A troublesome term, &c.


Every now and then, something happens that reminds you why you arrived at your political views in the first place. At least that happens to me. And it happened to me the other day . . .

. . . when President Obama railed against inequality. He meant economic inequality. And he said that we Americans should devote ourselves to fighting it.

All children, I think, are in favor of economic equality. Why should some people have more than other people? This inequality seems unfair, and, in some sense, it probably is. Also, “equality” in general is a golden term. When I was growing up, the country had recently come through a long struggle for racial equality.

But economic equality? You can try to achieve it — but you almost inevitably make things worse. I eventually grasped this, when I was about 20. Often, people have been willing to use violence, in pursuit of equality. “Equality” has been the cry of murderers and totalitarians for as long as anyone can remember. Think of Robespierre, Lenin, Pol Pot, all of them.

If you know something about “dekulakization” — the Soviets’ murder of the better-off peasants in the Ukraine — you will shudder to hear a politician thunder about “inequality.” And beware the monster that is envy: It can kill.

You know this old Russian joke, don’t you? Ivan and Boris are neighbors. Ivan hates Boris because Boris is slightly better off than he is. For instance, he has a goat, and Ivan does not. One day, Ivan finds Aladdin’s lamp. The genie says, “You can have anything you want, in the whole wide world.” Ivan says, “I want that Boris’s goat should die.”

That’s the spirit.

My whole life, I have heard the “income gap” railed against — the “widening income gap.” At some point, a lesson got through my skull: Say that one fellow makes $25,000 and another fellow makes $50,000. Go ahead and double their salaries: They now make $50K and $100K. Each man is in clover; each man is better off. But you have widened the gap between them — in fact, doubled it.

And that’s bad, right?

Mrs. Thatcher was spot-on when she said that there are people in this world who would rather the poor were poorer, as long as it meant that the rich were less rich. I have known these people. There are a lot of them.

In a free country, there will be economic inequality, because people have different talents, different ambitions, and, yes, different luck. You can no more abolish economic inequality than you can abolish human diversity. Unfortunately, there are those who try.

When I was in college, I heard Jerry Falwell refer to socialism as “shared misery.” I thought, “What a simpleton, this Bible-thumpin’ yokel!” Well, the Bible-thumpin’ yokel was right. I came to see that, quickly.

The equality to respect, to fight for, is equality under the law, and also its twin — equality of opportunity. The dawning of this understanding is one reason I left the Left behind and became a conservative. (I regard myself as a genuine liberal, like all Reaganites, but that battle is vain and distracting . . .)

When Barack Obama was running for president, in 2007 and 2008, I had this thought: “He seems so old. His ideas are so tired for a man his age.” He was basically a McGovernite, with a vast store of gassy rhetoric. It’s as though the 1980s and ’90s, with all their lessons, had never taken place.


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