MAY 01, 1968 by EDWARD Y. BREESE
Mr. Breese has taught Industrial Management at Georgia Tech and headed the Department of Humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Florida.
Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité, the Jacobins proclaimed, and set about oiling the brand new guillotine. These were stern and practical men when it came to the daily mechanics of revolution. Some of their professed ideas might take their heads into the clouds, but their actions instinctively conformed to the realities of a troubled time.
They knew, without troubling to theorize, that political equality in their time could only be had by the knife. The man who wants to level a forest can’t possibly jack up all the immature or stunted trees. It’s a lot more practical to try cutting the tops out of those which tower above the rest. This way, equality of a sort can ultimately be achieved.
At present he is a free-lance writer. In the end, of course, it will have to be equality at the level of the smallest and weakest trees.
Equality among people in their relations with each other is also likely to be at their lowest common level.
It is only in the ancient, pre-Christian era that we find examples of people who sought equality by pruning out the weaker growth rather than the stronger. The Spartans eliminated at birth those who could obviously not grow up to be warriors or the breeders of warriors. So, according to report, did the Amazons.
There are occasional reports of other primitive tribes living at such marginal levels that all who could not "pull their weight" had to be ruthlessly eliminated to ensure the survival of the group.
If equality is really desirable per se — and I’m not trying to say that it is — this cutting away of weak and defective units would seem the logical method for humanity to follow. It would improve the norm of achievement and the available breeding stock at a progressive rate as the generations passed. It is logical.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, as you wish, I doubt that it is practical in the twentieth century of the Christian ethic. We have been taught too long and too thoroughly that it should be "women and children first in the lifeboats."
A full generation of political and economic socialism and monolithic statism in our own day has capped the process of indoctrination.
This is why I am continually puzzled by the current semantics of "equality." In a day and age of careless and sloppy usage, it’s hard to tell just what is meant by the word.
The professed intellectuals and "liberals" appear to mean an equality of humanity at four levels: economic, political, educational, and social. But they have not explained why equality at all four levels would be desirable for humanity as a whole.
They are less frank — and considerably less clearheaded — than were the Jacobins or the followers of Toussaint or Spartacus. None of them come right out and say the equalizing should be accomplished by beheading the tall trees. Some of them may not realize that this is the only way it could be done.
There also seems to be a high level of confusion as to just how this alleged latter-day paradise is to be brought about. They are agreed upon certain a priori assumptions as to the desirability and necessity of reaching their goals. Question these, and you’re promptly labeled bigot and enemy of the race. But their own thinking as to pragmatic implementation of the Four Equalities is both primitive and fragmentary.
I have heard it seriously advanced that equality of education at the highest level can be reached by requiring the top universities to lower their admission and scholastic requirements, even to the point of abolishing competition and grades. If this is only done, its advocates hold that even the educationally and mentally "disadvantaged" can receive a top level education (?) at Princeton or M.I.T.
The question mark (?) above is mine. There is no question in the minds of the proponents of this absurd doctrine. Specifically, I question what education, if any, could possibly be obtained at an institution which had obligingly adjusted itself downward to the lowest common level.
I won’t try here to pursue this thought further or to question equality at the social and political levels. But, I want to examine some of the possible results of fuzzy thinking about "economic equality."
First of all, any such thing is manifestly impossible. Even its greatest advocates are presently admitting this in practice, if not in theory. Any economic system — no matter what it may be called — has to embody three classes of people.
There must be primary producers (i.e., workers) who use synthetic or extractive processes for the alteration of raw material into finished goods or who provide services. Some of these will be better rewarded than others, if for no other reason than the differing utility of the products.
There will be drones — some, through no personal fault, as with the very old and very young. Others will seek support out of laziness or antisocial tendency. In any case there will be drones in even the most efficient organization.
Finally, there will have to be a class of entrepreneurs or managers. This is one human function which cannot be built into a cybernetic machine or delegated to even the most sophisticated of robots.
Grant this, and it becomes obvious that "economic equality" in any society must be stratified in at least these three levels. It may be possible, though I doubt it, to force all workers to labor for one wage. But they may never be expected to work for an income no better than that of the drones, for they, too, would become drones in that case. Nor will the managers exercise their specialized abilities without tangible and measurable reward.
In Contrast to Russia
Let any doubter study the present managerial class within the Soviet Union. Let him especially ponder the results of surveys which show the "commissar" class nearly psychologically, temperamentally, and motivationally identical with their Western counterparts in the "executive" ranks.
Yet, this impossible leveling process is inherent in any such proposal as a "guaranteed annual income" for all Americans. Put such a system into operation, and more and more individuals will stoop to take advantage of it.
As the drones increase, so will the burden upon the backs of the remaining workers and managers. More and more of their produce will be diverted to the nonproducers. This process has its own built-in breakdown factor. The end has to be disaster for all.
What about "equality of economic opportunity"? Of all things, this sounds the most possible, the most beneficial to all, and the most nearly in line with the ideals of a free society. Up to a point, it certainly is.
"Equality of opportunity," however, cannot be given, any more than can freedom, education, courage, or status. It has to be earned or made for oneself by the individual concerned. Neither liberty nor intelligence can be legislated. Nor can equality of any sort except at a dead bottom level.
Attempts to work out an elaborate legal or social system to ensure any sort of equality are inevitably self-defeating. Humanity could save itself endless struggle, suffering, and frustration if this truth were recognized.
Once the issue is seen clearly, there is something we can do about equality of opportunity. We can strive to establish a system which will enable each individual to advance to the limit of his own capacity and ability. We can thus aid each one to be and become and achieve to the upper limit of his potential. This is what Plato defined as "justice." And this is the only way in which those at every level can be raised.
There’s really no mystery about how such a favorable climate can be attained. It’s been done — right here — only a little while ago as history runs. Our Founding Fathers opened American life to the freest economic system yet attempted by any people.
As long as we held to the free, competitive economy our people, as individuals and as a whole, made giant strides. Our society was both vertically and horizontally mobile and fluid. The net result was growth, progression, achievement.
Only when we attempted to accelerate or improve the process by coercive legislation did our troubles begin. A free economy can no more operate within a tight framework of regulatory law than can a man bound in a strait-jacket. The natural, beneficial processes of open competition are fatally inhibited by controls.
Individuals must be free to help themselves if mankind is to be elevated.