Early in the 2016 presidential race, Republican candidates have adopted the income inequality canard as their primary talking point. Ted Cruz, taking a swipe at Mitt Romney, said “Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.…we should be fighting for the little guy”

Meanwhile, HuPo writes, “[Marco] Rubio argued that income inequality was simply a symptom of a larger problem: ‘opportunity inequality.’ He said that creating jobs is the best way to lift people out of poverty.” Jeb Bush said that “while the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.”

Before he dropped out of the race, Mitt Romney was riding the inequality horse, saying, “Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.”

The Romney of 2012 actually said , “You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.”  That year, at a campaign rally in Florida, Romney sounded almost libertarian, “I believe in a merit nation, an opportunity nation where people by virtue of their education, their hard work and risk taking and their dreams — may be a little luck — could achieve great things.”

Romney’s envy comments make me think he’s read Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior.  Schoeck opens his book with,

Throughout history, in all stages of cultural development, in most languages and as members of widely differing societies, men have recognized a fundamental problem of their existence and have given it specific names: the feeling of envy and being envied. Envy is a drive which lies at the core of man’s life and social being, and which occurs as soon as two individuals become capable of mutual comparison.

Schoeck points out that envy is destructive and “most of the achievements which distinguish members of modern, highly developed and diversified societies from members of primitive societies–the development of civilization, in short–are the result of innumerable defeats inflicted on envy.”

Equality sounds good to the naive, but is a curse to liberty and properly functioning markets, as “the inequality of individuals with regard to wealth and income is an essential feature of the market economy,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises.

In his wonderful paper “The Confrontation with Equality in Mises and Rothbard” Alex Popper writes, “Not only is inequality necessary, but a conception of total equality is simply wrong.” The fact is everyone has unequal physical and mental capabilities. “Those who advocate for equality in the sense of the elimination of disparities are not, according to Mises and Rothbard, driven by an altruistic humanism, but rather by envy and the lust for power,” writes Popper.

Murray Rothbard pointed out that no amount of human power could make people equal.

He goes on to argue, “the glory of the human race is the uniqueness of each individual, the fact that every person, though similar in many ways to others, possesses a completely individuated personality of his own.”

It is this uniqueness that makes the division of labor, mutually beneficial exchange and economic progress possible.  These differences could lead to violence, but the market converts the uniqueness into prosperity.

Mises reminds us

in the precapitalistic society the superior men knew no other method of utilizing their own superiority than to subdue the masses of inferior people. But under capitalism the more able and more gifted men can profit from their superiority only by serving to the best of their abilities the wishes and wants of the majority of less gifted men.

If one fails to serve customers, most who are certainly less talented, the punishment is a loss of wealth. Mises wrote in his book Human Action, “the inequality of incomes and wealth is an inherent feature of the market economy. Its elimination would entirely destroy the market economy.”

However, inequality should be celebrated for “it forces all those engaged in production to the utmost exertion in the service of the customers. It makes competition work,” Mises wrote.

He explained that luxury markets are a great proving ground for innovation and technology that eventually permeates all of society.  Everything we take for granted as a necessity–smart phones, computers, flat-screen TVs–were once items only the rich could afford.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.33.29 PMThe graph asks American’s how they think wealth should be distributed. However, Mises writes, “The notion of ‘distribution’ is itself preposterous,” and Rotbard agrees, writing, “On the free market, however, there is  no such thing as a separate ‘distribution’…’Distribution’ is simply the result of the free exchange process.”

Americans who don’t like where wealth ends up, are attacking “the subjective preferences of the consumers, not some vile process of exploitation,” writes Popper. “The internal logic of arguments for income equality is under-considered, erroneous, and often contradictory.”

Those who think Mark Zuckerberg has too much wealth are really criticizing the 1.35 billion people who are active users of Facebook.  Think Jeff Bezos is too rich with $30.5 billion in wealth?  Blame me and the millions of other customers who use Amazon.

Schoeck points out “envy’s culture-inhibiting irrationality in a society is not to be overcome by fine sentiments or altruism, but almost always by a higher level of rationality, by the recognition, for instance, that more (or something different) for the few does not necessarily mean less for the others.”

America needs a return to that old time equality. “The equality that [John] Locke and [Thomas] Jefferson speak of is equality in authority,” writes philosopher Roderick Long, “the prohibition of any ‘subordination or subjection’ of one person to another.”

To embrace the equality of Locke and Jefferson would shield us from government interventions to promote socioeconomic equality.  Tragically, it’s been a long time since Thomas Jefferson was on the ballot.