The world looks like a rational place, everything functioning according to immutable universal principles, economies growing and people thriving as they experience lives of increasing abundance…until you bring in the twin notions of Justice and Equality. That’s where it all begins to unravel.
In law, they say that ‘fraud unravels everything’. You can do pretty much anything you want, really, but the minute fraud creeps in it’s game over.
Nothing can be lawful that is tainted by fraud, and activities otherwise lawful will become unlawful if they are pursued fraudulently.
The twin notions of Justice and Equality have exactly the same effect on rational discourse and every-day transactions. The minute somebody shouts ‘what about Justice, what about Equality!’ it’s game over. There can be no further rational discussion and whatever transaction had been entered into must immediately be treated as suspect, regardless of its causes or outcomes. Like fraud, Justice and Equality unravel everything.
Take for example the debate about taxes, i.e. the debate concerning whether it’s rational to impose a financial penalty on hard-working folk in order to redistribute their income to better uses. Here’s one approach:
From that perspective, it definitely sounds dumb to have penalties on work. People should get to keep all the money they earn, except for maybe a small fixed levy deducted to finance roads, bridges and, conceivably, drainage systems. If there’s a penalty on work, people might decide not to bother, and just stay home waiting to be supported by…the taxpayers. Less productivity, less wealth to go round, less economic growth. So far this all makes sense.
But wait, what about Justice and Equality?
Immediately the picture looks completely different. First, there are many poor and hungry people out there who would either have to go out to work themselves and root for their own food or rely on private charity, or just die of starvation. That’s obviously not acceptable. Second, there are also many people out there with less stuff than other people, a dastardly phenomenon known as wealth inequality which is obviously not acceptable. Justice and Equality are tools that allow us to take money from those who are earning it, and use it to feed the hungry (Justice) and make sure that everyone has the same amount of stuff (Equality).
By this means, Justice and Equality unravel everything. That's because Justice and Equality do not function according to immutable universal principles. The precepts of Justice and Equality are simply the opinions of people who have the balls to assert their moral superiority over you. What upgrades their humble ‘opinions’ into ‘precepts of Justice and Equality’, you ask? Well, it is the fact that they have higher standards of morality than you, ok? What would otherwise be just somebody's humble opinion about how the world should ideally be organised becomes upgraded into Justice and Equality by their superior moral quality. Moral superiority is almost like magic in that sense – it lends credibility and persuasiveness to any argument that would otherwise be hokum.
In rides The Law. We do not translate random opinions into law, but we sure do translate opinions that are Justice and Equality into law. That’s what law is for: to introduce Justice and Equality into society. Once magicked into law, these opinions become legally binding and you have to obey them or else you’re for the slammer.
So, from Tamny's perspective you might look at the world objectively as it really and truly is, and conclude that “taxes are nothing more than a price placed on work” and that the economy will grow if people get to keep more of what they earn, because keeping what you work for is an incentive to work harder and produce more stuff. Before long, everybody will be working harder and producing more, at cheaper prices, so that everyone is better off. Simple as that, really, you might think:
Yeah, but no. Nothing is ever that simple, my friends. The trouble with simple economics and the common sense approach to life is that it says nothing about Justice and Equality. The Justice and Equality arguments say that you have to pay your taxes or you will be locked up and all your worldly goods seized. Nobody can argue with that. Pay up, and try to have a smile on your face as you do so, there’s a good sport. It’s all for the greater good. Don’t be so selfish, trying to keep all your toys to yourself when you should be sharing with the other children like they taught you when you were little. [Editor: see 'moral superiority', above]. And mind how you go, because greedy people do tend to end up on the wrong side of the law.
We cannot indulge ourselves in rational discourse about economic growth when out there are multiple hungry people waiting to be fed and others with too little stuff waiting to be given more stuff so we can all be equal and happy. This is what is known as an Urgent Social Problem – it needs to be addressed before we can concern ourselves with piffling problems like economic growth.