Hayek on Equality

Inequality is one of the hot topics in economics and politics today.  Thomas Piketty’s bookCapital in the Twenty-First Century, has taken the economics field by storm by documenting rising income inequality using national income data across countries and years. Piketty is a French economist who sold over 80,000 copies in France, but has well-surpassed that number in America. His book has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for 19 weeks and counting, which speaks to the fact that people care about this topic. Inequality by other means, such as marriage inequality, continues to be debated in state and federal courts, while racial inequality with police and police force, as exemplified by the incident surrounding Ferguson, Missouri, is a highly contested issue right now.  With such an important focus on inequality in society today, I want to explore Hayek’s point about inequality:


“From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time” – Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty


Marriage and racial inequality with police force is an equality issue before the law, while income inequality is material inequality.  If we treat income inequality as an issue that needs to be fixed by law then the only way to do that is to have unequal laws since people are different. So, we would be fixing income inequality by creating inequality… in the law. With marriage and racial inequality, equality before the law is wanted, but if we treat this problem as one that should be fixed by material equality then we will necessarily create unequal laws to do so. As a society we must choose–equality in law or material equality. What would you choose?


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