The nauseating signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act — a great example of the fallacious assumption that economic equality is a good thing and ought to be enforced by the government.
Few fallacious catchphrases set my blood to boiling more fiercely than equal pay for equal work. A regrettable but unquestionably catching shibboleth of a misinformed women’s “rights” movement, it’s so appealing a maxim that millions of politicians and protestors have repeated it without understanding its meaning, much less its potential results.
What the phrase implies, of course, is that remuneration for labor shouldn’t be influenced by gender alone; the leftists who so often repeat these now rather meaningless four words, however, are willing to take the cause even further into the depths of state intervention. The movement has mostly been whipped up out of the misguided contention that government should break the economy of its purportedly discriminatory ways. Because equality, right?
President Obama and his gender pay gap howler monkeys fixate on apparent employer discrimination allegedly evidenced by wage differences, but the statistically flexible pay gap is demonstrative of a normal economic phenomenon: women have different life goals than men. They choose lower-risk occupations. A great deal of them prefer flexible schedules. And as a general rule, they’re more likely to state flexibility and enjoyableness as their goals rather than earning money. Basically, they make different choices. (While the occupation choices may be because of individual preference, most of it stems from the fact that women do have different roles in society, in the economy, and in the home from that of men.)
These choices translate into economic consequences; namely, slightly less pay.
Altering the economic consequences of these choices through government fiat merely because of gender is foolish, misguided, and characteristic of short-sighted statists.
Yet despite this unchangeable truth, solutions like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Lily Ledbetter Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act have all been offered up with great political fanfare.
There are many erroneous assumptions in the modern end-the-pay-gap movement, especially the notion that government can revise reality and alter the financial and economic outcomes of making different life choices, of different occupations, of different working hours, of different efficiency levels—the list could go on for a great while.
But the aspect of this gender-politics campaign that offends my economic conscience most isn’t a superficial annoyance like brazen party politics and activism-mongering for an issue that doesn’t exist.
It isn’t female legislators who assume that their gender allows them to transcend economic fact.
The chief irritation isn’t even totalitarian newscasters and deluded protestors who tawdrily demand a dramatic shift in the government’s stated purpose and our national economic structure.
What’s truly disturbing about the movement is that so many Americans assume that all varieties of equality and all means of obtaining it have the moral high ground: this is most certainly not the case, and the root of the equal pay for equal work nonsense economics leads back to a confusion between legal equality and government-enforced social equality, two values that share a word but have nothing else in common.
What sort of equality were these guys actually talking about?
Legal equality is far from what most minorities and “underprivileged” or “unjustly treated” groups have been lead to believe about equality in general. Just as the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, a government guided by the concept of legal equality will not make laws helping one group and hurting another.
Put simply, all laws apply to everybody under legal equality.
Income, skin color, or gender, for example, will not and cannot be the deciding factor in a court battle over your innocence or guilt.
Legal equality isn’t always popular.
Pundits’ and popular demands for a state solution to the “unjust” phenomenon of income inequality are similar to the cries of activists alleging that the so-called gender pay gap is a problem warranting government intervention. Yet state action in either of those areas abolishes legal equality: any attempted government solution (other than leaving it alone in the first place) will give some groups preferential treatment over others.
There’s a good reason why legal equality should be a guiding principle in government. Without a constant citizens’ vigil seeking to preserve equal rights under the law, politicians will vote themselves favors, the political majority will seek to create laws friendly to its own, and society will create a class of those who take and those who make. Those at the bottom will have no rights and no political power.
Legal equality is also crucial in an economic sense.
While involuntary servitude may seem like an extreme, unlikely occurrence even in developed interventionist economies that aren’t governed by the principle of legal equality, such a governmental system is well attuned (if not ideal) for the exploitation of the minority.
A majority of the population enslaving another group through sheer force, thereby creating an underclass or serfdom, is no different than the same majority determining that the minority’s assets were “unjustly” large and then legally dividing the politically powerless minority’s hard-earned income and material goods more “equally.”
In either scenario, the minority is being forced to work for someone else without reaping the benefits—and that’s the definition of involuntary servitude.
Due to a very predictable aspect of human nature, involuntary servitude of all kinds is less efficient than the mutually beneficial exchanges characteristic of a capitalist economic system. Without legal equality, there are marked moral, political, and economic consequences.
As Mises noted, the maintenance of social peace is crucial to the peaceful development of the division of labor. “But it is well nigh impossible to preserve lasting peace in a society in which the rights and duties of the respective classes are different,” he said in Liberalism.
He continues in the same chapter:
“…the socialists say, it is not enough to make man equal before the law. In order to make them really equal, one must also allot them the same income. It is not enough to abolish privileges of birth and rank. One must finish the job and do away with the greatest and most important privilege of all, namely, that which is accorded by private property.”
And that’s where government-enforced social equality comes in.
Government-enforced social equality
As it turns out, this Great Equalizer — Mao Zedong — killed up to 78 million people for communism. And rather worryingly, he mentioned “equal pay for equal work.”
In short, this government-enforced social “equality” is the opposite of legal equality. It is the precursor to and abstruse goal of full socialism and government micromanagement. And it must be emphasized that social equality can never exist side by side with legal equality in any one given situation. Modern-day women’s “rights” movements strive for this statist bliss, but all the while maintain a façade that they’re still campaigning for equal legal rights.
