys were FREE LABOR. In any case, I made a claim about the Roman Empire relying in part on slavery to become what it became: a great, prosperous, powerful civilization stretching from London to Jerusalem.

    After the Empire started, the average person still had citizenship and was free — and the franchise was constantly expanded. Equality of law was a big thing, and local areas were still largely self-governing too. Slaves were often manumitted. Big landowners often had slaves, but plenty of farms were worked by free peasants. The early empire wasn’t particularly tyrannical.

    Slavery was integral to the Roman economy by providing a tremendous source of free labor in mines, farms, craftsmen, household chores, etc. The Roman government even appointed officials called quaestors that oversaw slave trading.

    In the first century BC between 30 and 40% of population of Italy were slaves. Millions of slaves. That’s a huge number and a huge proportion of the population. And later on the low estimate is that 10-15% of the population of the Empire were slaves while the higher estimate is 20%.

    http://www.ancient.eu/article/629/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome#Demography

    Julius Caesar once sold the entire population of a conquered region in Gaul, no fewer than 53,000 people, to slave dealers on the spot.

    Towards the end of the Empire the peasantry fell and the society became less equal than their competitors, as large landowners became the norm. It was the relatively free Germans who did for them (not that the German society didn’t have slaves). Liberty won over slavery again — as it has a tendency to do until it too ossifies into slavery.

    You again have no data to support your points, just conjecture and wishful thinking. For example, you have provided no data showing that the % of German nations who were slaves was lower than the % of Roman Empire population who were slaves.

    Many, many very intelligent scholars have spent years, even decades researching and trying to assess why it is that the Roman Empire fell; you chalking it up to one factor (liberty vs slavery) is not terribly convincing. And anyway, the data available seem to indicate that as the Roman Republic and then Roman Empire expanded the ratio of slaves in the population whether in Italy itself or in the Empire at large tended to decline so the logical conclusion is that – if anything – slavery was beneficial to the economy of Rome (both Republic and Empire) and once there was not enough slavery, well, that was one more pressure that with other factors in combination caused the collapse.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Sorry but that is a completely unsupported statement. Explain why slavery, rather that some system that produces a higher output from a unit of labour, was essential to the Roman Empire. If you own a farm, it is cheaper not to have to pay your labour wages, but when viewing the economy as a whole, owner-farms and tenant-farms are typically much more productive, at least if certain unfortunate cultural practices do not take hold (such as dividing land amongst all children rather than giving it all to the eldest son).

    And yes, the British Empire was a major facilitator of the slave trade, but did not build its empire based on slave labour itself, so actually my point stands.

    I mentioned the Mongols because in terms of sheer size, they were the biggest empire ever, and again did not expand on the back of slave labour.

    My assertion was: “Without slaves the Roman Empire would not have become one of the most prodigious civilizations in all of history, stretching from London to Jerusalem.”

    The basis for that statement was (primarily) the reality that the Roman Empire practiced slavery on a widespread basis and benefitted economically from said practice in a very substantial way, which helped fuel the rise of the Roman Republic/Empire and (with other factors) enabled the civilization to eventually stretch from London to Jerusalem.

    Slavery does generate larger economic surpluses faster for the elites, particularly pre-industrial revolution, which enables allocation of greater economic wealth per elite person to undertakings that elites want to do to become more powerful such as preparing for war and waging war – two very expensive activities. Slavery also enables the construction of infrastructure and maintenance of cities in a world that does not have the most basic technologies. The widespread use of slaves have sundry other benefits for the elites (and other citizens) such as freeing up more time and capital for leisure, the arts, philosophy, academic pursuits, etc.

    Rome was the center of civilization for a reason and sending capital to employees would have meant far less capital (both proportionally and absolutely) for great libraries, great schools, great aqueducts, great cities, and, of course and above all, great armies.

    You have cited the Mongols and the British Empire even though both of those Empires benefitted quite significantly from the widespread use of slavery. I’m not really sure why you even brought up those examples as they certainly do not disprove my thesis.

