Our mainstream media have discovered a new issue: inequality in America. The gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of the nation is wide and growing wider.
This, we are told, is intolerable. This is a deformation of American democracy that must be corrected through remedial government action.
What action? The rich must pay their fair share. Though the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of federal income taxes and the bottom 50 percent have, in some years, paid nothing, the rich must be made to pay more.
That’s an appealing argument to many, but one that would have horrified our founding fathers. For from the beginning, America was never about equality, except of God-given and constitutional rights.
Our revolution was about liberty; it was about freedom.
The word equality was not even mentioned in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Federalist Papers. The word equal does not make an appearance until the 14th Amendment’s equal protection of the laws after the Civil War. The feminists’ Equal Rights Amendment was abandoned and left to die in 1982 after 10 years of national debate.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that memorable line — “All men are created equal”— he was not talking about an equality of rewards, but of rights with which men are endowed by their Creator. He was talking about an ideal.
For as he wrote John Adams in 1813, Jefferson believed nature had blessed society with a precious gift, a natural aristocracy of virtue and talents to govern it. In his autobiography, a half decade before his death in 1826, he restated this idea of the aristocracy of virtue and talent which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society.
Equality, egalite, was what the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, Mao’s Revolution of 1949, Castro’s Revolution of 1959, and Pol Pot’ss revolution of 1975 claimed to be about.
This was the Big Lie, for all those revolutions that triumphed in the name of equality were marked by mass murders of the old ruling class, the rise of a new ruling class more brutal and tyrannical, and the immiseration of the people in whose name the revolution was supposedly fought.
Invariably, “Power to the people!” winds up as power to the party and the dictator, who then act in the name of the people. The most egalitarian society of the 20th century was Mao’s China.
And that regime murdered more of its own than Lenin and Stalin managed to do.
Inequality is the natural concomitant of freedom.
For just as God-given talents are unequally distributed, and the home environments of children are unequal, and individuals differ in the drive to succeed, free societies, where rewards of fame and fortune accrue to the best and brightest, must invariably become unequal societies.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, no nation achieved greater prosperity for working men and women than the United States, where all were born free, but equal only in constitutional rights.
Yet, though inequalities of income and wealth have endured through the history of this republic, each generation lived better and longer than the one that came before.
That was the America we grew up in. As long as life for the working and middle classes was improving, who cared if the rich were getting richer?
Today’s new inequality is due to several factors.
One is a shift from manufacturing as the principal source of wealth to banking and finance. A second is the movement of U.S. production abroad.
This has eliminated millions of high-paying jobs while enriching the executives and shareholders of the companies that cut the cost of production by relocating overseas.
With globalization, the interests of corporations — maximizing profit — and the interests of the country — maintaining economic independence — diverged. And the politicians who depend on contributions from executives and investors stuck with the folks that paid their room, board and tuition.
Yet, behind the latest crusade against inequality lie motives other than any love of the poor. They are resentment, envy and greed for what the wealthy have, and an insatiable lust for power.
For the only way to equalize riches and rewards in a free society is to capture the power of government, so as to take from those who have, to give to those who have not.
And here is the unvarying argument of the left since Karl Marx: If you give us power, we will take from the rich who have so much and give it to you who have so little. But before we can do that, you must give us power.
This is the equality racket. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
“The sole condition which is required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community, is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced … to a single principle.”
When they come preaching equality, what they want is power.
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