The Inequitable Nature of Equality

… that all men are created equal.

This seemingly simple phrase is arguably the best known in the American collective unconscious. To be American is to be equal – seems obvious enough, right?

However, it all depends on how one defines “equal.”

In a country divided by warring opinions regarding just about everything these days, it may seem simplistic to attempt to hang all her problems on one concept, but let me try. In every argument regarding rights and equality, it really boils down to whether the arguers advocate equality of opportunity or equality of results. One is the epitome of the American ideal; one runs against the grain of the Constitution and all that is American.

When Thomas Jefferson penned “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, the equality to which he referred was the equality of rights, or equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity and rights levels the playing field, removing barriers that are beyond the control of the individual. This idea is as American as apple pie or the American dream. Unlike Europe, where people were expected to take their parents’ place in the stable social strata, Americans had the liberty to rise or fall based upon their own merits – talent, skill, knowledge, ability, work ethic, etc.

Obviously men could not be equal in every way – a falsehood argued by French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. However, as John Adams, who was in France at the time, outlined it, all men are born to equal rights, the protection of which is chief among the government’s duties:

That all men are born to equal rights is true. Every being has a right to his own, as clear, as moral, as sacred, as any other being has… But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people, as ever was practiced by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French Revolution.

Now, what does Adams mean by “rights”?

Every American should have basic rights secured that the Founders called “unalienable” – rights that secured to the individual the basic principle of choice: life (since being killed pretty much ends that person’s choices), liberty (the ability to act as an independent agent), property (since if you can’t keep what you earn, why earn in the first place), speech, religion, conscience, assembly, etc.

While mulling over this topic for the last several weeks, my mind keeps returning to a scenario in Christian theology, known as the war in heaven.  While most Christian theology has some aspect of the war, a more detailed account is given in books regarded by the Latter-day Saints as scripture. Regardless of whether you are religious, atheist, or anything in between, please dig into the principles behind the anecdote.

Millenia ago, before the world was, there was a Council in Heaven in which God outlined His plan for men on earth. In this Council, the point of discussion was not what the plan was but who should execute it – the plan being that men would live upon the earth as independent agents, acting as they may, and reaping the consequences of those actions. A set of laws and ordinances would be provided to guide them back to their heavenly home, and a Savior would be provided as a means of bridging the gap where men fell short of perfect obedience to God’s laws. However, this absolving power could be accessed only as men and women sought it. The key to perfection was available to all, but whether they rose or fell was based completely upon their choices and actions.

In other words, all had equal opportunities, but not all would have equal results. One’s eternal reward hinged upon one’s willingness to follow God’s plan.

One in attendance voiced his own plan, however. The Bible refers to the fall of Lucifer, as he became Satan; in LDS theology, this fall takes place because Lucifer, in opposition to God’s known plan, proposes to “redeem ALL mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” by “destroy[ing] the agency of man,” making men “captive at his will.” All men would be like puppets, unable to act for themselves or to make decisions. Of course, the result in that is that every person to walk the earth would return after their mortal sojourn into God’s presence. But it would be based on no merits or decisions of their own – it would instead be the result of no choices or actions.

In other words, equality of results.

Sound familiar?

Today there is a strong push to equalize the results of Americans through a redistribution of wealth. While it sounds lovely for every American to have certain material goods – after all, who’s going to say the poor should receive no healthcare, for example – the reality is downright chilling and fundamentally un-American.

As Alexander Hamilton said, “Inequality would exist as long as liberty existed… It would unavoidably result from that very liberty itself.”

Liberty inherently leads to inequality in results, as not all men will make the same choices. Not all have the same abilities, nor do they have the same work ethic to rise to the top of any given arena. Nor should they. To guarantee equal results, that everyone gets the same things, regardless of the effort they put in, is to strip away incentive to excel or innovate whilst trampling others’ rights to keep what they produce.

Samuel Adams agreed:

The utopian schemes of leveling [redistribution of the wealth], and a community of goods [central ownership of all the means of production and distribution], are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all properties in the Crown. [These ideas] are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.

