Sunday, April 29, 2012

Freud: "Social justice means we deny ourselves many things so that others may have to do without them as well"

If it were learned that the car driven by the average American is 10 times more likely to burst into flames than the car driven by the richest 1%, what should the policy response be?
asks Holman Jenkins.
Should it be to mandate that cars driven by the rich burst into flames more often?

Income inequality is a strange obsession, at least to the extent the obsessives focus their policy responses on trying to adjust the condition of the top 1% rather than improving the opportunities of everyone else.

Income inequality could be a sign of real pathology in authoritarian societies where entrenched groups use government-granted privileges to protect themselves from competition. By and large, that's not the case in the U.S., where most see the market actually increasing the competitive advantages of the educated, skilled, hardworking and talented.

… For the record, so sensitive are the inequality generalizations to how you define income, and whether household size is taken into account, that the claimed shift toward greater inequality can be made easily to disappear, especially when consumption rather than income is measured.

… One can only wonder how much faster progress on tax reform or school choice would have been if the political capital devoted to income inequality had been devoted to fighting entrenched institutional resistance to useful reforms.

One factor is a certain human soul-sickness that's impossible to put a constructive gloss on. Why is the New York Times disproportionately given over to cataloging the consumption of the rich in a tone even more cringing for its pretending to be snarky? Why do some of our dreariest journalists spend all their time writing about Goldman Sachs, except to associate themselves with the status object they attack in order to raise their own status?

That goes doubly for the inequality obsessives. How society stimulates the creation and distribution of income is an important topic—so important that one could wish it were less infected with the pathology Freud diagnosed as "group spirit" and which he said was ultimately founded on envy.

As Freud put it, "Everyone must be the same and have the same. Social justice means we deny ourselves many things so that others may have to do without them as well."