1) Who among you favor freedom over equality?
2) Who among you favor equality over freedom?
This is a very important question — one that marks out both the philosophical and emotive differences among factions in NC, the US (and, indeed, everywhere). I want to thank NC Policy Watch for starting this conversation.
Before answering, though, I’d like to point something I take to be fairly uncontroversial: that we (as Christensen did on Cary Parkway) have certain affective responses to inequality in one of the following ways:
a) if I compare my station to yours and your station is apparently higher, I have a propensity to feel envy;
b) if I compare my station to yours and your station is lower, I have a propensity to feel guilt; and
c) if I compare the stations of two relatively unequal people, I may also feel indignation or sanctimony.
The question is: why? Some would argue that this is a moral response and that our conscience directs us to feel this way because there is something inherently wrong with inequality. I would argue that this emotive response is largely evolutionary — particularly given that human beings evolved in a situation in which these responses would have conferred a survival advantage to our forebears. The question about the justice of inequality is not really answered by these emotional responses, forged as they were in the paleolithic furnace during an age when we roved in small, familial clans; an age in which sharing arrangements actually worked as well as self-interest. But to extrapolate such instincts upon the large-scale, contemporary social order is misguided not only from an economic perspective, but within the bounds of justice, as well. Forced redistribution based on guilt and envy, not only takes us from the "I" to the "we" very quickly, but from justice to injustice.
But, more importantly, are envy and guilt virtues to be celebrated? I don’t think so. I live less than a half-mile from the very spot Christensen identifies in his piece. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am surrounded by wealth, but am not wealthy. My wife, child and I live a very modest lifestyle nestled among the rich. I am employed, after all, by a non-profit. My wife has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. One non-profit income will not suffice to allow me to keep up with the Joneses. And yet I will always resist feeling envious of those around me in Cary. Instead, I feel lucky to live in a place marked by such prosperity. While there may be some lucky schmuck in the SUV beside me, I know that wealth as a rule is not created by apathy or luck, but from hard work, specialization, and value-exchanges among people with different conceptions of the good life. My concept of the good life actually keeps me from driving a BMW. Yet I still feel prosperous, and fortunate to live in a place that allows me to work doing what I love — ’96 Mazda Protege notwithstanding.
Thus, in answering Turner’s questions above: I, personally, don’t believe one should value equality over freedom. But more importantly, I don’t believe I am morally justified in making this judgement on behalf of others, and by extention to bend them to my will. Values are inherently personal. When we start to think that there are values (like equality) that ought to extend universally across peoples, we also think that whatever means it takes to implement said values are justified. Thus, egalitarians believe the imposition of their values justifies force and expropriation. I don’t. Extreme examples lie with Stalin and Mao. Milder forms lie with elites in Raleigh or Washington who let guilt, envy and indignation drive policy for everyone, instead of allowing people to find their sense of benevolence within, and to keep the spirit of charity within the breast of the individual.
The lover of freedom, in as much as she can, stops with harming others for the sake of her values. That is not to say there are no circumstances under which harm is required, but that non-harm rules work in tandem with the value of freedom. Freedom of exchange and association becomes the default value that underlies justice, because it does not attack the value of equality. The reverse cannot be true, however. This asymmetry is very real. And that is why the lover of freedom is truly tolerant, truly liberal.
In other words, what’s so great about justice as freedom is that we can still choose to contribute to the betterment of others around us. And while any real freedom doctrine would proscribe the threat of force to create a utopia in which the "right level" of equality prevails, it still allows us dynamically to interact in ways in which the core values of equality – benevolence, charity, social entrepreneurship, and community involvement – are not crowded out by the coercive apparatus of the state.
And that’s why freedom wins in my book.