Well, they were, at least – even as recently as 1936, when the Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Butler that giving taxes collected on processors of farm products to other farmers who would decrease their output to receive subsidies – so, in essence, redistribution of wealth – was unconstitutional. As they declared,

The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

However, playing Robin Hood by redistributing wealth is at the forefront of the current administration’s focus. Google “Obama redistribution wealth,” and you’ll find more than four million results – everything from mainstream publications like the Washington Post, Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor to blogs on both sides of the political spectrum.

I worry at what our nation is becoming – and what we will further become – as incentives give way to handouts. Anne Frank hit the nail on the head when she said, “Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.” There is a spiritual element to work, something about which I’ve blogged in my personal writings and may revisit here. Work is more than an a+b=c equation. Its output expands beyond the task that is performed to enlightenment, growth, self-worth, etc. that are necessary to becoming men and women of worth. There is an independence that is irresistible as one realizes his or her abilities – and, furthermore, when one sees that capacity stretch and grow. There needs to be some reason to push one’s self, however. Incentives are critical to growth, both on an individual and a corporate scale, be they money, success, awards, reputation, etc. There needs to be a carrot in front of the nose to get us to push ourselves.

In an equality-of-results society, however, there is no incentive. Regardless of whether you work hard or coast along, you’ll receive the same result at the end of the day – so why innovate? Why stretch? Why work when you’re going to wind up at the end of the day with the same reward as your neighbor who’s chosen to be lazy . As nice as it is in theory to think of people giving their all for the good of the collective society, it’s completely and totally impracticable. Human nature is human nature; people will always tend toward a minimal output for the maximum result. If that result isn’t based on one’s efforts, then why make the effort at all?

And, sadly, that is very much the case with the welfare state about which Euripides blogged recently. Without incentives, we will become a weakened country – not only in economic terms, but in character. Commitment, intelligence and fortitude take a backseat to skin color (about which, I’d like to point out, NO ONE has ANY control!) and other external factors. The burden of providing for the many gets placed upon the backs of the few who, at the end of a hard day’s work, keep merely a fraction of what they’ve worked to produce, all the while being maligned as greedy and selfish by the masses merely for working to achieve.

So, yes, all men are created equal – not in specific strengths, but in their validity as human beings with a capacity for action. While our current administration and its followers advocate equal results for all, I hope and pray that people will open their eyes to the detriments of a free ride, the cost of which is independence of action. The freedom to choose is one of the most vital freedoms to not only material success but to our spiritual/mental/emotional capacities. If we are not free to choose, to determine our own success or failure based upon our blood, sweat and tears, then we are not free.

After all, as this classic Wendy’s commercial reminds us, choice is always a good thing.

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About ChristaJeanne

Writer (recovering journalist), singer, Latter-day Saint, California girl, political wonk, travel addict, Broadway aficionado, American culture analyst, social media maven, Facebook junkie & wannabe domestic goddess at heart.
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16 Responses to The Inequitable Nature of Equality

  1. markpackard says:

    You know, I find it sad that the Robin Hood story has been perverted into a promotion of the redistribution of wealth philosophy. He was a hero because he “robbed the rich to feed the poor”.

    The Robin Hood story is really about tyrrany and revolution. The people were being taxed to death by power hungry tyrants. It was a tea party revolt. How this gets potrayed as evidence of the need for more government social programs is beyond me.

    Good thoughts Christa.

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Thanks, Mark. Great point on Robin Hood. You know, the older I get, the more astounded I am at the lack of personal responsibility pervasive in our society, along with the lack of respect and reverence for independence.

  2. DianaB says:

    Thank you Christa for your thoughts, it still amazes me that people can’t see what’s happening to our country with the same clarity. How can people not grasp where we are headed, that not everyone can be equal.

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Thanks, Diana. Seriously! It seems like people are coming awake, however. Let’s hope they’re giants we’re awaking from their apathetic or too-busy slumbers. 😉

  3. crftl8e says:

    Christa, I loved your post. And, I admire the initiative you take in making good things happen! Keep up the good work! We miss you over here in So. Cal :-).

