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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Equality Before the Law or Equality of Outcome?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Equality Before the Law or Equality of Outcome?

Anatole France (1844-1924) throws a jab, or maybe a haymaker, at market based economies and the law that undergirds it in his novel, The Red Lily (Book 1, Chapter 7).

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

How would I respond as an economist steeped the tradition of Adam Smith?  Wealthy societies are based on equality of process including equality before the law, and not on the implied equality of outcomes.  Taking earnings from one person or group to give to another weakens incentives to produce of both.  Market based economies do produce enormous disparities of outcomes but where do the poor fair better? 

I doubt that my comment would leave Anatole France speechless.


  1. I have a comment on this statement: "Taking earnings from one person or group to give to another weakens incentives to produce of both." If you take from a person maybe it will force them to realize that the incentives are only priviledges. It may also put them in the shoes of that poorer person and make them realize they are not the only one in the world. Then again it may weaken the incentives as you have said. This is Matthew Kent

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  3. The poor are poor for their own reasons. You never see the poor fairing better, because those that do are no longer poor. Man builds his own wealth, he should not simply have it handed to him. Our nation was built on the idea of making your own fortune. In order to succeed, you must be willing to work hard for your money. In today's society, people expect things to be handed to them; it just doesn't work like that.

  4. We have all heard the term life is not fair. LIFE IS NOT FAIR!! Equality, or the equal division of prosperity among all members of society, will never truly exist. When the law takes from the rich to give to the poor, it reduces efficiency within society. Why would you want to work harder to have more taken away from you? There are jobs out there for the poor to better themselves. It might not be exactly the ideal job, but it pays money and earns money that the government would not have to pay out. I believe that those who make extreme amounts of money should pay their fair share of taxes. At the same time, I do not believe in paying someone unemployment just because they don’t want to flip burgers at McDonalds, or don’t want to clean toilets. If you really wanted a job, you would do whatever is necessary to support you and/or your family.
    ~Suzanne Goff

  5. Katie Cawthon2/9/10 9:53 PM

    Personally, i think the poor are poor because they chose to be that way. Everyone has the choice to either make something of their life, or to sit around and waste their life away. I understand that giving to the poor maybe seems like the right thing to do, but is it really our place? We who worked so hard to get to our standard of living? Money isnt everything though. But then again i might think differently if i were in a poor man's shoes.

  6. Kimberly Farias5/9/10 1:10 AM

    I don't believe the poor will fair better in anything unless they do something. Most of the time people are poor because its their faults. So, people aren't going to like seeing their money go to an unknown homeless person when they could of bought food for their own hungry kids with it. Maybe they should just make the really wealthy give to the poor instead of everybody.

  7. Nora Long said...
    In my opinion, taking from one to give to another will not create balance. America is a place of opportunity. The poor has a choice to better themselves. Why should the government keep heavily taxing the rich to divide among society? Businesses gets taxed heavily and if they can't make a profit they will not produce jobs. I think we are in this mess because we keep taking from those who prosper and keep giving it to the poor.

  8. Jeff Landon5/9/10 5:40 PM

    My opinion is that people need to work for what they have. Everyone faces tradeoffs throughout their lives. Some people choose to work hard and work long hours and in return often make more money. Others choose not to put forth that time and effort and are therefore poor. We can not give wealth to those who have chosen not to work for it or we will corrupt our economy, because why would anyone work if can can get money for free.

  9. Anailia Cuellar-Saens5/9/10 6:10 PM

    My personal opinion is that getting from the rich on what they have worked for and giving to those that choose not to work for anything does not creat equality. If the government takes something from one person rich or poor they should take that same amount to another person with different circumstances. The poor that recieve from the rich do not even try to better themselves because everything is given to them which is a major issue. Why give something to a person when they do not even deserve it or worked hard for it?