WHY AN EGALITARIAN SOCIETY IS
MUCH BETTER THAN ONE
BASED ON CLASS INEQUALITY
by John Spritzler
As economic inequality has become—finally!—a topic of mainstream public discussion (thanks in large measure to Occupy Wall Street), apologists for capitalism and economic inequality have felt it necessary to defend that inequality with every argument they can come up with. All their arguments are targeted against the egalitarian goal of abolishing class/economic inequality by making society be based on the principle: “From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need.”
Some arguments say, "Inequality is BETTER than equality"; these arguments are discussed and refuted elsewhere here. It’s the "Some economic inequality is not so bad so there’s no need to abolish it all together" arguments that I will focus on and refute below. Here are the most common ones:
1. So what if some are poor and others rich? The poorest people today are better off (with DVD players and washing machines, etc.) than most of the wealthiest people were in the past.
2. Yes, poor people rise up now and then in protest, and they have a legitimate grievance. But their grievance is NOT that some are richer than others; their only complaint is that they want things like safer working conditions and higher pay and better benefits. They want a better life, which is not at all the same thing as wanting everybody to be equal.
3. Economic inequality is not such a bad thing when one takes into account that people are not necessarily stuck in their place in society their whole life. Poor people often become much richer later in life. Many of the richest people started out very poor, or were the children of rich people who started out very poor.
4. Economic inequality is not really as bad as many alarmists say it is; for example, the alarmists ignore the benefits that middle class homeowners enjoy from owning their home when these benefits aren't captured by money records.
What’s Wrong With the Above Arguments?
The flaw in these arguments is that they are really all beside the point, which is this: in a society with economic/class inequality the haves must treat the have-nots like dirt in order to maintain the inequality, as is both explained and illustrated concretely in “Why Have No Rich and No Poor?” Furthermore, when there is just a “little bit” of economic inequality in a society that approves of such inequality, the inevitable result is that it develops into a society with more and more economic inequality, as is discussed in “Mom and Pop Capitalism.”
The problem with class inequality is not merely that it is unjust (which it certainly is, because the child of a janitor deserves as good and fun and comfortable and secure and healthy and enjoyable a life and standard of living as the child of a doctor or anybody else). Nor is the problem with class inequality that nobody can rise from poor to rich; some do, but so what? And yes, billionaires sometimes make their fortunes from scratch, but so what? And middle class homeowners may enjoy benefits that aren't captured by money records; so what?
And just because poor people often try to improve their condition without specifically demanding an end to class inequality doesn't mean that they wouldn't much prefer to live in an egalitarian society; the main reason people don't demand an end to class inequality is because they think it is an impossible demand to win.
The defenders of class/economic inequality ignore, but never try to refute, the most important reason to abolish it—that it means ordinary people are treated like dirt—because they know that it really does mean that.
The Evils that Class Inequality is the Root of
The other big problem with class inequality, in addition to its fundamental injustice, is that it is the root cause of many evils, some of which are listed here in order from bad to even worse:
#1. Class inequality is the root cause of crime and corruption. A society based on class inequality provides a strong motive for people to do anything--no matter how evil--to get richer than others, because such a society tells people that a person's value is determined by how rich they are. This is why, in societies like ours that tolerate class inequality, people murder their spouse for the life insurance money, or they pay their workers the lowest wages they can get away with, or they sell products to the public that they know are unsafe, or they wage unjust wars, or a million other foul deeds we are all too familiar with, all for the love of money. Only in an egalitarian society will people be able to trust each other, knowing that the other person is not doing or saying something merely in order to get richer at the expense of others.
#2. Class inequality makes genuine democracy impossible. In a society like ours in which money is power and some have a lot and most have little or none, there can be no real democracy. It will be one-dollar-one-vote, not one-person-one-vote, no matter what the law says it is. Money will buy people and influence one way or another, just as water flows to the ocean one way or another no matter what dams are built.
#3. Class inequality gives power to people who use it for immoral purposes. In a society like ours based on money, power can (and inevitably will) be concentrated in the hands of a few, because money is something that can be concentrated in the hands of a few. Furthermore, the kind of power that money confers to its owner is morally very bad; it is the power to induce somebody do something that he or she knows is morally wrong, such as firing a worker who agitates on behalf of fellow workers or laying people off in order to increase profits for rich people or spreading a divide-and-rule lie in a newspaper or covering up an important truth. Money gives its owner the power to make people do bad things they would not otherwise do. In contrast, the power that accrues to a person because of his or her ability to persuade others to do something because it would be good for them or for others--this kind of good power is undermined by the power of money, which in turn enjoys its power because of class inequality (when class inequality is abolished, there is no longer any role for money because the economy is a sharing economy, as discussed here and here.)
