What about the Poor?!
By Duncan Whitmore
When discussing the virtues of a free society libertarians are able to expound with enthusiasm the benefits of private property, free exchange and non-violence. Most of the nagging questions – “how would policing work?”; “how would we regulate unscrupulous companies?”; or the clichéd classic “who will build the roads?!” – can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly as it is not difficult to show how such a free society would deal with these matters in a vastly superior way to one that is imbued with statism. Indeed, the struggle in this regard has less to do with formulating convincing arguments and more to do with tackling an inherent unwillingness to consider radical solutions.
However, there is one question that always presents a seemingly insurmountable difficulty – what would happen to the poor? By this, we do not just mean the accusations of a free economy being “sink or swim” or “dog eat dog”, which, again, are relatively juvenile sound bites that can be disposed of fairly easily. (Indeed, it is social democracies that are the true zero sum games as any redistribution of wealth or gain of power to the benefit of one must necessarily come at the expense of another). Rather, what we mean is the fact that a free world has no means of “caring” for the poor. In particular, there would be no “official” institution or “social safety net” to help those who were genuinely less fortunate. A libertarian might mumble a few words about the importance of charity but, with an outright declaration by one’s opponent that such a system is necessary, one may be tempted to concede that this is the Achilles’ heel of a libertarian society. After all, statists excel at conjuring the illusion that all of the care and compassion is on their side while they are able, quite easily, to paint proponents of the free market as little more than selfish money grabbers.
It is high time that libertarians (and their free market oriented fellow travellers) took the offensive against this problem by turning an apparent weakness into an advantage. By offensive, we mean not just constructing adequate rebuttals to the charge that capitalism cannot care for the poor. Rather, we need to set ourselves the more ambitious goal of proving that capitalism benefits the least well off as its primary effect, and that the poor do not benefit merely as an incidental consequence of making the rich richer. Continue reading
Economic Myths #13 – Wealth Inequality and “The 1%”
By Duncan Whitmore
The inequality of wealth and income is a frequent bone of contention in the mainstream media. According to The Guardian, 1% of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by the year 2030. A typical response to this kind of revelation is the following utterance from the Executive Director of Oxfam in 2015:
An explosion of inequality [is] holding back the fight against poverty. Do we really want to live in a world where 1% own more than the rest of us combined?
The mainstream debate over this issue fails to understand the true nature of the problem (although, interestingly, The Guardian article referred to above is unusually far sighted in recognising some of the causes of inequality).
The pro-free market side is wont to point out that such inequality “doesn’t matter” and that governments should not do anything to interfere with the progress of business. The likely call from the opposite side, however, is for increased taxation and redistribution and, indeed, Oxfam itself stressed the need for a greater crackdown on tax avoidance by large, multinational corporations. However, the reality is much more nuanced than the false dichotomy between “pro-business” and “pro-government/anti-poverty”. Continue reading
Capitalism and Equality
By Duncan Whitmore
In several recent posts and a podcast on this blog1, Rev. Rory McClure has provided some robust and insightful assaults on the leftist quest for equality. For too long it has been widely believed in mainstream circles that equality between human beings, in one form or another, is some kind of virtue to which society ought to aspire and that rank inequality is a measure of severe injustice that needs to be corrected by state action. Even though the worst excesses of inequality – such as the rising value of assets owned by the rich as a result of worldwide money printing – are, in fact, products of a state corporatist system, the perception that some people will be wealthier than others in a free market continues to provide an almost instinctive impetus towards some kind of socialism and re-distributionism. Rev. McClure has performed an important service by not only demolishing the view that inequality is a handicap for lovers of liberty but, above and beyond that, by demonstrating how inequality is, in fact, something to be embraced and cherished.
To add to Rev. McClure’s important arguments this essay will first subject the aspiration towards some kind of perfect or immediate equality – i.e. the forced attempt to render all people absolutely equal now with today’s stock of wealth and resources – to a specifically praxeological critique. However, we will also demonstrate that even if someone desires a more approximate or gradual achievement of equality – such as the so-called “equality of opportunity” – it is, in fact, statism, socialism and any kind of redistributionism that should be abandoned while, instead, those who seek to create such equality should embrace a social order that maximises the production of wealth. That social order is, of course, free market capitalism. Thus it will be shown that, even on their own terms, advocates for greater equality should be free marketers. Continue reading