    Since both before and after Augustus Rome practiced slavery in a huge way, the onus is on you (not on me) to provide evidence that this was not beneficial. I’m not seeing any evidence from you.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “Equality of Opportunity” does not and cannot exist in the real world if it is taken to mean that everyone has, or ought to have, the same exact opportunities as everybody else. “Anyone can become President.” No, only some can. The opportunity to try to become President is theoretically open to all; but actually, the opportunity even to try is not available to a person who is singlemindedly focussed on something else, be it farming or bringing up children or making music or being the next Einstein. What opportunities exist for him depend on a person’s particular internal and external circumstances; and that will always be the case.

    The concept is meaningful only if there is no law (and no outlaw malefactor) preventing people from taking such opportunities as they wish, from among those that they find open to them.

    It’s the same sort of thing as the statement that “all men are equal.” Taken literally, that’s simply and obviously not true. It is only true if it’s understood to mean “all men are equal before the law.” (And of course, that’s an ideal; as long as knowledge and judgment are imperfect, and as long as there are those with legal power who don’t try to follow the principle, perfect “equality before the law” will not exist in the real world. But we humans can, and at some times and in some places we have, reached for the ideal knowingly, and every once in awhile, we come within hollering distance of achieving it.)

    Well, as you did not seriously dispute the point I made I presume you are ceding said point, which, just to repeat, is:

    If “Equality of Opportunity” does not account for the enormous differences of types of opportunities two identical twins will experience when one is raised from 2 days of age by two wealthy, loving, caring, and sensible parents and the other is raised starting at 2 days of age by an unemployable welfare-addict in a slum, then the term “Equality of Opportunity” A) means almost nothing except to those who define it and B) can be guaranteed without at all diminishing most of the effective barriers to an egalitarian society.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Shlomo, the first words of what I guess are an objection — I really didn’t get what you were trying to say, and still don’t — the best I could do is to guess, and my guess is in exact contradiction of your opening words, which are:

    “If ‘Equality of Opportunity’ does not account for the enormous differences of types of opportunities [open to identical twins in different social and economic circumstances]….”

    If you really meant that, the rest of your comment would make no sense. However, I suppose you were trying to say that identical twins in such circumstances have different and UNequal opportunities. To get to where you got, I think you really meant,

    “If ‘InEquality of Opportunity’ does not account for the enormous differences of types of opportunities….”

    I quite agree. They have equal opportunity only insofar as no law prohibits them from trying to take some opportunity that does (at least seem to) present itself to both.

    There’s no “ceding” of my point whatsoever, as that was my point in the first place. Namely, that the more common understanding of “equality of opportunity” is incorrect because people seem to think it refers to more than legal prohibitions (with the caveats yet again).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the meaning of the phrase is that, for instance, a poor boy or girl can become (i.e. is not by law prevented from becoming) a millionaire, a successful lawyer or doctor or scientist or professor or celebrity chef or a fine parent … one need not necessarily come from some High-Status Family in order to become President: e.g., President Lincoln … even though to some extent at least the skids are greased for some of them.

    Ideally — and to a large extent in fact, although there are some exceptions, many based on legal interference in the economic-political sphere (e.g., Union protections) — no law based on economic or social status prevents a person from seeking a desired kind of opportunity, nor from taking it if it presents itself.

    That is ALL I’m saying. And it’s very important.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    So how does he explain why mainland China, under Communist Mao (who treated the whole place as one big serf holding) was dirt poor, while Hong Kong, composed of people with similar IQs, was rich? Or Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. Or how come West Germany was richer than East Germany, despite, you know, both being full of those clever Aryans? Surely the difference is largely around political ideology: one bunch of people of similar cultural/genetics adopted forms of statism to varying degrees of loathesomeness, and others lived in a rather freer basis, and prospered. And there are dozens of examples; they cannot be dismissed by reference to IQs, as is your wont.

    Could it be possible that West Germany’s wealth was tied to the economy of the USA while East Germany’s wealth was tied to the USSR and that the USSR’s economic potency, social stability, and investment capital were far more diminished by WWI and WWII than was the USA’s?

