Saturday, April 28, 2007

Egalitarian Pretentiousness

Tibor R. Machan

Though I have told of it before, my brief encounter with the late John Kenneth Galbraith has a repeatable moral. At a small bash in Stanford University’s faculty club I met the inordinately tall Harvard economist/social philosopher and said to him, "Given your passion for equality, would you be willing to swap your Harvard professorship for, say, a year or two at a junior college?" Instead of humoring me with an answer, Galbraith just sneered and turned away in a huff.

Over the years that I have been witnessing well-positioned academics, pundits, and celebrities champion egalitarianism—the economic version of which, by the way, even Karl Marx recognized was a non-starter and must lead to the "socialization of poverty"—I have recalled this episode with Galbraith on numerous occasion. For example, every time I read my copy of The New York Review of Books, which champions egalitarianism in political economy whenever someone broaches the subject—say, by the likes of Kevin Phillips or Thomas Frank—I think of just how snooty a publication that is and how it does not permit into its pages but the most "distinguished" crop of academic and literati figures. (None of my friends, nor I, who have attempted to debate ideas and issues with writers for that magazine, have ever been permitted entry there!)

And there is, of course, Princeton University economist and columnist for The New York Times, Professor Paul Krugman. He has tirelessly wagged his index finger at capitalism, even in its thoroughly watered down and compromised version in today’s America and elsewhere, for failing to promote economic equality. He has demeaned the system’s productivity to no end, besmirched it mercilessly, because supposedly it only raises the overall wealth of the nation without leveling it so everyone is an equal participant in its abundance.

Krugman has bought, hook, line and sinker, into the zero sum conception of economic growth, suggesting repeatedly that when the rich get richer, it must be at the expense of the not so rich. As he put it some time ago, "Although America has higher per capita income than other advanced countries, it turns out that that's mainly because our rich are much richer. And here's a radical thought: if the rich get more, that leaves less for everyone else." That this is balderdash—and an embarrassment, coming from a Princeton University professor of economics—should be evident to anyone who just considers that over the centuries wealth has increased phenomenally without leaving the bulk of humanity behind but, instead, raising the standard of living for nearly all the increasing billions (except the most unfortunate who are left out because of certain natural disasters or medical epidemic, not because others are improving their lives).

OK, let’s leave aside the economic and historical incompetence of the likes of Krugman and focus a moment on their morality, like I tried to get Galbraith do at the little bash at the Stanford faculty club. Why do Krugman & Company, who are enjoying such wealth of prominence in the pages of prestigious publications and at academic institutions—getting their books published far more than many others (who often are far more competent than they) and appearing at conferences everywhere peddling their ideas—never offer to equalize that which they enjoy in such abundance, namely, their professional status? How come Krugman doesn’t offer to bring to Princeton some of the community , junior, and other less than most prestigious college and university economic professors and take their place, at least for a few months or years?
We might as well include among these hypocrites those Hollywood stars and starlets who insist on promoting one or another form of egalitarian public policy, some of whom still think the Soviet economic model was swell except for having been deployed a bit too roughly. Why doesn’t Barbara and Susanne and Tim and Bobby and all the rest swap their various starring roles with singers, actors, actresses, and the rest who are yearning, hoping to rise a few steps above their near-obscure status in the industry?

Of course, there is no sense in anyone desiring that this kind of leveling come about, anytime. And, in fact, in the approximately free, capitalist countries of which American is still the leader—although with likes of George W. Bush at the helm probably not for long—there is a far greater measure of relative economic and professional equality than in any of the top-down managed systems in human history or around the globe. (For if nothing else, in a near-free country like this one, the opportunity to swap positions or to join in with those in higher places is far greater than in any monarchy or socialist paradise like Saudi Arabia or Cuba or North Korea!)

Now and then someone ought to sneak up near a bloke like Professor Krugman and remind him of all this. Such people deserve to be reminded of just how morally two-faced they are, just so some of their hubris might be scaled back a bit now and then.

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