10 March 2004

I knew I smelled a rat

Brad DeLong has a terrific radical critique of a rhetorical device that has dogged my steps in countless discussions about social democracy.

He (falsely) sees the debate between those who advocate equality of opportunity and equality of result as an intellectual battle to be settled by who has the better ideas. I think that is not what it is. I think it is something very different.

I first ran across the distinction between the (good) people who believe in “equality of opportunity” and the (bad) people who believe in “equality of result” when I was working my way through the 1960s and 1970s writings of Irving Kristol. It seemed to me that in so defining the issues Kristol was doing a masterful job of preparing the ideological terrain, and that virtually anyone who then entered that terrain was doomed to almost certain complete defeat.

In Kristol's conceptual vocabulary, the pinning of the label “equality of result” on the left was intended not as an intellectual argument but as an ideological police action. The point was to erase any difference between the tamest of levelling social democracy and High Maoism: even if it was an unrealistic political prospect now, those who wanted a progressive income tax were committed to a long-run future in which everyone ate the same meals and wore identical overalls or Mao jackets. In truth, nobody in the West ever believed in “equality of result.”

There's lots more. If you like this sort of thing, do go read it all. Then go check out what the Decembrist has to say about how slow hiring in the labor market reflects a breakdown of the liberal social democratic order.

Government, under the liberal consensus of the New Deal through the 1970s, did not redistribute income. Rather, government's greatest achievement was to create SECURITY — the kind of security that created the opportunity to join the middle class.

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