    Could it be possible that West Germany’s economic well-being was due to political and diplomatic reasons largely tied to nations (UK, USA, France) with trade links and cultural/political connections to diverse and resource-rich former colonies around the world, sea-faring expertise, knowledge of and power in international shipping, and influence over global shipping lanes when globalization accelerated following WWII while East Germany’s economic well-being was tied to nations with, well, less of that good stuff?

    Could it be that the economies of Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have benefitted overtime from substantial US aid (State Department had quite a war chest for its aggressive ambitions post-WWII), business investment (perhaps better than USSR’s because USA less adversely impacted by WWII), technology transfer, defense guarantees (policy fruits of the wonderful defense industrial complex), and in the case of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew one of the very best leaders any country on earth has had for at least the past few centuries? Plus major economic benefit due to links to what is effectively an American-backed monetary system (USD is reserve currency of the world for a number of reasons perhaps having to do with winning 2 major world wars that destroyed much of the surplus capital in the rest of the West and having a huge country with high IQ, hard working population protected by two largest oceans)?

    Many smart people have spent their lives trying to figure out how and why some countries become wealthier than others; the truth is that there are many factors, of course. There are a lot of confounding variables when looking at any particular examples. I obviously did not mean to imply that IQ is the only factor that determines how wealthy a country is; there are a lot of factors. I do think that IQ is one factor; you don’t. Okay.

    Arguing my point in a more specific way by citing evidence might get me banned here at Samizdata so I’m not keen on doing so.

    As for Rome, it is hardly proven to a high level that a civilisation could only have flourished with slavery

    It is also hardly proven that you need to have two legs to score points in the NBA – after all, no team has ever drafted a one-legged player to test the hypothesis.

    There are virtually no great civilizations that ever in all of human history on any continent became great without the use of slaves. Please name one. I can name only a couple.

    In any case, my point is about Roman Empire. The idea that it could have developed given the technology at its time without mass use of slavery is absolutely preposterous.

    I guess of course if you start from the assumption that a great civilisation needs to treat over half of the population like shit, you are going to allow your preconceptions to shape your conclusions.

    There are almost no great civilizations that ever in all of human history on any continent that became great and maintained greatness without the use of slaves. In any case, my point is about Roman Empire. The idea that it could have developed given the technology at its time without mass use of slavery is ridiculous.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the meaning of the phrase is that, for instance, a poor boy or girl can become (i.e. is not by law prevented from becoming) a millionaire, a successful lawyer or doctor or scientist or professor or celebrity chef or a fine parent … one need not necessarily come from some High-Status Family in order to become President: e.g., President Lincoln … even though to some extent at least the skids are greased for some of them.

    Ideally — and to a large extent in fact, although there are some exceptions, many based on legal interference in the economic-political sphere (e.g., Union protections) — no law based on economic or social status prevents a person from seeking a desired kind of opportunity, nor from taking it if it presents itself.

    The point is that the exact same person is going to have very different opportunities when raised by an illiterate, unemployed welfare-addict living in a slum versus the same person raised by two loving, wealthy, caring parents in a rich zip code somewhere. The legal barrier to (for example) entering a profession is far from the only barrier.

    I’m legally allowed to walk through south-side Chicago at night with a wheel barrow filled with hundred dollar bills and be completely untouched. Reality disagrees.

    Reality means that most of the effective barriers to an egalitarian society have nothing to do with legal codes, particularly in modern Western nations.

    What you are calling “equality of opportunity” is really just “the equality of opportunity before the law”. Big difference.

  • I’m not really sure why you even brought up those examples as they certainly do not disprove my thesis.

    Because none of what you wrote did more than point out that “Rome was a great empire and had a slave-based economy”… the Mongol and British Empires did not have slave based economies even if they benefited from slavery in certain ways, so clearly having a slave based economy is not a prerequisite for having a great empire, as you seem to be asserting. The Mongols conquered a great many economies that were slave based, and thus eventually ‘benefited’ from slavery, but slavery was insignificant to the people Temujen lead out of Mongolia to go on to form the largest empire in history (they eventually did tend to enslave certain kinds of skilled artisans though). Likewise other than in America, slaves were only important to the trade based British Empire in so far as slaves were ‘trade goods’ to be bought and sold. British agriculture and manufacturing was not based on slave labour.

