No, They Don’t Really Believe in ‘Equality’

There was a bit of media coverage of Hillary Clinton choosing to wear a $12K Armani jacket while delivering a speech lamenting Inequality.  The price of this jacket, of course, represents an utterly trivial proportion of the wealth the Clintons have amassed from their lifetimes of Public Service.

This little incident serves to emphasize a point I made several years ago in my post Jousting With a Phantom:  leading ‘progressives’ for the most part don’t really believe in anything resembling equality–indeed, quite the contrary.

Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is such an asset.


The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do what those experts have decided would be best.

To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.  The rise of ‘progressivism’ in the modern sense of the word, and the rise of degree-based elitist credentialism, have gone hand in hand.

Conservatives and libertarians, in response to the ‘progressive’ harping on Inequality, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.  These points are correct, but they are insufficient by themselves. It is equally important to point of what is really going on, which is not a search for equality but rather a struggle to redefine the basis of inequality in favor of certain constituencies.  Think of it as a horizontal as opposed to a vertical class struggle.

Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

11 thoughts on “No, They Don’t Really Believe in ‘Equality’”

  1. I had not seen that Drucker quote but I am convinced he is correct.

    I noticed today an interesting new sidelight on the Trump campaign. He knows what the GOPe does and how to stop it.

    I have been shaken a bit by the assault of the GOP Establishment this week, especially Mitt Romney who seems to have adopted a “rule or ruin” philosophy.

    GOPe candidate Senator Thad Cochran -vs- Conservative, grassroots candidate Chris McDaniel was the exemplification of elitist republican arrogance against the grassroots electorate of the party.

    The Washington DC based GOPe, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, ran racist attack ads against their own party candidate Chris McDaniel just to protect their incumbent cohort Thad Cochran.

    After McDaniel won more primary votes than Cochran, a run-off was needed. The GOPe through the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSCC), where Ted Cruz was a vice-chair member, then paid Democrats to vote in the runoff to aid Cochran.

    The racist attack ads, in combination with the intentional voter fraud, was the most visible and divisive tactic in modern republican history. The GOPe behavior showed how they would do anything to remain in power, A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G!

    Trump noticed this, I don’t know how.

    Chris McDaniel’s lawyer in the fight against the GOPe in 2014 was Mitch Tyner.

    Fast forward to the presidential primary of 2016 – The GOPe having recently showcased their intention to run a similar “Mississippi campaign” type of war against Donald Trump in the presidential primary race of 2016. [Story Here]

    So what does candidate Trump do?

    Not only does he show them his awareness of how far they will go, he puts Mitch Tyner in the most visible backdrop of the stage:

    Look at the photo of Mitch Tyner behind Trump How did he know this ?

    What does this indicate? #1) That Trump is 100% up-to-speed, on the people, processes, and plans within the Mississippi political hierarchy, and beyond; and also #2) He’s putting the GOPe on notice….

    ….subtle like a brick through a window when you know what you’re looking at.

  2. David, not sure what happened to Michael’s airport post, but you were correct. I was thinking of British canals:

    Although with roads… we didn’t start publicly funding roads until 1926. Before that they were privately funded such as the Lincoln Highway, the first (as far as I know) cross country highway built in 1913. I know this because one of our local roads in Chicago, Route 14 otherwise known as ‘Northwest Highway’ was one of the first, if not the first, government funded highway.

  3. Yeah, the airport post. I hacked out a reply, bottom line, no, billions won’t make much difference. And no, they don’t want equality. Look at the 1st amendment arguments, google, twitter, facebook as examples. They are tyrants.

  4. To David’s points, I’m reminded of the Hawaiian missionaries of which is was said “They came to do good and they did well” and “When the missionaries came to Hawaii, they came with a Bible and they met the Hawaiians with their land. When the missionaries left, the Hawaiians owned the Bible and the missionaries owned the land.”

    People have begun recognizing that the Progressive mindset is very similar to the Puritan mindset and some are noting that Progressivism is a heresy of Puritan Christianity. There is something quite odd about how the leaders of moral crusades can work it so that their leadership enriches them.

