Yesterday in a thread discussing the crazy idiocy of “taking a knee” to protest the US in general and our lack of perfection in particular, I made a comment about how they’re protesting in name of perfection that doesn’t exist (though idiots might have convinced them it does. I mean, people who haven’t lived in Sweden like to claim it is perfect) and running down the most just country on Earth.
It never fails. If you make a comment of that kind, you’ll get someone trotting out the “inequality indexes” according to which the US is no good, very bad, horribly unequal. It’s sort of like the pavlovian reflext of threatening libertarians or non-socialists, really, with “no roads for you.”
But in this case, it’s even more puzzling. Okay, so roads are at least self-obviously necessary, even if they don’t flow from the bounty of the ever-loving heart of Marx. But why is “equality” self-obviously a good. I.e. why should any sane, thinking human being care about statistics saying we’re unequal or give a good goddamn that we aren’t?
The equality promised in the declaration of independence is predicated on two things: equal standing before G-d and, aspirationally, “equal standing before the law” (this is always aspirational because no, a perfect state doesn’t exist in anything involving humans.)
It is not, has never been, will never be “equality of results” or “equality of possessions” or even “equality of social standing.” It can’t be. It’s impossible to guarantee or even attempt that, so long as human beings aren’t widgets.
Do you think that any Portuguese immigrant who came here at 22 and married an American would be writing this article thirty years later? No? Then why would you expect equality of results in anything else?
Take the class of first graders I started in, back in village school, in 1968. We were all girls. Though we all thought we came from extremely different backgrounds, in retrospect, looking back, we all looked alike, we all dressed alike, and we were all more or less at the same social level.
I knew how to read, mostly because I was so much younger than my only sibling and my cousins, that I was bored out of my gourd but honestly, by the end of the year we all knew how to read and cipher decently enough.
So… are we all equal now? Are you kidding me? Those I know about range from France (my long-lost best friend) to the US, to faculty in a Portuguese high school, to village housewives, to… well… dead (at least three, alas.) The rest I have no idea how they turned out, because our lives diverged shortly after fourth grade and never converged again.
Does this mean that there is something broken with the system that produced us? Sure. Plenty. But none of it is responsible for how differently we turned out and how unequal our circumstances. Only each of us is responsible for how she turned out.
In the same way, throughout our married life, Dan and I have had friends who made more or less the same we did, and lived more or less on the same salary. None of them had the same lifestyle. Some were better off, some worse. Few people — like me — decided to compensate for their profession/staying home with kids not paying by refinishing furniture, making clothes, and generally spending time instead of treasure. And at least one couple in our social-economic level at 22 are probably millionaires now, because they devoted all their time and attention to making money: investing, financing, that sort of thing.
It’s not what you start with; it’s what you make of it. People end up very rich who had none of the advantages, not even a degree that paid any money. And people have ended up very poor who were born with a gold spoon in their mouths.
The only way you can guarantee equality of results is to have the government dictate exactly how much money you can make and how far you can go. When the government interferes in the economy to the point no one can ever be poor and no one can ever be rich, then yeah, you have greater equality.
But here’s the thing, I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that every one of those countries with greater equality, their rich live about at the level of our upper middle class. If that. Sometime ago I read in an article that for each social level in the US you have to subtract two levels to get the equivalent in Europe. In my experience this is exactly true. Their upper middle class lives more or less like our lower middle class. Their lower middle class live like our poor, etc.
Understand this is not “disposable income” or “how flashy can they get” — Europe can get very flashy indeed. It’s more comfort, health, food, day to day ease of living.
Take air conditioning, for instance, even if you can afford it in Europe, you can’t afford to turn it on unless the heat is truly unbearable, because the governments, in the name of saving the Earth or worshipping Gaia or whatever, make electricity and fuel so expensive. Here? Most people have a temperature controlled environment, and most people use it year around. In fact, the one year we spent without in a climate that needed it we were truly “poor.”
I’ve also visited supermarkets in Europe. I remain amazed that Europeans can afford to eat. Yes, food here is cheaper, and the variety more abundant. The same applies to every consumer good.