    So whilst I agree that to a member of the elite, slavery might be beneficial (and indeed stated as much if you actually read what I wrote earlier carefully), to the overall economy it is hard to support the notion that it produces as much value as non-slave based systems (obviously within a given context of technology and customs).

    So I could just as easily suggest Rome was a successful empire in spite of slavery rather than because of it. And it was eventually brought low by peoples for whom slavery was relatively incidental, people who largely replaced slavery by serfdom during the Dark Ages, with the Merovingians explicitly suppressing slavery under one of their queens (whose name escapes me atm).

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I agree with JP that Shlomo is simply pointing to the fact of inequality before the law in practice, rather than demonstrating its undesirability in theory.

    Thus far I’ve only been pointing out that inequality before the law in practice isn’t really possible.

    Lee, I think what it means, at its most fundamental, is that there should be no difference in whether the police prosecute a billionaire or a bricklayer, and further, that those who craft laws, such as politicians, are as much subject to the rules as everyone else. I think this gets to the guts of how the idea of equality before the law squares with the idea of a non-arbitrary set of rules as being a protective of liberty, as opposed to arbitrary power and corruption.

    “Should” is an interesting term. How does one bridge the is-ought gap? Hume’s guillotine isn’t a gentle mistress.

    Should an objective of a society’s legal system be that its laws are applied equally to all persons regardless of their identity? If the answer is yes and there are no caveats to said answer, then of course there should be no difference in whether the police prosecute a billionaire or a bricklayer.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2011 about 50% of those in jail or prison in USA were incarcerated for drug-related offenses. If everyone’s sentences for being found guilty of possessing drugs were retrospectively altered to that which would be issued to a rich white teen from an affluent and safe suburb of LA/DC/NYC for possessing drugs then hundreds of thousands of Americans would be released from prison overnight. What do you think would happen to America’s crime rates (for serious stuff like robbery, assault, larceny etc) were this enacted and enforced tomorrow in the USA? More importantly, what would someone with real experience in the matter like Ray Kelly (former NYPD commissioner) or Rudy Giuliani think would happen to these crime rates as a result?

    It’s tempting to self-righteously parrot lines about equality. Governing is hard and requires taking responsibility, which often means leaving profoundly idealist notions where they belong: in the pages of editorials and outside of real-world policy.

    Equality before the law is desirable but when you are governing many of the decisions you make are not between a desirable outcome and an undesirable outcome; they are often between a very undesirable outcome and an extremely undesirable outcome.

  • Julie near Chicago

    What you are calling “equality of opportunity” is really just “the equality of opportunity before the law”. Big difference.

    Well, DUH !!!

  • This thread contains a truly astonishing amount of bad history from various proponents, some of them surprising.

    The idea that the mongols were not slavers is bizarre. In every area they conquered, the habit of the early mongol empire was to exterminate (a) the “nobles and good folk” (the natural leaders of revolt), and (b) the ordinary people (who got in the way of the mongols flocks and herds), while (c) conscripting (i.e. enslaving) any artisans the community held. (Luckily for south china, they had lost habit (b), and some of (a), by the time Kublai moved south from slaughtered Manchuria a few generations later.) Extermination is how the early mongols avoided having a huge slave population.

    The anglo-saxons had slaves, and were also enslaved (e.g. by the vikings) and sold at home or abroad (anyone remember “Non Angli, sed Engli”). It was the Norman conquest that, over a generation, converted the slaves, along with a sizeable proportion of the free population, into serfs, and thus, somewhat inadvertently, eliminated slavery from England. In the following centuries, serfdom was brought to an end, so England became a (most unusually for the time) a society without any form of legally regcognised heritable servitude.

    Some generation later, this freedom-accustomed society began growing the British empire. Venturing into the world, Britons found slavery everywhere, and bought and sold and owned (but – again unusually – did not themselves enslave). As the empire grew, it grew big in slave trading as in other trading, but this also drew domestic attention till we decided this was wrong and imposed our morality on the empire, and then, during the long Victorian peace, on the world. This is far and away the main reason slavery, formerly commonplace, became rare.