    I feel that I’m stumbling around the edges of something I don’t fully understand, the Grand Unified Theory of the Progressive Mind, but I do sense there is a way to tie all of this together and link it to Haidt’s research on how the liberals moral mind is more narrowly defined than what we see in normal people and yet also amplified in some categories. The importance of virtue signalng might be a crucial component and becomes self-reinforcing when linked with politics being used as a mechanism to advance virtue signaling. The act of voting and making one’s position publicly known is a cost-free way of showing how virtuous one is thus relieving one of the requirement to actually sacrifice for one’s principles. I’m reminded of this bit of research by Stanford’s Shanto Iyengar,

    Are Republicans stingy but principled while Democrats are generous but racist?

    “I wouldn’t put it quite so starkly,” said Stanford University professor Shanto Iyengar. He would prefer to call Democrats “less principled” rather than bigoted, based on his analysis of data collected in a recent online experiment that he conducted with The Washington Post and

    As reported in this column a few weeks ago, the study found that people were less likely to give extended aid to black Hurricane Katrina victims than to white ones. The race penalty, on average, totaled about $1,000 per black victim.

    As Iyengar and his colleagues subsequently dug deeper into these data, another finding emerged: Republicans consistently gave less aid, and gave over a shorter period of time, to victims regardless of race.

    Democrats and independents were far more generous; on average, they gave Katrina victims on average more than $1,500 a month, compared with $1,200 for Republicans, and for 13 months instead of nine.

    But for Democrats, race mattered — and in a disturbing way. Overall, Democrats were willing to give whites about $1,500 more than they chose to give to a black or other minority. (Even with this race penalty, Democrats still were willing to give more to blacks than those principled Republicans.) “Republicans are likely to be more stringent, both in terms of money and time, Iyengar said. “However, their position is ‘principled’ in the sense that it stems from a strong belief in individualism (as opposed to handouts). Thus their responses to the assistance questions are relatively invariant across the different media conditions. Independents and Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to be affected by racial cues.”

    To test the effects of race, participants in the study were asked to read a news article about Katrina victims. Some read a story featuring a white person. Some read identical stories — except the victim was black, Asian or Hispanic. Then they were asked how much assistance they think the government should give to help hurricane victims. Approximately 2,300 people participated in the study.

    Iyengar said he’s not surprised by the latest findings: “This pattern of results matches perfectly an earlier study I did on race and crime” with Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. of UCLA. “Republicans supported tough treatment of criminals no matter what they encountered in the news. Others were more elastic in their position, coming to support more harsh measures when the criminal suspect they encountered was non-white.”

    Liberals are generous with Other People’s Money while conservatives are stingy because they see government as being Their Money. This links together with the data on charitable giving, liberals are stingy because they view their political positions as acts of giving and charity.

    This virtue signaling practice has to have some kind of evolutionary/cultural advantage associated with it. Naked ambition is easily recognized and creates opponents and enemies but naked ambition subsumed under virtue signaling remains hidden in plain sight as the numerous examples given by David illustrate. Some of us normal people see through this and are repulsed by the hypocrisy, but it works on a lot of people who can’t see through the charade.

    Also, the beauty of this strategy is that once established as an acceptable cultural practice even the practitioners don’t have to own up to it, the costs of living true to principles are never put to them in a “bill format” so the feelings and pronunciations and demonstrations are the expected ritual, participating in the ritual earns status rewards, the status rewards serve as a shield to protect self interest and all of this seems entirely natural and not phony at all.

    As an evolutionary/cultural strategy, this is working very well for its practitioners and normal people haven’t figured out a counter-defense. This strategy is subverting all institutions, even corporations focused on maximizing profits are converged. Look at the Trump movement and yet corporations are fearful of pissing off SJWs and liberals and bend to meet their demands while ignoring the demands of normal people and doing so without fear. This mindset is kind of like a Zombie Apocalypse writ large, the infection keeps spreading and we never see gains being lost.

  5. I have been shaken a bit by the assault of the GOP Establishment this week, especially Mitt Romney who seems to have adopted a “rule or ruin” philosophy.

