Inequality as a Function of Nature and Individuality

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”   


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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”                   

With these words, so began the greatest experiment in the history of man’s relationship to his government, and to his his fellow man.  The key word in the phrase:  created.  The phrase does not introduce an argument in favor of cradle-to-grave equality of outcomes or living standards, including incomes; that should stand as self-evident as well, as evidenced by its linguistic structure. 

We are born into a state of equality derived from natural rights; rights which are conferred solely upon the basis of one’s person – that we exist is sufficient evidence of one’s qualification.  The manner in which one exercises these rights as an instrument, or as a vehicle in the pursuit of happiness, is largely left to the individual to determine as a function of personal decision-making, or how he acts upon opportunity.  Because each individual is unique in his own person, there exists no guarantee that any of us departs this world in a state of equal outcomes with everyone else, and every guarantee we will not.

However, it has become fashionable in recent years for some to insist that society become rearranged to the ends of engineered, equal outcomes for all – especially in the arena of incomes.  Such an undertaking could only come as result of a coerced, enforced compliance of individuals being imposed by authority of government.  It would by necessity of design be blind to the truths of human nature, among them an acknowledgment of the roles played by incentive and value in our lives.  I believe such an initiative is, in fact, contract to the very laws governing all of nature, and here’s why:

Individuality is constant and ever-present throughout nature; the outcomes experienced by any member of a species will vary in scope in as much as the individuals themselves vary from one another.  In nature, in which humanity resides, there exists no such thing as “equal outcomes.”

The cheetah is born with traits which make it readily identifiable as a cheetah; yet, in every facet imaginable, each is unique and differing from other members of its kind, be it an observation of personalities exhibited or physical ability.  Each is different – and thus, unequal, despite each sharing traits common only to the species.  Science teaches that the cheetah is the fastest land animal; yet somewhere, there must exist that lone, singular cheetah which is faster than all others.  Perhaps this advantage in speed translates to it being the best among its peers at hunting down prey.  Equality of outcomes?  No, inequality along a path to maturity is a constant in nature and varies with the individual. 

Consider the snowflake:  as a single flake, or clumped together in a drift, each flake is readily identifiable as snow, or as ice crystals.  Yet, science teaches us that no two flakes are alike.  Photographs taken by specialized microscope reveal each is arrayed in geometries of splendor.  Yet, to the unaided eye, we see only like kind, innumerable or infinitely identical, but what is ultimately revealed is an innumerable or infinite individuality.

The mighty oak is readily identifiable by its leaves.  Yet again, science teaches us that no two trees – nor any two leaves from the same tree are alike.  There is a like kind of species, but not of individual creation. 

Individuality, and its corresponding inequality, is prevalent as a constant in nature.

And so it is with the human race.  We are all readily identifiable as members of the same species based on our shared traits, just as other organisms are readily identifiable in like kind.  But the similarities pretty much end there.  No two human beings are alike; even identical twins exhibit differences in personality, for example.  Each possesses talents and skills as variable and unique as the person; it is individuality, then, which sets each apart from another.  It is individual which is the chief driver of inequality. 

When Jefferson began one of the most defining and eloquent documents in history with an observation of equality, he meant we were created in an equality of like kind; as the sole species in nature which possesses an ability to reason, and as an observation of human nature that each carries a potential to cause harm to others of our species, each individual is born into natural rights; rights which seek to protect him from his fellow man or a mob. It is the securing and preservation of these rights which serves as the fundamental basis of establishing a just and fair government.  In so doing, government creates an environment in which an individual might maximize his talents to the ends of his own betterment, along a path of a pursuit of happiness.  Nowhere does Jefferson hint or declare that it is a function of government to equalize individuals naturally endowed with unequal talents and skills!  Such an undertaking would run contrary to natural law.

We do not seek to equalize outcomes for the lower forms of creation; for example, there exists no initiative to compel equalities of speed among cheetahs.  There exists no initiative to ensure that all snowflakes, while of like kind, are equal in outcomes of shape and design.  There likewise exists no initiative to ensure that all oak trees, and leaves of the same, are equal in every detail; such undertakings are simply beyond the reach and power of government.  And only a vain and arrogant government could believe it is empowered to alter human nature itself.

Yet, some would believe government is duty-bound to attempt such an altering of human nature to the ends of a total and complete equality of outcomes. If it were even possible, it would require limitations be placed on the exercise of certain rights on the parts of certain people, to benefit or favor others whose skills or talents are the lesser by comparison.  Such a process requires a master or overseer to whom all must answer and account – this is a stark deviation from why a just and fair government is established among men. 