    In the pre-modern world, every group of any size was at one time a major source of slaves and at another time a major practitioner of either enslavement or the trading of slaves or both. Therefore it means little that a pre-modern society was (a) powerful, and (b) had many slaves.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Shlomo writes:

    Could it be possible that West Germany’s wealth was tied to the economy of the USA while East Germany’s wealth was tied to the USSR and that the USSR’s economic potency, social stability, and investment capital were far more diminished by WWI and WWII than was the USA’s? Could it be possible that West Germany’s economic well-being was due to political and diplomatic reasons largely tied to nations (UK, USA, France) with trade links and cultural/political connections to diverse and resource-rich former colonies around the world, sea-faring expertise, knowledge of and power in international shipping, and influence over global shipping lanes when globalization accelerated following WWII while East Germany’s economic well-being was tied to nations with, well, less of that good stuff?

    Well of course, some of those forces were in play. But consider this: West Germany received less Marshall Aid per capita than the UK did but by 1960, that country had arisen from the ashes of 1945 to have a larger economy than the UK. So politics and the size of the state relative to the free market mattered. East Germany was indeed conquered, but its socialism and statism clearly played a big part in why that place stagnated in certain ways (although their drug-fuelled athletes did well in various contests, if I recall, and they were very good at spying on each other).

    Could it be that the economies of Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have benefitted overtime from substantial US aid (State Department had quite a war chest for its aggressive ambitions post-WWII), business investment (perhaps better than USSR’s because USA less adversely impacted by WWII), technology transfer, defense guarantees (policy fruits of the wonderful defense industrial complex), and in the case of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew one of the very best leaders any country on earth has had for at least the past few centuries? Plus major economic benefit due to links to what is effectively an American-backed monetary system (USD is reserve currency of the world for a number of reasons perhaps having to do with winning 2 major world wars that destroyed much of the surplus capital in the rest of the West and having a huge country with high IQ, hard working population protected by two largest oceans)?

    The transfer of tech/money was only part of it. China, remember, received aid – at least initially – but being communist, wasted it. It is one thing to transfer aid, another to make good use of it, as the history of aid to the Third World amply demonstrates. What counted was that in the jurisdictions I mentioned, the places adopted – very broadly – pro-market, pro-liberty policies. Hong Kong was arguably the most complete example of that; it was a colony, in a terrible state after WW2, full of people fleeing Communist China. A colony that had the benefit of being run by officials such as Cowperthwaite who believed in a form of classical liberal, limited-government approach.

    Even assuming that your assertions about these countries’ different positions are correct, IQ differences don’t explain a lot, from what I could see. Political, technical and other factors were far more significant, on the basis of your own argument.

  • Socialism pursues equality of income by establishing inequality of power. Capitalism pursues equality of power by tolerating inequality of income.

    Socialism claims its inequality of power will be temporary and tolerable: the state will be run by the compassionate and will ‘wither away’ when its redistributive task is done. Capitalism claims its inequality of income will be temporary or tolerable: wealth will become both greater and more widely distributed if power is more equal.

    It is an empirical question which of these two approaches have had outcomes congruent with their predictions. (I’m guessing contributors to this blog will agree with me about the answer.)

    Equalising power can be called equalising opportunity. If an existing business cannot forbid a new entrant, then you can say the power of the unknown new entrant is more equal to that of the well-connected existing business, or that the new entrant’s opportunity is more equal.

  • Watchman

    Niall,

    Most Anglo-Saxon slaves were actually serfs in a Norman sense of the word – bound to the soil in a particular estate, but with their own home and family and even some legal protections (thanks to the church mostly). There were household slaves as well, but these do not seem to have been slaves in the Roman household model so much as people bound to work in the household. A key point is that there were no roles performed by slaves that free people could not also do.

    And late medieval England had slavery still – slaves are disposed of in English wills right up to the eighteenth century. But it was rare (outside of Bristol at least – a town who seems to have grown on the Irish slave trade initially…), so your point about the attitude stands, although one might point out the Dutch or the Scandinavians (or some of the German principalities) would have been in the same situation.