Frankly, even though I enjoy Europe, it’s always at least slightly uncomfortable, which always makes me happy to be home. Even our service people are more uniformly nice to every customer. Our public accommodations are more responsive to complaints. Our hotels are more comfortable (seriously. One of the best hotels in Portugal was somewhere below Embassy Suites in Denver.) Our cars are more comfortable, too, since most have air conditioning and heating (it takes effort not to have heating in the car, but my dad’s car when I was growing up didn’t have it.)
So, is America more unequal? Oh, sure. I think we live middle-middle class, and even one level above us means vacationing abroad, better clothes, going out to eat more and not just because it’s someone’s birthday, or you’re sick and can’t even, or you’re away from home. And we’re miles above where we were thirty years ago, where if I bought a $5 book, we had to eat pancakes for dinner for a week.
But regardless of the clusters we got ourselves in (we’re both creative) when newly wed (we were paying off the birth of the son, on COBRA, a three day delivery with emergency Caesarean and three surgeons) I know even there we lived better than my friend who married a Frenchman at about the same time. We had some close shaves but we never actually went hungry, and our son certainly didn’t go hungry.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m completely at a loss as to why the INEQUALITY should matter.
Did it matter to me during the worst year of our lives, when we were broker than broke, in Columbia SC and thought we’d never dig out from under?
Sure it did. Up the hill from us was a development with very nice houses and a lake (it occurred to me some months ago our new neighborhood is much like that without the lake) and we loved to make sandwiches, go park there and eat, just to bask in the nice surroundings. It was good to know that better things existed than the shitty place we were in at the time.
But didn’t it make us mad? No. Why should it? Just because we were tight as hell and worried about surviving, didn’t mean we wanted everyone in the same place. Why would we?
And this is where we get to “inequality” and indexing it is the sanctifying of envy. It is giving envy the veto over civil society. People who care about or protest over it are a bunch of whiny kindergartners screaming “but I wanna.”
Yeah, sure, there are countries where the inequality means something. North Korea, say. Or Cuba. If you’re a party member, you live well, while everyone else drowns in the gutter. But that inequality matters not because it’s great, but because the baseline is so low. I think we can admit that like “perfect equality” if it existed, “everyone drowns in the gutter, but a few people have mansions” is the sign of despotism.
And before our European readers get confused, no, THAT IS NOT THE US. Despite all the whining about the 1% a) the 1% vary year per year, and there’s great mobility in general and b) our poor aren’t dying in the gutter. When you hear the sob stories your TV showcases of poverty in America, remember what you’re not being told: almost every case is self inflicted and involves drugs, alcohol or other forms of impairment.
In fact not so long ago, a liberal activist tried to go and “live like the poor” and found that to remain poor he had to continuously turn down private offers of help. People wanted to give him clothes and furniture. People wanted to feed him.
The few genuine, undeserved cases of true hardship in the US are usually as ours was when young and stupid, a case of simply not knowing where to go or how to ask for help. Years later, in a less pinched but uncomfortable situation, we never hurt nearly as much because we knew things like the club you could join that bought food from restaurant supply stores and sold it to you at cost. You could feed a family of four on $30 a week about fifteen years ago, and not eat badly at all. I suspect the same existed when we were young and stupid, but we didn’t know it.
However, the base level, the safety, cleanliness, food and comfort of the poor in America is higher than the poor in just about everywhere else. Sure, of course, our rich are also extravagantly, bizarrely rich, roaming around Europe and offering to buy whole countries and turn them into parking lots, but so what?
The theory that revolutions happened because of inequality is bushwa. Sure, socialist/communist revolutions might happen, but they happened whether there was inequality or not, because the Marxist hasn’t been born who can’t instigate envy over the smallest differences. Envy is, after all, THE Cardinal virtue in their system, the one through which they hope to bring about paradise.
But once communism is installed and inequality greater than ever no revolution ensues. (After all, the bureaucrats need to be rewarded for working tirelessly for the people, comrade!)
So we can establish that inequality causes neither discontent, discomfort, anger nor revolution. Marxism does.
I suggest instead of keeping inequality indexes, we keep Marxism indexes. They’re more expressive of discontent, malice and real danger.
Remember children, the less Marxism, the better off your country will be. Stay vigilant and keep in mind envy is a sin, not a virtue.
Then do the best you can.