Giving the game away on the left’s views on inequality

I wrote on Ha-Joon Chang yesterday about his ignorant views on Say’s Law. Now let me turn to his views on inequality which have such a bizarre quality to them that it quite takes the breath away. Chang starts with a joke although it is a joke I don’t think he quite gets.

The peasant Ivan is jealous of his rival Boris, because Boris has a goat. A fairy comes along and offers Ivan a single wish. What does he wish for? That Boris’s goat should drop dead. (p 317)

But to Chang this is only a quasi-joke. It is more a tale of reality from which we should learn. Here’s the section heading that comes immediately after the above:

Ivan is not alone – the pursuit of equality as a driver of human history

And if you think he is being ironic in thinking this is a proper illustrative example of the ethic of equity, it is not in the slightest way part of his nature. He actually thinks that wanting what others have even if they worked for it and you haven’t is reasonable. He thinks it is reasonable for someone to prefer both peasants to be in misery when only one was before. Look what he writes:

Ivan is not alone. In Korea, there is a saying that you get a bellyache when your cousin buys a plot of land. And I am sure many readers know similar jokes or proverbs about people becoming irrationally jealous with other people doing better.

The pursuit of equality is a very natural human emotion and has been a powerful driver of human history. Equality was one of the ideals of the French Revolution, one of whose most famous mottos was ‘Liberté, égalité fraternité ou la mort’ (liberty, fraternity, brotherhood or death).

Although I have seldom come across such a repulsive sentiment stated in such an open way, what is startling is that he gives the socialist game away although in such a sordid fashion that it is almost too bizarre to realise he doesn’t understand what he has said. The others will have to get to him before he reveals too much more. It will have to be explained to him that one is supposed to seek equality because of one’s love of mankind, so that others can share the wealth, not because one is worm-eaten, bitter and envious when it is discovered that someone has more than you do, if only slightly more. He has actually spoken truly, has stated the socialist creed in all its fulness, but it is nevertheless astonishing to see it stated in print by one of the left’s leading lights.

He even goes on to sneer at this famous statement from Milton Friedman which I would have thought was almost a truism:

Most economic fallacies derive from … the tendency to assume there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another. (p 319 – his ellipsis)

This is, Chang says, an example of the belief in “trickle-down” economics, that the productive getting richer by producing things others want to buy helps the poor become better off by selling them what they would otherwise never be able to have.

And this is a man whose specialty is a development economist. If he doesn’t know that the rest of us only because reasonably well off because a few people have become wealthy by inventing products and producing them at affordable prices, he will do only harm in any country he is asked to provide advice. A world authority and at Cambridge yet (but then again, so was Keynes) he seems oblivious to the source of wealth, to why we are all immeasurably richer today than a century ago. An absolute clown but a perfect representation of the belief system of the left.

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