  • Laird

    “Socialism pursues equality of income by establishing inequality of power. Capitalism pursues equality of power by tolerating inequality of income.”

    Well said. Of course, the operative word is “pursues”, as neither system achieves (nor, realistically, expects to achieve) the aim you’ve stated. But accepting that both systems truly do strive for a reasonable degree of “equality” in both power and income, if approached from different directions, it becomes worth examining the ancillary effects of each. And when one does that, it becomes abundantly clear that a (generally) “capitalist” (I would prefer “market-oriented”) system produces aggregate wealth in far greater amounts than does socialism, which actually tends to destroy wealth. So the greater disparity of incomes in a capitalist system is far more “tolerable” than is the greater disparity of power in socialist ones, because almost everyone is far better off in a material sense.

  • Watchman (May 23, 2017 at 4:44 pm): “A key point is that there were no roles performed by slaves that free people could not also do.”

    This is evidently some strange new meaning of the word slavery I was not previously aware of. 🙂

    Seriously, slaves are people forbidden to do things free people can do, not the reverse. Ancient Greek workshops typically contained a mix of slaves (who could be taught skills without danger of their leaving) and free workers (who could be laid off during a downturn). At the other end of the history of slavery, Robert E. Lee appealed to his Confederate soldiers to accept freed blacks as fellow soldiers in the Confederacy’s final desperate winter of 1865. Their formalised reply was (I quote from memory) that, “Whereas before we did not think it beneath us to labour with negroes at the same bench or in the same field, we will not view it in any other light when our independence is to be gained.”

    While free members of a society with slavery sometimes acquired strong prejudices against work associated with slaves – for example, in Aceh it was notoriously almost impossible to hire a free man to do portage work – this was merely a prejudice and never universal.

  • Paul Marks

    I thing that Milton Friedman’s point is broader than even he knew.

    It does not just apply to socialist Hell holes – it also applies to the interventionist economic policy of Western nation.

    How are high “progressive” taxes justified? Supposedly they help the poor.

    And how are government backed “easy money” “low interest rate” policies justified? The same way – supposedly they help the poor.

    Where are the areas of highest “Progressive” taxation in the United States?

    And where are the places that are most associated with the Federal Reserve “easy money”, “low interest rate” policy?

    The same places for both polices – New York City and California (especially San Francisco).

    These places are not the most egalitarian places in the United States – on the contrary they are the places of the most extreme contrasts between wealth and poverty.

    “They have always been like that Paul” – no they have not, in fact San Francisco and the rest of California used to be a great place for “people in the middle” to live – now one either has to be very rich or very poor (and on benefits) to live there.

    Look at the leaders of the Democratic Party – the Minority Leader in the Senate and the Minority Leader in the House – they represent the most unequal (the most inegalitarian) places in the United States – and it is interventionist policies that have made these places that way.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Shlomo writes:

    Could it be possible that West Germany’s wealth was tied to the economy of the USA while East Germany’s wealth was tied to the USSR and that the USSR’s economic potency, social stability, and investment capital were far more diminished by WWI and WWII than was the USA’s?

    There is clearly an element of truth to this but not an argument that can be overdone; the US transferred some technologies and West Germany gained from ties to the prosperous US; East Germany, with its disastrous state socialism and ties to a wrecked Russia, was hobbled. But bear in mind that West Germany aided its own recovery by adopting, under the likes of Adenauer, a broadly pro-free market economy. By 1960s, WG, despite receiving less Marshall Aid than the UK, had overtaken the UK economy, at least proving that aid is no guarantee of leading to eventual riches. (The history of aid to the Third World proves this pretty strongly, in my view.)

    Let’s also not forget that Germany was one of the great technology innovators of the late 19th and 20th centuries; the US brought over – controversially – Von Braun and his fellow rocket scientists. And it is not as if the Germans had lost the ability to read technical manuals; with the help of Marshall Aid and the wise governance of the likes of Adenauer, the country was able to take off. Freedom and a bit of decent following wind can make all the difference.