    What I don’t understand is how people within a bubble become so blind to the fact that they’re in a bubble. I can understand rationalizing blindness when the risks of blowback are low, but not when the risks of blowback are high.

    The plutocrats in 1924 saw what happened with the Russian Revolution and so they clamped down in importing communist and anarchist immigrants and made peace with a lowering of income inequality which resulted from closing off the flow of new entrants into the labor market.

    Some guys get it:

    You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash. My friends and I own a bank. I tell you all this to demonstrate that in many ways I’m no different from you. Like you, I have a broad perspective on business and capitalism. And also like you, I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Multiple homes, my own plane, etc., etc. You know what I’m talking about. . . .

    But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

    I see pitchforks.

    At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

    But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

    And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

    If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

    Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument; I’ve had many of you tell me to my face I’m completely bonkers. And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.

    There is a lot of unrest in society. All of those in the non-elite classes are upset for a variety of reasons. Black Lives Matter is upset about black-focused issues, whites are upset about white focused issues, the working class is upset about their issues, and so on, but if there is one common enemy which unites all of these classes it is the elites. And what do the elites want to do? More of the usual.

    I don’t get the mindset of those in the bubble. Do they not see the warning signs or do they still believe that there is more slack in society which can be used to increase their advantage and so the time for restraint, compromise, roll-back is not yet upon them?

  6. “otherwise known as ‘Northwest Highway’ was one of the first,”

    There was also a “Southwest Highway” that is now I 57. It goes to Kankakee. There was also a “Dixie Highway” which went south and east.

    “At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind.”

    It isn;t just the uneducated class. The middle class and upper middle class, like doctors, are losing ground. A lot of the upper middle class status of doctors was not old. Medicare really made doctors prosperous. The trouble is that the recent developments, like Obama acre and other forms of abusive managed care are making them unhappy.

    I benefited from the prosperity of Medicare and insurance but cash practice was a much better system for freedom. A lot of docs are going back to it.

    The “Three Felonies a Day” phenomenon is intense in medicine. Doctors are threatened with huge penalties for minor violations of rules. I was once fined $500 by an HMO for sending a patient to the local lab for a $16 wound culture. After that, I refused to see their patients in that local office. That was 30 years ago and it is much worse now. Some HMOs pay GPs a bonus equal to half of their annual income. The bonus of course is totally dependent of following a telephone book of rules. The rules can be summarized as “don’t admit anyone to a hospital or order an expensive test.”

    I’m sure other middle class occupations have similar issues. Those just happen to be the ones I know about.

  7. “their lifetimes of Public Service”: the American expression “Public Service” is now occasionally cropping up in British English. I welcome it; it’ll help us identify whom to string up, come the revolution.

  8. “I welcome it; it’ll help us identify whom to string up, come the revolution.”

    Me too.

    I remember when the Soviet Union was breaking up and I read that the Spetznaz were making a list of who to string up to lampposts.

    Then Putin took over and they seem OK with that.

    The Democrats are all excited because Trump has expressed some approval of Putin but Hillary was the one with the “Reset Button.”

    I can understand why Russians like him. He is managing decline, however,.

  9. When those who engage in “Public Service” get better compensated than those who work in the private sector,”Public Service” becomes a case of doing well by doing good.

    It has always been an oxymoron for those who are affiliated with elite educational institutions- institutions which routinely reject 90-95% of their applicants- to be concerned about “equality.” Very few students attending such institutions who are concerned about “equality” would be willing to trade places with a community college student. Very few tenured professors at those elite institutions who are concerned about “equality” would be willing to become adjunct professors teaching 5 courses a semester at 3 different colleges for a fraction of what they currently earn. Very few administrators at those elite institutions who are concerned about “equality” would be willing to share the plentiful endowments of their institutions with the taxpayers or with less wealthy educational institutions.

    They want to keep theirs, and increase their power by dictating to the hoi polloi, all in the interest of increasing “equality.”

  10. “seize land” and “impose tolls” kind of like a chartered business that charges for a service? A privately owned road funded by private investors/ donors isn’t an arm of the government.

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