Hutchinson’s response to my position not only goes no distance toward undermining it. It strengthens it.
Yet Hutchinson’s post still supplies much food for thought. Like other leftists, he equates income inequality with income inequity. It needs to be noted that this is a classic instance of question-begging or circular reasoning, for whether differences in income are inequities is exactly what needs to be determined. By equating the two from the outset, Hutchinson cooks his position, for he assumes as a premise that which needs to be proven.
But the problem with redistributionist reasoning runs even deeper than this. The whole outlook can even be said to be rooted in a fallacy, what logicians call the argument ad populum: an (emotional) appeal to the masses.
It isn’t just that inequalities aren’t necessarily inequities. “Inequalities” in income aren’t even necessarily inequalities; they are differences. There is, though, a good reason why the Hutchinsons of the world wouldn’t think to trade in the word “inequality” for “difference” when advocating on behalf of redistribution.
“Equality” is a moral ideal with a storied history stretching back centuries in Western culture. In America specifically, equality has figured to no slight extent in informing our collective moral imagination—even if equality has by and large referred to equality before God and/or equality under the law.
Socialists know all of this, but so as to invest the raison d’ entre of their ideology with moral legitimacy, they resolved to exploit the concept of equality for all that they could bleed from it. Hence, differences in income—regardless of how these differences came about—are transformed into “inequalities.”
Differences, you see, are what we expect to witness in an open and free society. Of differences, the Hutchinsons of the world are indefatigably telling us, we are supposed to be, not just “tolerant,” but enthusiastic. Differences are supposed to be celebrated.
This is another reason why socialists never want to call income differences for what they are.
The champions of redistribution must resort to rhetoric and logical fallacies to defend their ideology, for they realize that the only argument that can be given for it, if stated openly, would promise to offend the sensibilities of ordinary folks.
As John Rawls, perhaps the most influential political philosopher of the last half of the 20th century, once put it, no one is entitled to gain or lose “from his luck in the natural lottery of talent and ability, or from his initial place in society, without giving (or receiving) compensating advantages in return.” Since we deserve neither our natural talents nor the opportunities we’ve had to develop and showcase those talents, no one deserves to keep the fruits of their labors—unless compensation is made by “those who have been favored by nature” for those with whom it has just as undeservedly burdened with “arbitrary handicaps [.]”
What this means is that people’s natural talents and challenges are to be treated as “common assets.” And common assets are to be controlled by the government.
When Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren infamously said to entrepreneurs about their businesses that “you didn’t build that,” they weren’t misspeaking. A person’s talents and opportunities are not to be treated as his; they are common assets to be used for the common good.
Only on such an assumption, an assumption from which the lover of liberty must recoil in horror, can income “inequalities” be judged “the defining issue of our time,” as Obama described it.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.