The European Union: A Disaster for Equality, Etc.

A lot of progressives seem to be afflicted with a weird form of ADHD. Try as they might, they simply can’t talk about poverty for more than 30 seconds without lapsing off into talking about inequality. Progressives claim to have a special care for the poor, but what really gets them animated is talking about the rich, and in particular how much more the rich have than anyone else (including their very not poor selves). Inequality, though, is not the same thing as poverty. A society where everyone is starving to death is highly egalitarian.

Should we care about equality as such? A lot of progressives say that we should. Here, for example, is a bit from Tony Judt’s posthumously published Ill Fares the Land (helpfully provided by my former co-blogger Morning’s Minion):

“Inequality, then, is not just unattractive in itself; it clearly corresponds to pathological social problems that we cannot hope to address unless we attend to their underlying cause. There is a reason why infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, the prison population, mental illness, unemployment, obesity, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, illegal drug use, economic insecurity, personal indebtedness and anxiety are so much more marked in the US and the UK than they are in continental Europe.

The wider the spread between the wealthy few and the impoverished many, the worse the social problems: a statement which appears to be true for rich and poor countries alike. What matters is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is. Thus Sweden, or Finland, two of the world’s wealthiest countries by per capital income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens–and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable wellbeing. Conversely, the United States, despite its huge aggregate wealth, always comes low on such measures.

Of course, if inequality leads to crime, mental illness, and so forth, then you might wonder: why the crime rate is higher in Finland than the U.S.,? Why is the suicide rate higher in Finland and Sweden than the U.S.? Etc.

I suspect that deep down progressives do not care about inequality. Or, rather, they care about inequality to the extent that it seems to support their policy prescriptions, and not one bit more (they are, of course, hardly unique in this).

For example, take immigration. Every time a poor kid from Guatemala swims across the Rio Grande, inequality in the U.S. goes up slightly. If several million immigrants do so, this increase in inequality is greatly magnified. If progressives really cared about inequality, then they ought to be stridently anti-immigration (as, in fact, were many of the original progressives). But they aren’t. So they don’t.

Or take Europe. It is a commonplace to say that while the U.S. may be wealthier Europe is at least more egalitarian. And this is true if you only look at inequality within individual countries. Yet if you look at Europe as a whole the gap between rich and poor is extremely large. Per capita income in the richest member of the European Union (Luxembourg, $78,409) is about 6.6 times as much as per capita income for the poorest member (Bulgaria, $11,883). For comparison, the richest state in the U.S. (DC, $66,000) has a per capita income that is roughly 2.2 times as large as the per capita income of the poorest state (Mississippi, $30,103).

Inequality between societies does not seem to bother progressives as much as inequality within societies, so perhaps this is not such a big deal. The goal of the European Union, however, is to integrate the different European societies with each other. At some point someone is going to calculate the gini for the European Union as a unit (rather than just averaging the ginis for the different member states) and be shocked to discover that inequality has exploded. If progressives really cared about inequality, then they would view the European Union as a huge disaster. Yet they don’t; so they don’t.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

7 Responses to The European Union: A Disaster for Equality, Etc.

  1. Mark Noonan says:

    Really, its all about power – people of the left first and foremost, care about power. The whole thrust of their efforts is to accrue power for themselves.

    Think about it – if they were really angry over economic inequality, they’d be going after those who represent the greatest of unequal wealth. Trouble is, such people make up the leadership of the left. Right around the realm of $100 million in net worth, you start finding more and more liberals. To be sure, you can find a few rich people of the right (though, actually, such rich people tend towards libertarianism rather than conservatism), but most of them are stark, raving liberal. With their money safely tucked away, then then lead the charge to “tax the rich” in order to provide for the poor, with “the rich” always being those with a net worth of $10 million or less.

    It really is no surprise, at all, to see this. People who have a great deal of wealth have all the pleasures the world can provide – except power. And I’m not just talking the sort of power of raw money – money can do a lot, but it can’t enact a law; can’t write a regulation; can’t start a war. If you want real power, then you have to go and get it via the political process. But if you go conservative or libertarian, what do you wind up doing? Eliminating the very power to command the world you’re striving for – the natural gravitation is towards the left (provided, of course, its not that part of the left which will, from time to time, line up the super rich and shoot them) as that is where you’ll find the theories which demand exercise of power by a few.

  2. Harja says:

    I beg to disagree with a few points in the article, especially about the crime rate in Finland. We have a pretty low crime rate and are far above the U.S. in the anti-corruption ratings. Our rate of incarceration is low. Most of the crime that does occur is relatively minor or domestic situations that escalates to violence.

    Our suicide rate is on the high side but factors other than economic conditions are to blame. One factor is a culture of high alcohol consumption coupled with our long dark winters and a cultural reluctance to admit the need for help, even though it is available.

    As far as income inequality goes I will let the OECD reports stand.

  3. Joe Hargrave says:

    I don’t see why someone else’s wealth ought to make me angry or depressed, if I am right with God.

    Philosophical materialism leads to practical materialism; if matter is all there is, if God is just a figment of the imagination, then of course we will be preoccupied with who has how much of what.

    But the envy of the poor – and really, of their self-appointed middle-class advocates – is as sinful from a Christian perspective as the greed of the rich. Forcing asceticism on the rich in order to satiate the greed and envy of the poor and their middle-class advocates hardly seems like “justice” to me.

    “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matt. 6:33

    It’s not a sin to be rich and it’s not the end of the world if one is poor. Any attempt to address economic inequality is worthless and to be avoided if it can’t keep that in mind.

  4. Art Deco says:

    I would be very skeptical of those NationMaster statistics on crime. (You will note the disclaimer they offer). You might compare murder rates cross-(nationally. If I understand correctly, statistics on murder are not thought to suffer from the reporting deficiencies you have with other crimes.

    It is interesting that Minion is so confident as to the sources of and solutions to cross-national differences in crime rates. He might have noted that the signatures of the criminal population (limited time horizons, low impulse control, use of street drugs) are generally unhelpful in acquiring and maintaining the skills and habits to earn well.

  5. John Henry says:

    For example, take immigration. Every time a poor kid from Guatemala swims across the Rio Grande, inequality in the U.S. goes up slightly. If several million immigrants do so, this increase in inequality is greatly magnified. If progressives really cared about inequality, then they ought to be stridently anti-immigration (as, in fact, were many of the original progressives). But they aren’t. So they don’t.

    I don’t think this paragraph works very well. If the situation of the illegal immigrant improves after crossing the river (and the immigrant is reasonably well-positioned to determine that), then global, rather than national, inequality has been reduced. After all, as they are kind enough to remind us incessantly, good progressives are internationalists, not nationalists.

    Btw, I thought this line was great: “A society where everyone is starving to death is highly egalitarian.”

  6. Blackadder says:

    John Henry,

    World inequality has been falling for decades.(see figure 3 here) When I point this out, the progressive response is to say that inequality is rising in the United States. Even when progressives do talk about global inequality it is typically in terms of rich and poor countries rather than rich and poor people. So clearly they do think inequality within a country matters. Likewise, all the talk about how inequality leads to crime, tooth decay, etc. only makes sense if you are talking about inequality within a given society, rather than worldwide inequality.

  7. Blackadder says:

    Also, Mexico’s per capita income is above the world average, so it’s not clear that immigration from Mexico to the U.S. would reduce world inequality, and it certainly would not do so if you were looking at the gap between rich and poor countries, rather than rich and poor people (which is what progressives typically do).

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