I have trouble with political labels. I understand they are convenient for political reasons, but they miss the essence of the individual. Compartmentalization works to the advantage of politicians, pollsters and the media, and fits a nation sickened with attention deficit disorder. Instant messaging and Twitter feeds are the way we communicate. Interviews are relayed to viewers in sound bites, designed to fit the political philosophy of the cable station or network running them. Political ads run thirty seconds. Since the principal goal of a political candidate is to get elected, he or she would rather mimic the polls. The last thing any politician wants to do is explain a complex situation that requires thought and reason. Either they don’t understand the problem, or they believe we are incapable.
As humans, we are complex. After almost seven years of writing this column, I thought it useful to more fully explain my beliefs regarding inequality. I get pegged and boxed like everyone else. Some may be surprised; others not, but in fairness I thought this digression worthwhile.
The question of equality is on everyone’s mind. My belief is that the world is Schumpeterian. Change is always with us, and for the most part, the new and the better knock off the old and less viable. There are obvious exceptions, but, on balance, change is healthy. There are times when change is slow and other times when it is revolutionary. We are living through one of the latter periods. But change is also destabilizing. It puts at risk, as do all evolutionary forces, those least capable of adapting.
Inequality is our natural state. There have always been utopian dreamers who have sought a world that was totally equitable. But men and women differ intellectually, physically, emotionally and in their character and aspirations. Some are diligent and hard working; others are careless and lazy. Cynically, both Communism and Nazism promised redistributive equality, but obviously delivered something far different, including oppression and forced inequality.
Our nation was founded with the principle of equality under the law, which is a right, and with the promise of equality of opportunity, which is a worthy, but ultimately unattainable, goal. Some are born to wealth, others to poverty; some to homes with book-lined walls, others to the illiterate; some in cities, others on farms. As a society we can set goals of equal opportunity, but we mislead when we promise what can never be realized.
The state, though, does have a responsibility to ensure that the stairway to social and financial success is available to all. The mark of a fair society is the ease with which intelligence, aspiration and hard work make that escalator accessible.