Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Book Review - Equal is Unfair by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook

Equal is Unfair
By Don Watkins and Yaron Brook
St. Martin's Press

As most people accept the ethics of altruism, they are condemned to see virtue in ‘equality’ and lack of virtue in ‘selfishness’. In The Virtue of Selfishness Ayn Rand rejected the morality of altruism which is inherent in most philosophic systems and all religions, and established that selfishness is not the synonym of evil, it is a virtue.

Like selfishness, equality too is a misunderstood concept—most people believe that we can’t have a fair society when there is income inequality. The belief that inequality is a bad thing and it is rising at an alarming pace, and that the government must intervene for imposing equality in society, is deep-rooted.

In Equal is Unfair, Don Watkins and Yaron Brook refute the muddled arguments that are being used to drive the utopian vision of income equality. They apply rigorous empirical validation to essay a devastating assessment of the campaign against income inequality, and they show that inequality is the fundamental by-product of freedom and it is a good thing. They point out that freedom, prosperity, and opportunity aren’t guaranteed for all times, and that if the campaign for income equality succeeds, the impact on the country will be overwhelmingly detrimental.

What kind of consequences can we expect if the doctrine of equality is fully implemented? The authors provide the example of Cambodia which, under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, tried to impose the doctrine of equality on its hapless population, and the result was massive destruction and genocide.

With a logic backed by hard facts, which is impossible to disprove, the book shows that the philosophical ideas behind the equality principle have been proposed mainly by the egalitarian philosophers: “Rousseau, Marx, and their modern heirs—people like Nagel, Dworkin, Singer, Cohen, and above all Rawls.”

The main culprit behind egalitarianism and the idea of income equality is John Rawls. The book has detailed analysis of the ideas which Rawls has proposed to attack merit, success, and individualism, and make the case for an equal society.

The authors point out that the egalitarian insistence for equality is to be blamed for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge nightmare. “Most of their [Khmer Rouge] leadership, including their general secretary, Pol Pot, were educated in France. Studying with French intellectuals, and coming under the influence of Rousseau, Marx, and other collectivist intellectuals, the Cambodians adopted a radical egalitarian ideology.”

The Khmer Rouge took for murderous path for destroying individualism in Cambodia. “The Khmer Rouge was particularly harsh toward any sign of intelligence—people were sometimes murdered merely for wearing eye glasses.”

The egalitarians may pretend that their concern is for the welfare of the people, but egalitarianism is an offshoot of the communist ideology. “Egalitarianism, as a modern philosophic movement, in many ways arose as a response to the failure of communism (and every other form of socialism) during the twentieth century.”

When the intellectuals of the left realized that wealth could only be created through capitalism and socialism led to the impoverishment of the masses, “many of them simply redefined the goal: not economic prosperity but economic equality.”

The egalitarians often claim that economic inequality is not desirable because it conflicts with economic mobility, economic progress and fairness. Don Watkins and Yaron Brook prove that every major argument that the egalitarians use for building their case for income equality is based on false premises and unreliable data.

An interesting aspect of the book is its analysis of the views of few contemporary egalitarians, including President Obama, the Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and the French economist Thomas Piketty. The egalitarian ideas simply don’t hold up and it is clear that any attempt by the government to redistribute the wealth will lead to decline in the opportunities for people to move up in life.

America is not supposed to be the land of equality; it is the land of opportunity. The book offers several insights to explain why individualist America is a land of opportunity, but collectivist Cuba is not. The authors accuse the supporters of the equality principle of trying to bring to America the same leftist ideas that have brought unmitigated disaster to Cuba. They ask the readers to reject the doctrine of equality in this way: “If we genuinely care about opportunity, we need to reject the egalitarian concept of equality of opportunity, and put the focus squarely back on equality of rights and the freedom it gives us to take advantage of life’s limitless opportunities.”

The authors point out that for more than two million years, the most advanced technology that mankind possessed consisted of few stone tools. But today we are at the stage where we expect a new version of iPhone to hit the market every six months. Such facts ought to be obvious to everyone, but apparently these are not obvious to the intellectuals and activists of the left, because in their narrative on economic inequality they do not acknowledge that we now have easy access to better technology for living longer, safer, healthier and more fruitful lives. It is reason and freedom that have led to human progress and not redistribution of wealth by the government.

The real aim of the critics of inequality is to destroy opportunity. Through their emotive propaganda, they seek to force the government to come up with new regulations that make things difficult for those who are ambitious and want to rise through hard work. The analysis of how government stranglehold has ensured that there is hardly any new innovation happening in the education and healthcare sectors is particularly shocking.

“The government’s monopoly on education represents an enormous abridgement of opportunity: the opportunity of entrepreneurs and educational innovators to profit by applying their creativity to the field, the opportunity of the parents to choose a school that caters to their unique values and needs, and the opportunity of the poorest students to get even a halfway decent education.”

In the healthcare space, the authors point out that just Medicare involves 132,000 pages of complex laws, rules, and regulations, and that it takes 38,400 man-hours each year to meet Medicare’s billing requirements. On an average, a hospital staff spends 30 minutes doing paperwork for every hour spent caring for a Medicare patient.

On the subject of the fundamental nature of the American dream, the book has this to say: “The American Dream is more than an aspirational story about striving and success. It is, in the best sense, a morality tale: it says that if you do the right things—if you think, learn, strive, work hard, act responsibly—you can achieve great things. In America, what matters is not privilege but merit.”

The inequality critics are misdefining the concept of ‘privilege’—they call anyone with wealth or opportunities as ‘privileged’. The authors point out that the concept of privilege applies only to those who rise in life by taking special favors from the government, and not to those who rise through merit and hard work.

Though the book deals with philosophical and political ideas, it is not too abstract and in almost every page the authors show the skill for coining apt quotations. All things considered, Equal is Unfair is an excellent book—its sensible and precise refutation of the doctrine of equality is well-timed. It clearly shows that the fundamental choice is between inequality and dictatorship, because freedom cannot exist without inequality. Hopefully, it will be widely read and will create more awareness of the dangers that can befall on us if we allow freedom to be sacrificed on the altar of equality.

It is noteworthy that the book ends on an optimistic note—its last sentence is: “Success is possible and the struggle is worth it.”

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