All Commentary
Tuesday, June 1, 1965

Inequality a Blessing

Mr. Scott is a high school teacher of English in Glens Falls, New York.

Our inherent inequality is a na­tional blessing. It is not a curse to be exorcised as many moderns would suggest! Unhappily, we Americans have forgotten the source of our greatness as a na­tion. We achieved a singular place in the family of nations by pro­viding an environment which al­lowed man to reap the harvest from the unfettered function of his unequal capacities. When peo­ple are left free to function to the limits of their abilities, the most able rise to the top and, of course, that means the least able filter downward. This is human inequality at work.

Diversity of natural endow­ments amounts to human inequal­ity. On the other hand, it is im­perative that treatment under the law be completely impartial or equal, for it provides optimum conditions for the full realization of our individual and very unequal inherent capacities. Accordingly, when our unequal human charac­teristics such as intellect, ambi­tion, and physique operate in a free society whose laws provide equal protection for all, vastly unequal rewards must result. This, though it may be a bitter pill to swallow for some of the more mil­itant “people manipulators,” is perfect justice.

Granted, it means some will be­come millionaires and some will be paupers. Some will achieve, cre­ate, and produce; others will bare­ly exist, creating nothing, and producing next to nothing. How is this perfect justice? What could be more just than a man receiving rewards proportionate to his men­tal and/or physical labors? The tradition of getting out of life what one puts into it has been the keystone of the American con­cept of justice, both written and tacit—at least until recently.

Some may claim that, if this is justice, it is a cruel justice. Can true justice ever be cruel? It may be harsh at times, but can it be cruel? If by cruel one means im­partial, there can be no argument. It is true that in a pluralistic so­ciety, whose members have vary­ing degrees of talent, those who have limited ability will reap lim­ited rewards. It should be glar­ingly apparent, however, that it would be cruel if reward were de­termined by any other standard. And no one could argue that our system of justice is cruel if we define cruel to mean “desirous of inflicting pain and suffering.” The pain and suffering exist, but not as a result of conscious effort on the part of more handsomely en­dowed humans.

Man-Made “Justice”

While nature’s justice may cause suffering, this is to be distin­guished from the man-made suf­fering brought on by social re­formers in their version of the “just society.” The “justice” of the “people manipulators” is a mean­ingless concept, for it lacks the opposite values of good and bad rewards and all those which fall somewhere between the two ex­tremes. Justice demands appropri­ate and commensurate reward!

In one very real sense we feel compassion for those less fortu­nate than we, but we do not feel guilty. Yet this brings cries of righteous indignation. They ac­cuse us of not caring for our less fortunate brothers and remind us that tax money used for welfare purposes, for example, does not seriously hurt the taxpayer and certainly it goes for a just cause. True, it may not cause serious harm to the taxpayer. It is not true, however, that such use of tax money is a just cause. No cause is just if it rewards some­one solely for his need. And for this reason, while the taxpayer is not always seriously harmed (though he sometimes is), he is al­ways wronged. There are those who claim that the needy are de­serving of our support. How so? To be deserving implies the right to some form of reward. Suffering, pain, poverty, no matter how dis­tressing, do not entitle people to the fruits of other citizens’ labors. It should, therefore, be obvious that the suffering of others does not obligate the more capable in­dividuals to provide any sort of aid to those in distress. They may wish to help, but they are not obligated.

If we allow that the more fortu­nate are obligated to help the less fortunate, we are, in essence, say­ing that the less fortunate have a blank check on the resources of those who are better off. Un­der such a moral code the only person with a clear conscience is the one who has nothing—mental, physical, or material. He can feel secure, secure in the knowledge that there is no one less fortunate than he to be obligated to. This is evil of the most debased kind. What is even more evil is that it robs man of his capacity to be charitable. How can one express his concern for unfortunates by offering material and inspirational gifts if the “haves” are obligated either by law or custom to give to the “have nots” who, of course, deserve these gifts?

We must be willing to pay the price of responsible individual freedom. And a nation is not free if its citizens are not free—free to choose whether or not they want to spend their money on a cause that others feel is good. Only when the individual is free can he exist as a truly moral be­ing. If moral choices are not his to make, they cease to be moral for him. As he gradually sur­renders the responsibility of mak­ing moral and ethical decisions, these decisions are then assumed by the state. Man as a superior being ceases to be. He is reduced to a lower level of life, a lesser being of conditioned reflexes and programed responses. He has adapted to an environment which he is no longer capable of shaping in even the slightest measure. All this in the name of social equality.

Progress—or Mediocrity?

Now to the point of our argu­ment. We suggested earlier that inequality is a blessing. That it is! Society could not have been more blessed than to have each of its members diversely endowed, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The individual differences among us have been responsible not only for man’s ills, but for his great scientific, social, philosophic, ar­tistic, and economic progress. Progress in these areas has been fantastic in countries which have a great deal of personal freedom; infinitesimal in primitive, total­itarian, and collectivist societies. Where individual liberty prevails, man is free to satisfy his ambi­tions, limited only by his own capacities. He is free to create and produce. Where this happens, everyone benefits.

In the United States, where in­dividual freedom has resulted in the highest productivity in the history of the world, even the poorest among us would attract envious looks from the majority of the population in such coun­tries as India, China, Bolivia, and too many others to mention here. Our poor are, with few exceptions, poor only in relation to our own national abundance. So long as enterprising and creative Ameri­cans are allowed freedom to prac­tice their unequal talents we will all benefit. Bring the exceptional down to a median level in an effort to raise the living standards of the below average and we all suf­fer. Where would we be if we had brought Edison down a peg—to a level of mediocrity; if we had hamstrung the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, and thousands of others who possessed talents su­perior in some respect to those of the average American?

Reduce American incentive to an average or equal level and you will have an average or mediocre America—all of us equally medi­ocre. Our inequality has made us what we are, and conversely, im­posed equality can break our spir­it, and our nation.




We do not take possession of our ideas

But are possessed by them.

They master us and force us into the arena

Where, like gladiators, we must fight for them.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)