Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Legislating Equality

I suspect that Bret Stephens’ column sits behind a paywall. It’s an interesting reductio ad absurdum of the current debate over inequality.

Obviously, income inequality exists. It has gotten worse during the Obama administration. In a competitive world outcomes cannot always correspond to your ideal version of the a diverse nation, but today, the disparities are so gross that something will have to be done about it. One suspects that the solution does not lie in making a fetish of equality and trying to produce it by legislation.

Since Stephens wants to demonstrate the absurdity of worshipping at the altar of Equality, he introduces his column with a prescient text from a 1961 story, “Harrison Bergeron” by master absurdist, Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut wrote:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Stephens was inspired to push up the date and show how equality might be legislated:

The year was 2019 and Americans were finally on their way toward real equality. Not just equality in God's eyes, or before the law, or in opportunity.

They were going to be equal every which way.

All this equality was due to bold new government action. There was the Decent Wage Act of 2017, which pegged the minimum wage to the (inflation-adjusted) average hourly wage of 2016. There was the NEW-AMT, which set a 55% minimum federal tax rate on individual income over $150,000 (or 80% for incomes above $500,000). There was the Unemployment Insurance Is Forever Act of 2018. There was the 2018 De Blasio-Waxman CEO Pay Act, which mandated a 9-to-1 ratio between the highest and lowest paid person in any enterprise.

Stephens tries to be even-handed. In his dystopian vision, Republicans join the anti-inequality party:

Though most conservatives were resistant to the Equality Movement, some found the new political environment congenial to their anti-elitist aims.

There was the Grassley-Amash De-Tenure Act of 2016, which abolished the "monstrous inequality" of college-faculty tenure. That was soon followed by the Amash-Grassley Graduate Student Liberation Act of 2017, ending the "master-slave" relationship between professors and their teaching and research assistants.

More controversial was the Grassley-Gowdy De-Ivy Act of 2018, requiring all four-year colleges, public or private, to accept students by lottery. Besides its stated goal of "ending elitism and extending the promise of equality to tertiary education," many conservatives saw it as a backdoor method of eliminating affirmative action. Liberals countered that it had precisely the opposite effect.

It is a bad idea trying to make reality march to the rhythm of a grandiose ideal.


Webutante said...

Agreed, Stuart. It's another PC idea---which sounds noble---that's totally divorced from reality.

Anonymous said...

Income inequality will always exist because there will always be someone who earned no money in a given year. Income inequality will always be increasing in an inflationary money system.

n.n said...

Beachfront property in Hawaii or no deal. Right next to Obama and his companions.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous1/28/24 at 1:36 PM:

Don't tell anyone. The stock market's been doing really well.

You're for correct, in an inflationary economy, the problem is structural.