The comprehensive immigration reform that leftists keep promising pretends to call for equal legal rights, when in reality it is for exemption from the law altogether for a specific group of politically connected people. Having laws apply to some but not others invalidates legal equality. Applying laws to some and not others is the only way to achieve this social “equality” of which totalitarians speak.
Social equality that totalitarians advocate is not about governing and judging humankind by the areas in which they are equal—their created state, unalienable rights, and human nature—but about governing and judging men according to the areas in which they are unequal. It is about central planners adopting a moral code; it is about measuring up all of society to their arbitrary code and then reacting accordingly with the full coercive force of government.
It’s about making all citizens equal in substance, in possessions, in material goods, and in income (but of course, some are more equal than others).
Social equality means abolition of legal equality
If you want government-enforced social equality (i.e., socialism and redistribution) talk to the Communists.
While social equality in and of itself is not an evil or unacceptable state, it’s definitely impossible; and particularly in light of the method in which it has traditionally been pursued—complete government control of the economy—it is an evil thing.
Full government control of the economy is the only way to redistribute wealth and regulate the capitalists, and redistributing and regulating is the only way that social equality can even begin to be achieved. And that’s where the big problems begin.
Any governmental system that allows for the redistribution of wealth will be corrupted, quickly and badly; and any governmental system that controls the economy requires very specific, non-general action to operate at all. The presence of “social equality” negates legal equality. Combine this with inevitable insatiable greed on the part of whoever’s running the show—be it a dictator, committee, or voters under a democratic system—and you’ve got a system bred for discord, instability, political unrest, economic collapse, poverty, a police state, political oppression, and varying degrees of involuntary servitude.
The only means by which the state can pursue social equality is, in fact, redistribution and laws that apply to one group but not another. Government will hurt some, help others, and run the whole economy on the basis of central planners’ ideal of social justice (whatever that may be). It’s an ambiguous, arbitrary, and unknown goal of “justice” and material equality.
As Hayek said:
“In fact, as planning becomes more and more extensive, it becomes regularly necessary to qualify legal provisions increasingly by reference to what is ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable’; this means that it becomes necessary to leave the decision of the concrete case more and more to the discretion of the judge or authority in question.”
In other words, when government seeks social equality, it can only do so through controlling the economy; controlling the economy necessitates planning; planning means that the Rule of Law is completely absent.
Whereas individuals in a free market decide on their own what is “fair” or “reasonable,” in a socialist economy—which is the only type of economy compatible with seeking social equality—planners must decide, and decide arbitrarily, according to their individual concepts of fairness or reason, absolutely impossible to align with the public’s diverse moral and logical codes.
If the absence of legal equality means injustice (as I certainly contend) then adopting social equality as a goal, despite its advocates’ muddleheaded claims that it’s the only way to justice, is perhaps one of the most unjust economic goals a government can formulate.
Furthermore, to produce the precise same results for women as for men means it is necessary to treat them differently; this means the abolition of both legal equality and the Rule of Law in that area.
Anything the government does to equalize the economy or financially assist certain portions of the economy destroys legal equality and disregards that all men are created equal and should be governed the same.
Social Equality’s manifestations
These Occupy Wall Street protestors assumed that income inequality needed to be managed by government — and oddly enough, they invoked equality to support their cause.
Other logical errors and problems with their arguments aside, income redistribution always means the abolition of legal equality.
Protective tariffs and import restrictions, welfare, food stamps, socialized healthcare, the construction of government infrastructure, graduated tax brackets, all forms of subsidization and crony capitalism, public schools, amnesty, and social security are just a few examples of government action that by nature must treat different groups of people differently. Some are helped, some are hurt—because government has no funds on its own, anything that it pays for is paid for by a certain group of taxpayers whether they enjoy the benefits or not.
If legal equality is necessary and social equality negates it, government treating all humankind equally is just; government making all humankind equal in substance is definitely not.
If legal equality is something we must strive for, then big government is entirely out of the question. Economic interference on the part of the state can only lead to the destruction of legal equality, and therefore freedom, the free market, and financial stability.
All men are created equal, or all men need to be made equal?
The implicit socioeconomic goal in the statement all men are created equal couldn’t be more different then the agenda of “equal pay for equal work” advocates, who want preferential legal treatment from the state for a group that’s somehow better than the rest.
Legal equality is the backbone of capitalist economies and free, minimally governed societies.
Social equality is government coercion in the economic sphere (and thus necessarily individual life), excessive legal plunder to accommodate a technically permissible system of looting and subsequent redistribution, and complete disregard of the actual usefulness and efficiency of workers and occupations in relation to the remuneration they receive.
Social equality and legal equality ought never to be confused, considered compatible, or thought to be one and the same. They are opposites. They cannot exist side by side. While conservatives in the United States fight the alleged gender pay gap with statistics, they ought to hit at the heart of the matter: social equality is not true equality, and working towards this government-enforced equality rips apart the fabric that holds a capitalist economy and a free society together.
Not all types of equality are equal.
In conclusion, the biggest ideological flaw in many arguments for and against various categories of redistribution is definitely the failure to recognize that not all forms of equality are equal—and they shouldn’t be treated like they are.