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Thanks, Debbie – I miss you all, too! And thanks for all that you do in making good things happen as well. You’re amazing!

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      PS: Lest I take undue credit, I just jumped on the bandwagon here. Props go to Jeff for initiating the blog. I’m grateful to have been recruited – it’s a wonderful platform to round up some pretty engaging ideas.

  4. Euripides says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Christa. Giving up free will is certainly the easier path. When we give up rights to the government, it’s easier than taking responsibility for our own actions.

    Such systems of government that rely on statism to “protect” its citizens and take the power of government away from them have always historically stepped all over the rights of its citizens to produce an upper class of the privileged. Rather than producing an equitable system, for example, as socialism claims, all socialisms (including Communism) have “equalized” the outcomes of individuals by reducing their standard of living, eliminating the possibility of upward mobility, and created an upper class oligarchy.

    Mark’s example of Robin Hood is apt. Remember, the rich from whom Robin Hood stole, were those who benefitted from the onerous taxes of the general population. In effect, Robin Hood merely “stole” back the taxes the people had paid to its government.

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Great point. In today’s world, it’s the hardworking from whom the riches are so erroneously lifted. I don’t understand how the powers-that-be don’t see that they’re squashing incentive to create. Read Atlas Shrugged? It seems more and more like we’re living it!

  5. Linda S. says:

    Great job, Christa. You have done an excellent job of presenting the point clearly. This is very important so people can understand and “choose” which philosophy they will follow.

  6. ChristaJeanne says:

    As an addendum, a friend shared this quote today which was far too cogent to this post to not pass along:

    “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln

  7. I’m wondering if you could comment on the conundrum of entrenched redistribution on those who try to avoid taking advantage of it.

    I’ll give you an example from my personal experience: I live in Connecticut, the richest state on a per-capita basis in the nation (and also the one with the highest achievement gap between urban and suburban schools). I’m currently attending a community college in the largest and poorest city in the state.

    The reason I’m in a community college has nothing to do with my intellect or high school grades. It has a lot to do with a mistaken calculation I made when I was younger, thinking that I could succeed on my own prowess and independent study without the arbitrary designation of mental status conferred by a degree (that’s a wholly different topic, though).

    When I entered the college, I resolved not to ask or apply from help from any state or national agency. Every semester, I pay out of pocket from the money I earn working a night job.

    I’m proud of bearing this responsibility for myself. Yet it’s necessarily slowed my progress through the education system: I can only afford to take a few classes at a time (as an aside, I spend more of my time doing independent voluntary work at the college for free than I do sitting in classes, largely because I feel I learn more from the less structured environment it allows).

    Whenever I explain my predicament to my peers, the first thing they ask is why I don’t apply for FAFSA. Some of them understand when I explain my desire not to seek taxpayer money and to be self-reliant, but many of them remain incredulous. Some point out that I pay taxes, and therefore am entitled to a portion of the funds out there.

    But that seems like a perverse incentive to me, especially because I’m all too aware that the institution itself is largely taxpayer-funded, and that I’m already benefiting from that chunk of change.

    Being in this situation has caused me to think carefully about the relationship between the taxes that get sucked out of my paycheck every week and the services/products those monies are put towards. I’ve spent some time researching the feedback loops that drive college tuition rates, and have come to conclude that many of the programs aimed at alleviating the costs of higher education actually push them up (which of course then leads to calls for expansion of the cost-mitigation programs).

    At the same time, I wonder whether the poor, or those who need a second chance, or others who get discriminated against would even have a venue for higher education if not for the community college system. As much of a fan as I am of associationalism as identified by Alexis de Tocqueville (that is, un-coerced voluntary redistribution towards community institutions and initiatives), it also appears apparent that some vital and beneficial things simply would not exist without some form of redistribution (even most conservatives don’t wish to eliminate the public funding of police, military, etc.).

    And, after all, I’m not leaching. I do work and pay taxes, and I know for a fact that the proportion I pay into the system is much larger than the proportion I draw from for this one service (which is to date the only service I have ever sought through the state).

