Our View: Equality

Posted: October 10, 2013

Recent commentary by Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, afford us an opportunity to neatly segue from George Will’s column (below) about the transformation of liberalism that started the day JFK was assassinated.

Mr. Will’s thesis, as distilled: Upon the death of President Kennedy at the hands of a “sick” culture (rather than Lee Harvey Oswald), liberalism’s outlook, even its raison d’etre, radically changed, from trying to make people’s lives better to “correcting defects” in the American character. Channeling James Piereson of the Manhattan Institute, author of a definitive book on the subject, Mr. Will calls this new mindset “punitive liberalism.”

There’s much to be said for the description, though we’re not certain the “punitive” proclivity emerged full-blown after the ghastly events of Nov. 22, 1963, but rather was present at liberalism’s — or progressivism’s — initial stirrings. Whatever. There’s no question liberalism’s base (in more ways than one) currency is grievance. It’s not a happy, forward-looking doctrine.

Where does Ms. Mathur’s commentary fit in? In her systematic decimation of a standard liberal trope: “income inequality” — or, more precisely, that the “1 percent” are enjoying their success at the expense of the common man.

“But is that the truth?” she asks. “Or is it simply the case that the size of the economic pie has grown over time, and while everyone is sharing the benefits, a larger share of the benefits is going to the top?”

Thus, rather than taking due notice that Americans, of all income levels, are demonstrably better off now, in terms of material possessions, than they were as recently as the early ’80s, liberals focus on how much more the “rich” possess. This is profoundly un-American. Or, as Ms. Mathur says, “To penalize the success of the rich for some strange notion of fairness is to aim for a fundamentally different kind of equality than most Americans care about.”

In other words, why not focus on equality of opportunity, and not equality of outcome?