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Monday, November 7, 2011

F.A. Hayek on Equality: Equality Before the Law is the Only Equality Achievable in a Free Society.

F.A. Hayek on Equality:

I've been saying for a while now that equality before the law is the only equality achieveable in a free, equal, and just society that protects the rights of the people, and that they only way to achieve material equality is through unequal, unjust, and harsh, discriminatory coercive measures, both by private citizens and the public state/government.  I now find a political thinker and economist (also a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) who shares my exact same sentiments, and explains these sentiments much better than I have.  And I agree whole heartedly with all that Hayek has to say below, and what's interesting is that I came up with these ideas before I had even heard of Hayek, let alone read his material, all from reading Classical Liberals of the 18th century!  Please read what F.A. Hayek has to say on equality in the following paragraphs:

"The great aim of the struggle for liberty has been equality before the law.  This equality under the rules which the state enforces may be supplemented by a similar equality of the rules that men voluntarily obey in their relations with one another.

Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty.  Not only has liberty nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects.  This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.

As a statement of fact, it just is not true that 'all men are born equal.' We may continue to use this hallowed phrase to express the ideal that legally and morally all men ought to be treated alike.  But if we want to understand what this ideal of equality can or should mean, the first requirement is that we free ourselves from the belief in factual equality.   

Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either the one or the other, but not both at the same time.  The equality before the law which freedom requires leads to material inequality.  Our argument will be that, though where the state must use coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for further and discriminatory coercion.

Our objection is against all attempts to impress upon society a deliberately chosen pattern of distribution, whether it be an order of equality or inequality.

If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or a more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable.  But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.  One may well feel attracted to a community in which there are no extreme contrasts between rich and poor and may welcome the fact that the general increase in wealth seems gradually to reduce those differences.  I fully share these feelings and certainly regard the degree of social equality that the United States has achieved as wholly admirable.

There also seems no reason why these widely felt preferences should not guide policy in some respects.  Wherever there is a legitimate need for government action and we have to choose between different methods of satisfying such a need, those that incidentally also reduce inequality may well be preferable.  If, for example, in the law of intestate succession one kind of provision will be more conducive to equality than another, this may be a strong argument in its favor.  It is a different matter, however, if it is demanded that, in order to produce substantive equality, we should abandon the basic postulate of a free society, namely the limitation of all coercion by equal law.  Against this we shall hold that economic inequality is not one of the evils which justify our resorting to discriminatory coercion or privilege as remedy."


F.A. Hayek, "The Constitution of Liberty," 1960, Univeristy of Chicago Press, pg. 85-88.

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