    As it stands, the reality is that there is no private alternative to the community college. I might go to one if it existed, but there simply isn’t one around – possibly because that money is already flowing towards the maintenance of the publicly funded schools.

    I admit that it’s tough to tell what a completely free economy would produce, since we don’t have one to use as an example. But given that I don’t think the scenario will arise any time soon for us to test it out, I wonder how you suggest navigating these thorny, unavoidable facets of life that are completely ensconced in the machine of redistribution. How does one live both practically and with personal integrity in such a situation?

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Brandon, for starters, I commend your integrity to live without taking from the system. That’s really impressive, something few people would dare to do. It gets frustrating to see those who work the system get an easier ride than those who have the integrity to take only what they rightly need from it, like yourself or some friends of mine who could easily go on welfare but prefer to do without and maintain their independence.

      My personal view is that taxes and public funding are inevitable – but they should only be used to provide that which individuals cannot provide for themselves, like police and military, as you noted, as well as roads and infrastructures. It goes back to what the proper role and function of the government is. I like how it was delineated in the Alabama Constitution: “That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Art. 1, Sec. 35) Of course, the inevitable question is, what constitutes “life, liberty, and property”? Is public education part of that? Honestly, there’s so much red tape tied into public education, I’d rather it all be privatized (in which case there would be private community colleges), but that’s simply never going to happen. So how do you work around that?

      I don’t have a simple answer, except to avoid taking from the system when possible, as you’ve done, and work at the ballot box to turn the tide of rising taxes for programs that go beyond what the government should properly do. Unfortunately that will mean paying more than peers do who take from the system, but at least it means living with integrity. It also depends on what sort of distribution. For example, I don’t view unemployment benefits in the same way as welfare because it’s not coming out of the tax pool – that money comes from a pot into which my employer has paid, and it’s something I’ve dipped into only when absolutely necessary, never working the system to get more than needed. I’m sure that’s a more simplistic answer than you were seeking, but ultimately it’s up to each individual with what they deem acceptable and unacceptable within the dictates of their own conscience. (Of course, then again, some people have no issue with bilking the system, so that’s maybe a flawed stance to have… but I’m a firm believer in teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves, ultimately facing the consequences of their actions.) Meanwhile, where public assistance is offered, there should be stricter regulations in place to check people’s greed and laziness, ensuring that those receiving the aid are truly the ones who need it in the first place. I think people on welfare should be required to work as well, or that people receiving unemployment should be required to document their continued job search each week (which is something I had to do in California, but I’ve been told other states don’t require that).

  8. Thank you for the compliment. : )

    Don’t worry; I wasn’t expecting an airtight manifesto on how to live responsibly. Life is messier than that. I was just looking for an intelligent perspective. I appreciate the nuance of your response.

    I like the line you quoted from the Alabama Constitution.

    Where public education is concerned, I think I understand the need for some amount of redistribution on the state or county level, since there might not be enough kids living in far-flung rural districts to pay for the upkeep of a school.

    The same doesn’t apply for higher education, of course, which is not required for the basic, educated function of most of a populous.

    On the other hand, in my fantasy world coercive redistribution wouldn’t be necessary for the building of K-12 schools, either. In that world, reasonable citizens would recognize the inherent benefit of schools and make pains to ensure the construction and maintenance of their own volition.

    In fact, I think that most folks recognize that importance now. But, perhaps because the state provides it, they feel no need to become involved (at least not until the school fails).

    • ChristaJeanne says:

      Good point. To your last comment, I’ve always found it interesting that Utah schools are among the least funded in the country – and yet they do well on test scores, better than California schools that have tons and tons of money thrown at them. The issue is not about money so much as it’s about culture. That goes for a lot of the issues with welfare, too. How do you teach people to value education? To get involved with their children’s schooling even when the parents are so busy? In the case of welfare, to eat properly instead of using their food stamps to buy junk food? There has to be a balance of accountability built into the system while still permitting people to make their own choices. Where exactly that sweet spot is, I don’t quite know – but I know our society could do a better job at approaching it than we’re doing now.

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