#4. Class inequality makes science for the people impossible. In a society like ours based on class inequality, everybody knows that Big Money calls the shots in every area of life, including science. Everybody knows that scientists and doctors are influenced by Big Money. We hear about how medical journals print articles that purport to be independent of any pharmaceutical company but that are actually secretly written by "ghost-authors of papers written by drug companies or their agents" to get doctors to prescribe a drug that they wouldn't prescribe if they knew the truth about how bad or unproven it really was. The poisoning of the drinking water in Flint, MI, required this corruption of science.
Many people are therefore, quite understandably, extremely skeptical about anything scientists tell them. Even when what the scientists say is true, many don't believe it. Does HIV cause AIDS? Does smoking cause lung cancer? Is fracking safe for our environment? Are people causing catastrophic global warming? Anybody who knows how much Big Money controls scientific research cannot help but be skeptical of all such claims.
When there is so much distrust of scientists, people will not do the things that scientists say would be good for them to do. Under these circumstances, science cannot serve the people, as most scientists want it to. Only in an egalitarian society will scientists be able to avoid ever doing the bidding of the very rich at the expense of others and gain the trust of the public so that their scientific knowledge can truly serve the people.
#5. The mistrust by the public of scientists who may be acting in the interests of Big Money is just one small example of the enormous mistrust that pervades our entire society. When a society is, like ours, based on class inequality then people have a strong motive to lie to others, to cheat them and take advantage of them, in order to acquire great wealth and power at the expense of others. In such a society parents teach their children to distrust others so as not to be taken advantage of by the proverbial "used car salesman"; except it isn't just used car salesmen, it's virtually any stranger that one has to deal with in life. Only in an egalitarian society will this wealth-and-power motive for lying and cheating others be eliminated. Only in an egalitarian society will there be a true basis for trusting strangers that one deals with. The advantages--emotionally!--of living in such a society are beyond calculation.
#6. When society is divided into the haves and the have-nots, then inevitably have-nots tend to resent, and be angry at, the haves. Knowing this, the haves tend to fear the have-nots. Fear, anger and resentment pervade all of society--all because it is not egalitarian.
WHAT THE RICH DO TO ENFORCE INEQUALITY IS WORSE THAN THE INEQUALITY ITSELF!
#7. In a society based on class inequality the rich and powerful few must somehow persuade the many at least to tolerate the inequality. The ways that ruling elites do this often involve, in one way or another, inculcating in the many the notion that they are inferior and less deserving than the few. Thus the American public school system does exactly this with high stakes standardized tests designed to have a substantial failure rate no matter how well students learn their lessons. Making people feel inferior and less deserving is a profound attack on their humanity, and it is an essential part of any society based on class inequality. For this reason alone we would be justified in abolishing class inequality.
#8. Perhaps the worst thing that ruling elites do to make people tolerate inequality is to foment divide-and-rule conflict between people along national, race, religious or ethnic lines, using lies and manipulation. Ruling elites want the people they rule over to think that their rulers are protecting them from some bogeyman "real enemy" so they will obey their rulers. To accomplish this, ruling elites lie about ordinary people and manipulate things to create intense fear, distrust and resentment among people.
Thus America's rulers want whites to perceive all blacks as criminals; our rulers go to great lengths to make that happen (the "war on drugs" is one way.)
Often ruling elites orchestrate false flag violence against "their own" people--violence that is designed to appear to be by the bogeyman enemy. 9/11 may very well have been an inside job intended to launch the Orwellian war of social control known as the War on Terror; the FBI has notoriously instigated Muslims in the United States to carry out terrorist violence in order to make Americans fear Muslims so that the War on Terror will continue to be effective in making Americans believe that our rulers are protecting us from the "real enemy."
Most of the horrible ethnic, racial and religious violence in the world is caused this way. Whenever violence against one group of people is carried out in the name of another group it is invariably the case that ruling elites are orchestrating the violence in order to control and dominate people with divide-and-rule. This doesn't happen in an egalitarian society.
All of the above harms due to class inequality contribute to making society worse for everybody--even the wealthier people--as two academics discuss in great detail in a video titled, "Talk - Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett - Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger."