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 (there’s a free lesson for you market traders out there). The twin notions of Justice and Equality have the same effect on rational discourse. The minute somebody shouts ‘what about Justice, what about Equality!’ it’s game over. There can be no further rational discussion. Like fraud, Justice and Equality unravel everything.
Take the debate about taxes, i.e. the one where people debate whether it’s rational to impose a financial penalty on hard-working folks in order to take a huge chunk of their wages and redistribute that money to better uses. Here’s the rational approach:
Ok, it 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 maybe 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.
But wait, now let’s introduce Justice and Equality to the discussion.
Immediately the picture looks completely different. Let’s face it, 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 [Editor: you don’t say!] or rely on private charity, or just die of starvation. That’s obviously not acceptable. 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. With Justice and Equality, we can 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).
Rationality has fled the building! Well, yes. Like I said. Justice and Equality unravel everything. The thing about Justice and Equality is that they 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? Your opinions are just humble opinions, but their opinions are 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.
Here’s how the debate looks now. On your side you have common sense and rationality. You are looking at the world objectively as it really and truly is, and concluding 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. 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. So I think the debate is completely over. 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 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.