Don’t try this at home … I’m blogging while driving. I apologize for grammatical and spelling errors.
In recent days I’ve run across a lot of sympathetic Scandinavian navel gazing. The gist is that countries like Finland pay higher taxes, have less “freedom” (whatever that means), are better educated, more “secure” and are happier.
Let’s accept that this is all measurably true and let’s accept the implicit idea from these discussions that “we” ought to be more like them and that it is even possible to be like them. A few observations follow.
(1) It is beyond off putting to eat the seeming moral authority behind this. These articles and discussions are framed starting with the premise that “equality” is correct – allowing that we even know what equality means and in what dimensions it matters. But by what actual authority can you claim that is correct? Is it any different than me arguing that we should all convert to Catholicism? After all most church attendants I know are extremely happy, communal people. Our childrens’ Catholic school performs as well as any and certainly as well as what those Finnish schools seem to be producing. Our community is extremely charitable, class differences do not seem to cause problems, and so on. Yet you’d never see me suggest, or outside of this post, navel gaze at how wonderful being Catholic is. Someone do tell me the difference. Even if 90% of Americans value more “equality” that is a value, no? Is it any different than 90% of Americans valuing college football or going to the beach? Does such massive enjoyment of college football or beach going imply anything at all about policy? I’d not only suggest but rather forcefully argue no.
(2) Equality is boring. Taking the idea quite literally (see next point for clarification) how interesting is a world where we are all the same? And it would seem to me that there is less need for commercial AND social exchange if we’re all pretty much the same? I thought there was value in diversity and difference? And just what is different about economic inequality than other kinds? If you want to answer “political power” then the jig is up particularly since the “solutions” to equality problems seem to be all political.
(3) Dear navel gazers, why is it that when you long for the warm arms of a more equal place, that you can’t even begin to think of non coercive alternatives? Seriously. Where are the articles asking us all to work harder on our charity to establish more inclusive institutions to stop walking ourselves off from each other and so forth? They don’t exist. And I’ve no tolerance for that.
(4) What kind of equality matters and why?
(5) Per usual some Hayek is worth reading on this question. He’s written extensively on the desire for equality, whether it is possible in principle and most important the distinction between equality of outcomes and equality of opportunity. The latter is the appropriate focus of public policy. And the popular navel gazing discussions of equality never quite make clear that they appreciate the difference. For example we are told that better political institutions are related to Finnish people’s reported levels of high happiness. But this says nothing about “happiness opportunity” or even the path of happiness over each individual’s lifetime assuming again you take happiness measures seriously.
As always we need to save more but the NYS Troopers may not like me in this phone too much longer … OK my wife is driving!