Capitalist free markets do not generally create a situation where everyone has the same amount of stuff. Sadly, progress tends to yield unequal outcomes. Enter the welfare state, a creature of most modern capitalist economies. The idea is that taxes will be collected to create a repository of public funds to provide a safety-net for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Thus the welfare state would be expected to meet the costs of unemployment insurance and pensions for those who found themselves cast on the heap when the company they worked for goes bust.
When people support notions of economic equality it's not always clear exactly what they have in mind. In Capitalism and Freedom Friedman challenges us to think about the meaning of 'equality' in the context of a market economy. If we are to translate the ideals of equality into reality we'll need a conceptual framework that's a bit more sophisticated than 'everyone having the same amount of stuff' or 'paying everyone the same wage'.
Within the framework of private law, where individuals are largely self-governing subject to the basic principles of the law of obligations (contract, property, and tort) the law has nothing to say about whether everyone should have the same amount of stuff or even the same amount of social standing or economic power.
This is the time of year when everybody resolves to be good, to be a better person than they were last year, and to generally be nice to everyone. Most people are good people, or at least they want to be thought of as good people who do what they can to help others out of the kindness of their own heart.
Capitalism is a system of free exchange, but it would be wrong to suppose that the only reason why people would try to exchange things in open markets is because of how greedy they are. Conversely, if people have things they wish to keep for themselves they may have valid reasons for doing so: it is not proof of greed. The vices of selfishness and greed, and the virtues of kindness and generosity, are not the monopoly of any particular economic strata. This is purely a matter of personal integrity, not wealth status. Many capitalists have achieved notoriety in our time for supposedly being 'greedy' but as Christmas approaches and we enter the season of goodwill to all men our focus turns to how we should understand the tale of Mr Scrooge and his modern-day successors who turn themselves around and do the right thing in the end by giving lots of money to help the less fortunate.
It's official. The Economist reports that America is the country where people care the least about inequality. Many Americans care about inequality, sure, just not as high a proportion as, say, the number of people in Sweden or just about any other rich country where people care very much about inequality and have the high taxes to prove it.
The real meaning of poverty is not having enough money to allow you to participate in the social life of your community. These days poverty does not mean having no food to eat; it's more about having no money to keep up with the Joneses. The idea of social inclusion as a fundamental human right introduces a whole new meaning of Deprivation and Want.
Self-employed workers are arguably the hardest working folks out there. The UK House of Commons Select Committee Report on self-employment and the gig economy, published in April 2017 and chaired by Frank Field MP, begins by observing that ‘the self-employed are a large and growing part of the UK labour force’ constituting some 5 million workers amounting to 15% of the total labour force.
The terms 'poverty' and 'inequality' are often used interchangeably. This is wrong. There are three important differences between them. The first difference is that you can fix poverty but you can never fix inequality. There will always be someone out there with a bigger house, a fancier car and a higher income than other people. The second difference is that you can lift yourself out of poverty by your own efforts, whereas you can't fix inequality by yourself - you need the government to help you out through measures designed to make people more equal. And the third difference is that everyone agrees that poverty is a social problem, but not everyone agrees that inequality is a social problem.
Why is it that all the people who write about freedom are capitalists? What do socialists have to say about freedom, if anything?