A government which picks winners and losers or varying degrees of both, or which seeks to limit the success of some to enlarge the success of others, could only do so with a heavy-handedness befitting a tyrant.  For if a just and fair government is established to secure and protect the natural rights into which each is born, it acts in harmonious concert with nature, and nature’s law.  When government seeks to impose upon the rights of some to expand the rights of others, it acts contrary to the laws of nature, especially human nature.

Along with most of us, I am not endowed the skills of a professional athlete who parlays his talents to the earning of $Millions.  Does this fact somehow pose an injustice upon you or me?  Should it become a proper function of government to guarantee that each of us can dunk a basketball, and do so with dazzling entertainment value? 

Individual outcomes are largely a result of one’s talent and skill being put to use as a function of personal decision; the governments of the  former Soviet Union and, at least until recently, present-day mainland China, made these decisions for the individual based on its own assessment of the individual’s talent and skill. These are the types of governments founded in part upon doctrines guaranteeing equal outcomes for all; do we really want to follow along this path?  Would you willingly hand over to another, while you remain of sound mind and body, control over such matters as your own destiny and income potential?  To do so is to follow along a destination of servitude if not outright enslavement. 

One of the central arguments of income equality is just what it infers: equal compensation irrespective of occupation, whether by direct pay or redistributive schemes.  These ideas are blind to the role incentive plays in society.  There is a function of incentive present in everything we do, even the mundane.  There is incentive in taking out the trash; there is incentive for a man to return the toilet lid to its “proper” position in that he might avoid a middle of the night berating from his wife : ) 

Incentive is central to job selection, and is why some choose higher paying occupations as a function of reward being relative to risk.  It comes as no surprise to most that those who construct lofty communications towers earn far greater than those who vend newspapers along a street.  Imagine if there truly existed equal pay irrespective of occupation:  as a function of incentive, reward relative to risk, job-seekers would compete heavily for the most mundane of employment while few, if any, would risk constructing communications towers.  The high-risk or high-stress job would simply lack incentive enough, by comparison, to become adequately filled.  How would things get done?  A society cannot function in such a state of imbalance (which is why the aforementioned Soviets and Chinese governments found it necessary to impose compulsory occupations).  Incentive, in the form of higher pay, is ultimately what gets things done.  Income inequality therefore becomes an impeller of societal progress; rather than become viewed as an evil, or even as a necessary evil, the result ultimately elevates the standards of living for all in a society.  It is undeniable, for example, that America’s poor are the envy of the world’s poor.  High incomes of some produce opportunity for others; were we all of identical incomes, who among us would become willing to venture a measure of his income to promote opportunity for others – especially given a foreknowledge that any resultant “gain” would be given over to the benefit of others, and not himself?  Why bother?

Let’s apply the concept of income equality to the retail environment: how would imposing an equality of pricing work?  After all, it seemingly walks hand in hand as a complement to income equality.  Of course, to implement “price equality” is to plow asunder the concept of value.  Just as there is a function of incentive in everything we do, there is a function of value attached to the things we do – or buy.  Imagine all food items at your local grocer have been identically priced: what would result?  The meat section would struggle mightily to keep prime rib in stock, while ham hocks would be plentiful by comparison.  Or, the meat section on the whole would struggle to remain stocked, while aisle 7 is awash in ramen noodles.  Ironically, the end effect of price equality would not result in equality at all, but a condition of imbalance.  As with the comparison of high and low risk job markets, and the function incentive plays therein, it is value (or a perception of value) not unlike that of incentive,  which encourages balance in any market, be it a labor market or a food market.  Remove these things in an attempt to artificially impose a state of “equality,” and one unwittingly creates more inequality as an unintended consequence. 

It is not unlike other unintended consequences:  attempts made at reducing the population of a natural predator of a herd results in overpopulation of the herd, setting the stage for threats such as malnutrition and starvation; ironically enough, conditions which pose a greater threat than the natural levels of the predator.  Artificially-imposed market conditions have the same effect of unintended consequences. 

Inequality exists throughout all of nature because it is a product of nature itself.  Among humanity, those endowed an ability to think and dream, to conceive and create, it is much the same and wholly relative to the individual – this, too, is natural.  The idea that no idea or belief is superior to another is patently false and does nothing to advance the condition of those at the lower rungs of the ladder. 

We need look no further than our own national experience as proof:  in short order, this still-young country, with five percent of the world’s population, has dominated the other ninety-five percent.  It isn’t that we’re doing something wrong or exploiting the less fortunate of the world; I believe it is owing to our construct of how man relates to his fellow man, and the great care taken in its crafting that it mirrors closely a reflection of the laws of nature and of human nature itself. 

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