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Equality: Good or Evil?

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Nov. 30, 2022 - 6:42 PM

Equality: Good or Evil?

The Newnan Times-Herald

Memorize the following line, teach it to your children, and shout it from the rooftops every chance you get.

It’s one of the most important truths you’ll ever learn or teach: Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

Your first reaction might be, “I thought equality was supposed to be a wonderful thing, something we should all strive for, but this sounds like a rejection of it.”

But whether equality is good or bad depends on the kind that you’re talking about.

Equality before the law — such as being judged innocent or guilty based on whether you committed the crime, not on what color, sex or creed you represent — is an indisputably good thing. We should all want the law to be applied fairly and equally to all citizens.

The meaning of “Free people are not equal and equal people are not free,” however, is economic in nature. It refers to material income or wealth. Put another way, it might read, “Free people will earn different incomes. To ensure their incomes are equal, you must attack their freedom by using force.”

Even in unfree societies (such as Cuba or North Korea), we see inequality in incomes. The masses there live in quiet desperation while the political elites live in luxury. In the name of “equality,” such places not only fall far short of it, but they also produce tyranny and mass poverty in the effort.

Economist Milton Friedman stated this truth in a famous and memorable way: “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.”

Economic equality in a free society is neither obtainable nor desirable. Free people are different people, so it should come as no surprise that they earn different incomes. Our talents and abilities are not identical. Some work harder than others. And even if we all were magically made equal in wealth tonight, we would be unequal again in the morning because some of us would spend it and some of us would save it.

To impose economic equality, governments must issue these orders and back them up with firing squads and prisons: “Don’t work harder or smarter than others, don’t come up with any new ideas or inventions, don’t take any risks, and don’t try to be more successful than anybody else.” In other words, don’t be human.

Economic inequality, when it stems from the freedom of creative individuals and not from government power and political advantages, testifies to the fact that people are being themselves, each putting his uniqueness to work in ways that are fulfilling to himself and of value to others.

People obsessed with economic equality do strange things. They become envious of others. They divide society into two piles: villains and victims. They spend far more time dragging someone else down than they do pulling themselves up. They’re not fun to be around. And if they make it to public office, they can ruin a nation.

This economic equality thing is parent to endless harm. When it’s just an idea, it’s nonsense. When it finds its way into public policy, it’s poison. Don’t drink it.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at