Liberty and Equality: They go Together

It is time for the first reconciliation: it is time for libertarians and leftists to learn to work together. Yes, there are theoretical conflicts between the pure versions of each vision. But in real life, these two visions are dependent on each other!

Liberty Requires Equality

High inequality inspires high envy. In a democracy this leads to progressive income taxes, welfare, socialism etc. The U.S. Founding Fathers understood this, and limited the right to vote accordingly. When the right to vote was restricted to property owners, government stayed small.

But it wasn't necessarily good government! The rich might hold down taxes, but still legislate special privileges for themselves. Southern plantation owners voted to maintain slavery, while Northern industrialists called for high tariffs.

I high wealth gap inspires class envy and class fear. The latter can result in screw the rich jury verdicts while the former can result in excessive police power and restrictions on the right to bear arms.

A neighborhood of paid up homeowners requires less law enforcement than a neighborhood of renters, or a neighborhood of homeowners with a mortgage. Sole proprietorships require less law than corporations.

A society heavy with small business ownership is going to have more voting support for limited regulation than one of concentrated corporate ownership.

Equality Requires Liberty

It is better to be the commissar than the comrade. It is very good to be the head of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. 'Tis but one step below God-Emperor.

Tyranny requires leadership. In a small community, this leadership can be provided by direct democracy (cf. the Puritans). Direct democracy does not scale up, however. Power flows to the executive. More power means more inequality.

If you want more worker control of the means of production, then you need worker ownership of the means of production – not state ownership. And since democracy doesn't scale up very well, true worker ownership of the means of production requires smaller scale enterprises. Karl Marx had it wrong. The eco hippies know better; small is beautiful.

Small scale enterprises require an efficient legal system to cheaply resolve disputes between enterprises, and low regulatory overhead, else you get larger economies of scale.

Any Evidence?

Have a look at the Gini coefficient figures by state from the U.S. Census bureau . (The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality. A higher number means more inequality.) In 1999, Alaska had the lowest value per household (.402). New Hampshire had the fourth lowest at .414. These two states have elected more Libertarian state legislators than any others. Meanwhile, the most unequal state is New York (.499). Washington D.C. was higher yet at .549.

I have not done a full correlation study between equality and liberty. These are but quick observations.

Do note that Alaska and New Hampshire are among the most Georgist states. Alaska gets its state revenues from oil taxes and distributes the excess to its citizens. New Hampshire gets most of its government revenues from property taxes.

Beyond Liberty and Equality

Limited government and a reasonably small wealth gap do much to increase freedom. But other freedoms remain to be explored. Next, the controversial freedom: freedom from everyone else.