Individuals are not equal, at least not in their abilities, interests, gifts, wants, and goals. The implications of this, and how a socialist attempts to suppress this reality, are what Ludwig von Mises deals with in ”On Equality and Inequality,” on the 12th day of the 30 Day Reading List. It is true that individuals are equal in the sense that each is endowed with the same rights and liberties, but this only provides a framework from which to argue morals, it doesn’t mean that individuals will or should be equal in terms of intelligence, wealth, or social status.
The fact that we aren’t all equal is not a disadvantage or something to be corrected. It’s very healthy and allows a division of labor that would be nonexistent if we were all homogenous units.
Mises explains how life in pre-capitalism ages meant that the wealthy and powerful, “the ruling minority,” gained their status by force, but “the market economy – capitalism – radically transformed the economic and political organization of mankind.” This, he notes, is because “under capitalism the more gifted and more able have no means to profit from their superiority other than to serve … the wishes of the majority of the less gifted.” We know this to be true because in a market economy, as opposed to a planned economy, the consumers are the ones who ultimately decide what is produced, what quality, quantity, etc., by their choices.
At this point Mises draws a corollary between the market economy and representative government. He likens voters to consumers who make their selections from the existing politicians and their brands of governance in similar fashion to entrepreneurs and the firms. But this can only be true if an individual is free to opt out and entrepreneurs are not prohibited from freely competing with the state, otherwise the analogy is lost entirely. And since the freedom to decline the State’s services, and more importantly to refuse payment for those services does not exist, this is not a sound comparison.
An important point Mises raises regarding inequality is that people (mainly leftists, in this case) will admit their inferiority to athletes and artists, but assume that those better off financially must have done something wrong to achieve this. The idea that some are blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit or some other talent conducive to wealth creation is ignored or never considered. (It is important to note that in the current organization of state capitalism or corporatism, many who do amass wealth are aided by the State, but such arrangements are not what Mises is referring to).
In describing the behavior of consumers, which is often maligned by socialists who simply disagree on taste, Mises points out that many of the authors of his day implied that the masses were stupid rubes. This, he points out, is a sharp contrast from the older socialist authors who wrote as if the proletariat were “the originators of what is great and good in the world, and the builders of a better future for mankind.” Either way, the desires of consumers are their own business, and they, by virtue of holding currency, may do with it whatever they want in regards to buying (or abstaining from buying).
And to this point he notes that one factor in a market economy is that high quality arts and entertainment are sometimes hard to come by when so many of the consumers have poor taste in such things. The result of such a situation is that by and large, producers will “give the people what they want.” Again though, these are by nature subjective preferences, and one man’s rubbish is another man’s masterpiece.
It’s also important to note that when people complain about the poor quality of music, or movies or other art, that it isn’t necessarily the fault of the producers of these things, who are merely trying to satisfy the tastes of their patrons, the public at large. Vices too fall into this same category. It’s not because cigarette producers market their product that people smoke; it’s because people smoke that cigarette companies market their products.
Millionaires, not ‘proletarians,’ [who] were the most efficient instigators of the New Deal and the ‘progressive’ policies it engendered. It is well known that the Russian dictator was welcomed on his first visit to the United States with more cordiality by bankers and presidents of big corporations than by other Americans.
In the same way it is not the common man who argues for the bailouts of large corportations, it is the large banks and insurance firms who promote these. As for other corporate boondoggles, such as the Stimulus, Dodd-Frank financial bills, Affordable Care Act, and others, the common man promotes these because shills in the corportate media tell them they’re good for the common man. What these poor, naive individuals fail to recognize is that the same big businesses they aim to control or regulate are also promoting these same programs. As for the rise of socialism
It is not the progress of socialism among the backward nations, those that never surpassed the stage of primitive barbarism and those whose civilizations were arrested many centuries ago, that shows the triumphant advance of the totalitarian creed. It is in our Western circuit that socialism makes the greatest strides. Every project to narrow down what is called the ‘private sector’ of the economic organization is considered as highly beneficial, as progress, and is, if at all, only timidly and bashfully opposed for a short time. We are marching ‘forward’ to the realization of socialism.
At which point
The common man will be freed from the tedious job of directing the course of his own life. He will be told by the authorities what to do and what not to do, he will be fed, housed, clothed, educated, and entertained by them. But, first of all, they will release him from the necessity of using his own brains. Everybody will receive ‘according to his needs.’ But what the needs of an individual are, will be determined by the authority. As was the case in earlier periods, the superior men will no longer serve the masses, but dominate and rule them.