Our old friend Max Borders pens this Freeman article with some interesting observations about those obsessed with the income gap between the rich and poor. Max argues that a certain segment of the population is more concerned with closing the income gap rather than policies that would actually make the poor better off. He calls this group, exemplified to a certain extent by the Occupy Wall St. crowd, as “atavists.” He also challenges readers to a thought experiment, asking if they would prefer policies that reduce the income gap between the rich and poor or policies that would make everyone better off, including rich and poor.
Concern about the conditions of poor people is not the same as worrying about how much rich people have. Our thought experiment teases out this difference. More straightforwardly: Would you improve the conditions of the poorest people modestly if it meant making the top 1 percent richer? “No” suggests one cares more about what the rich have than what the poor lack. An Atavist’s primary concern is equality of outcome.
Many self-styled “progressives” fall into this atavist category that Borders describes. They couch their rhetoric in concern for the poor, but couldn’t care less about actually improving the lives of the poor. Rather, their primary concern is to harm the rich, and thus bring everybody’s living standard down to the lowest common denominator under the guise of “equity.”
Their motivation is not concern for the poor but pure bitterness toward those that dare have more than others. As Ludwig von Mises put it in his 1972 book The Anti-Capitalist Mentality: “…the ideas of the immense majority of ignorant people are exclusively driven by the most powerful human passions of envy and hatred.”
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