Egalitarians’ Neurotic Obsession with Comparisons

March 6, 2019 Updated: March 6, 2019


One of the most famous malapropisms in literature is “comparisons are odorous,” uttered by Shakespeare’s character Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Dogberry was mutilating the well-known phrase “comparisons are odious.”

Well, some of the comparisons drawn by writers infected with the virus of egalitarianism are both odorous and odious—and obnoxious, too.

Egalitarianism is the normative notion that individuals should be economically equal—or at least much less unequal than we currently are. Consequently, those under the influence of egalitarianism obsessively compare the economic fortunes of Americans. Any economic disparities, gaps, differences, etc., that exist between Americans are offensive to egalitarians.

Well, that isn’t completely accurate. Some disparities bother egalitarians; others don’t. One disparity that doesn’t bother them in the slightest is that the top-earning 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers pay more than 39 percent of the country’s income taxes, while the bottom 90 percent only pay roughly 29 percent. That is a disparity in which the rich get the short end of the stick, and that kind of disparity is fine with egalitarians.

One startling fact about egalitarians is that they’re not content with the good news that our society has attained unprecedented affluence, and that the long-term trend has been for every income quintile to enjoy rising standards of living. Indeed, egalitarians view our society in which the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer as scandalous and unacceptable.

They aren’t placated by the fact that the average poor American has long enjoyed a standard of living comparable to the average middle-class standard of living in the 1950s. They ignore the absolute rise in prosperity across the board, and, instead, obsess about relative standards of living; hence, they constantly draw comparisons that reflect this bias and end up making them look silly.

Two examples of rather pointless comparisons in the news recently have been articles in major publications that lament the split between high-paying jobs and low-paying jobs, and the fact that Amazon chose to add new satellite headquarters in rich areas of the country.

Wage Differences

The high-wage versus low-wage jobs article appeared in The New York Times last month. It was entitled, “Tech is splitting U.S. work force in two.” It was well-researched and well-written. But what was the point? After all, the fact that some jobs pay much better than others is hardly a stop-the-presses scoop. It’s been going on for centuries.

Only viewing the world through the ideological lens of egalitarianism renders wage differentials objectionable. Some Americans may gripe about the megabucks that professional athletes, movie stars, and rock bands command, but nobody wants the government to reduce that gap. It isn’t unjust that I can’t play basketball as well as LeBron James, nor be as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, nor do—well—whatever it is that Mick Jagger does.

Nor have Americans rebelled against the wage structure that pays physicians more than high-school gym teachers, engineers more than construction workers, or tax lawyers more than clerks. So now, high-tech jobs pay more than low-tech. So what? That’s just the way the world has always worked; indeed, economically, it’s how the labor market naturally works: the individuals who acquire the most highly valued skills get the most highly compensated jobs. Duh. Why envy them? They are simply reaping the rewards of their excellence.

The average American doesn’t resent people who are highly skilled and profit from those skills. Such disparities occur naturally, and we accept them. The real injustice lies with artificial disparities. By “artificial,” I mean those that governments create by bestowing privileges on select special interests, rather than economic differences that result from the natural differences between people.

Beyond cronyism, which I denounced in a previous column, the federal government has created an economic gap between unionized and nonunionized workers, and between government workers and their private-sector counterparts.

Dating back to the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, labor unions have enjoyed a legislative privilege: They are allowed to operate as monopolies. For decades, they used their monopoly privilege to extract wages from employers that were higher than those received by other similarly skilled workers, becoming a sort of blueblood, blue-collar aristocracy. (Note: I am not anti-union. I simply oppose government-created monopolies.)

It amazes me that egalitarians never seem to complain about the enormous gap between what federal employees make versus equally skilled private workers. Truly, if there is an unjust economic class difference in the United States today, it was created in Washington, in a phenomenon that I describe as “the governing elite vs. the rest of us.”

Amazon Choice

The egalitarian-influenced article lamenting Amazon’s choice of northern Virginia and the since-withdrawn New York City appeared last fall in The Christian Science Monitor. It appeared under the melodramatic title, “Amazon and the troubling rise of superstar cities.”

Explaining why they wrote it, the Monitor stated, “By picking New York and Washington as its new HQ cities, is the retail giant missing an opportunity to help the parts of America that are left behind?” Excuse me? Since when is it the duty of a corporation to pick not the location that best serves its stakeholders (shareholders, employees, and customers), but to pick a location that could use an economic shot in the arm?

Even an egalitarian should see the problem with this suggestion, namely, that no matter which of the many less-prosperous cities Amazon might pick, it would still be “unfair” to all the other cities that it didn’t pick.

Furthermore, the author lamented that for Amazon to avail itself, as other businesses do, of location-specific advantages, such as the availability of a cluster of workers possessing the skills that Amazon is seeking, evinces “the tendency of geography to become economic destiny.” So? This is another case of reporting something that isn’t news, but is as natural as the sun coming up in the morning.

Since the beginning of human civilization, geography has been a major determinant of where human beings settle. All one has to do is look at a map of the United States to see this tendency: Most major cities developed on the shores of oceans and lakes and at the mouths and along the banks of major rivers.

Cities arise where it makes the most economic sense, that is, where access to needed resources is better. And cities thrive as long as economic production remains viable in that location. If the economic raison d’être of a human settlement ceases to exist, so does the settlement (for example, ghost towns in the Old West, and to a lesser degree, hollowed-out communities in the Rust Belt in the past 50 years).

Writers who fret about economic comparisons that arise in the natural order of things are unhappy people, and, as the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” What makes egalitarians miserable is economic inequality between individuals and areas, even when the reasons for such disparities are entirely natural (as opposed to being artificially created by government).

To lament the uniqueness of each human being and to condemn our differences is a form of hatred for humankind. It’s a hatred of individuality and also a hatred of nature itself, whether nature is a product of evolution or the Deity.

Can you imagine going through life believing that the creator of the universe totally blew it and needs to be corrected? This hatred and rejection of the natural order of things impels egalitarians to extol governments that promise to “fix” natural differences by wielding enormous power over our lives, suppressing individual rights, and radically redistributing wealth.

Sound familiar? Egalitarianism is one of the ideological underpinnings of socialism. That’s what makes their obsession with comparisons dangerous to us all and not just a sad type of individual neurosis.

Mark Hendrickson is an adjunct professor of economics and sociology at Grove City College. He is the author of several books, including “The Big Picture: The Science, Politics, and Economics of Climate Change.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.