Friday, September 17, 2010

Economic Equality

Read here about how yesterday Obama snapped his fingers, and just like that, everyone had equal income and wealth, while poverty was eliminated.

Okay, so I lied.  So did BHO.

If someone could explain how income and wealth could ever be equal among people who are not themselves equal in most ways, maybe we could make sense of BHO's pronouncements about spreading the wealth around. The lessons of history make it utterly clear that  programs of redistribution don't make income and wealth equal, but they do restrain growth in the size of the economic pie.

Each year I ask students in my Foundations of Economics class to write a short essay that addresses the following questions: (1) is economic equality possible, (2) if it is possible, is economic equality desirable, and (3) if it is possible and desirable, would economic equality be socially just.

Each year, about 95% of the students respond in a similar fashion.  They write (1) no, economic equality is not possible because people have different capabilities and values, (2) no, economic equality is not desirable because to achieve even a poor approximation of it, government must compel those who produce to give what they produce to those who do not produce, which destroys incentives for both those who produce and those who do not, and (3) no, economic equality would not be fair, because robbing Peter to pay Paul just isn't fair.

About half of the college students who write these essays are freshmen; the other half are sophomores with a smattering of juniors.  About 95% of the students voted for Obama.  Given the students' understanding of the impossibility, undesirability, and injustice of economic equality, how could we explain the students' political preferences?

Could it be that a huge majority of young people simply don't know what Obama stands for?  I must admit, I am stupefied by this conundrum. 

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