So President Obama and his fellow travelers want to eradicate, or at least ameliorate, “income inequality.” What else is new?
But why stop there? An intellectually and morally consistent egalitarian knows that if inequality in the prices of labor (i.e. income) is an injustice deserving of rectification, then so too is inequality in the prices of all other “commodities” an injustice deserving of the same.
The price of an Apple computer and that of a pencil are radically “unequal.” So too are there massive “disparities” between the respective prices of a Mercedes Benz and a tricycle; a package of underwear from Walmart and a Gucci Coach Bag; a necklace from Tiffany’s and graphic novel from Barnes and Noble; admission to a movie matinee and reservations aboard a two week vacation on a Cruise ship.
If the government is obligated to “close the gap” between “the rich” and “the poor,” then it is as well obligated to close all of these “gaps.”
A consistent leftist egalitarian would recognize that there is no principled ground for not taxing every red cent of either the wealthiest “one percent” or, for that matter, of that earned by anyone else. There may be prudential reasons for drawing an arbitrary line at some tax rate or other. In principle, however, if it is morally permissible for the government to tax (confiscate) some of the legitimately acquired assets of citizens, then it must be just as permissible for the government to tax (confiscate) all of their resources.
To acknowledge this, though, our consistent egalitarian would then have to acknowledge that the idea of self-ownership is nothing more or less than a “capitalist” or “bourgeoisie” fiction, for if a person is not entitled to refuse the government any of his resources, then he does not own those resources. And if he doesn’t own the resources in his labor, time, energy, and money, then he doesn’t own himself.
Rather, it is the government that owns all.
Monetary inequalities aren’t the only inequalities to which the true egalitarian will object. Inequalities in physical attractiveness and ability are just as undeserved, just as unfair, as any other.
In order to compensate the ugly for their accident of birth, the real champion of equality knows that the government should, say, compel the beautiful to at least date, for a specified period of time, the less beautiful. To the objectors, the egalitarian’s reply is simple: such a policy is nothing more or less than another species of integration designed to combat but another species of discrimination based on physical appearance.
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.