    Could it be that the economies of Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have benefitted overtime from substantial US aid (State Department had quite a war chest for its aggressive ambitions post-WWII), business investment (perhaps better than USSR’s because USA less adversely impacted by WWII), technology transfer, defense guarantees (policy fruits of the wonderful defense industrial complex), and in the case of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew one of the very best leaders any country on earth has had for at least the past few centuries? Plus major economic benefit due to links to what is effectively an American-backed monetary system (USD is reserve currency of the world for a number of reasons perhaps having to do with winning 2 major world wars that destroyed much of the surplus capital in the rest of the West and having a huge country with high IQ, hard working population protected by two largest oceans)?

    Again, there is much here I agree with, but you are missing the elephant in the room: the countries you mention all, to varying degrees, adopted broadly pro-market, pro-property policies, whereas those that languished into famine and horror like in China, did not. Hong Kong was arguably the most consistent as a pro-free market jurisdiction, as mentioned above on this thread. China, by contrast – an allied power during WW2 – chose to embrace Communism, and reaped the results.

    As for IQ, I am not one of those who dismiss it out of hand as a force in human accomplishment, although for what it is worth I find much of the race “realist” stuff around that to be claptrap and all too often conflated with the effects of culture and economics.

    Niall, I stand corrected – the ASaxons did have some slaves, but the practice was small compared with Rome and not as central a feature of their lives. Yes, they got attacked and enslaved by the Vikings.

    As for serfdom, it was a partial improvement on slavery, although not by much. The UK was relatively early in moving away from it. Thank our lucky stars.

  • Julie near Chicago

    This is quite an interesting discussion. :>)

    I do have a question: Was chattel slavery really the norm in the heyday of the Greek or Roman Empire? And given that the Jews were suppose to free all their slaves in the Jubilee Years (and in some traditions every 7 years), did they also practice true chattel slavery between these?

  • Angry Tory

    So called “Western interventionist nations” are communist Hell Holes.

    West Germany aided its own recovery by adopting, under the likes of Adenauer, a broadly pro-free market economy

    No, West Germany adopted a slightly less evil form of communism, which it retains to this day.

    Goes without saying this is the most important reason for the hardest of all possible BREXITs

  • Julie near Chicago (May 23, 2017 at 8:14 pm): “Was chattel slavery really the norm in the heyday of the Greek or Roman Empire?”

    If you mean, were an actual majority of people slaves, I believe the answer is no for classical Athens, yes for classical Sparta, and no for at least some Roman periods and possibly for all. If you mean, was it an utterly commonplace situation, encountered everywhere and socially accepted, then yes.

    “did [the Jews] also practice true chattel slavery between [Jubilee Years]?”

    As you well know, I’m sure, Jewish history from Joseph to the Exodus is all about being enslaved and escaping. This started them off in a minimal-slavery state (a group of escaped slaves obviously has no slaves within it) but did not cause them to abolish slavery as such. The old testament does proclaim laws banning a few particular cruelties, and Israel was never a slave empire like the Assyrians or the Romans, but the Jews fought wars and so ended up with captives – and at other times were themselves defeated, captured and enslaved. It was also AFAIK always possible for a Jew to buy slaves from their neighbours. It may reasonably be suggested that Jews were more often enslaved than enslaving, but AFAIK the institution continued to exist in the old testament periods when Jews ruled themselves. If strictly enforced, the Jubilee rules would have turned slavery into a finite-term indenture but I tend to assume (NB. this is not based on research) that Jubilee rules may not always have been enforced for enemies enslaved in war, precisely because other OT laws limit (a bit) certain slavery-enabled cruel treatment of foreign civilians enslaved in war.

    If someone knows more, by all means correct me.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No, West Germany adopted a slightly less evil form of communism, which it retains to this day.

    West Germany was not a model of 19th Century laissez faire, but the difference between its situation and that of East Germany cannot be dismissed, as you try to do, by saying that it adopted a “slightly less evil” form of communism.

    It may be that you are just trolling us, though, given the self-evident stupidity of your comments on this thread.