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However, that is not the argument presented by most economists, who have in general tried to make the case for liberal, contractual systems, and, indeed, for wealth differentials and private property, in terms of the return to the individual within their own lifetime. Such economists say, for example, that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. This a terrible error, for as we have seen, such an argument can convince no one, not even those proposing it. It is obvious to all that wealth differentials do as a matter of fact and in truth damage the short-term interests of less wealthy individuals. Of course, it is true that these short-term harms may be to some degree offset by an increase in absolute wealth and by rising incomes, but if the differentials remain or increase they will continue to stimulate resentment and spite.

However, greater societal resilience yields enormous dividends for the long–term interests of the individual, through its offspring and its relatives. But economists have shown little interest in these temporally extended and extra-personal aspects of self-interest, and so have missed the only argument in favour of inequality that is likely to have any deep purchase on the minds of all men and women.

While the short-run cost of this benefit is not trivial, and the suppression of resentful and malicious feelings towards successful individuals adjacent to us is painful, difficult and hardly ever attained in perfect form by anyone, the argument asks, in an overwhelmingly reasonable way, for self-sacrifice in one department in order to exercise familial love in another. The human mind grasps this point easily, and it is easy to demonstrate — because it is true — that while the striving for pre-eminence, the competitive investigation of the world’s possibilities produces winners and wealth differentials, it also delivers rising incomes for all, and, crucially, greater aggregate wealth. If an individual wishes for his or her direct and indirect descendants to live in progressively richer societies so that they are as safe as may be from natural disasters, from earthquakes, hard winters, crop failures, tidal surges, pandemics, as well as secure from attack, then they must suppress their short-sightedly selfish desire for equality.

But anyone making the argument must understand that this genuinely is a sacrifice, for our instincts are correct, and it is fruitless for economists to pretend otherwise. The suppression of resentment is a classic moral act, though not in the simple sense an altruistic one, for we may ourselves benefit tomorrow, and will very probably benefit via our extended family.

However, it certainly harms our interests in the short run. The rich secure the future of their own immediate families to a greater degree than do others, and consciousness of this fact is painful for those less able to do so.

How tempting it is, therefore, to desire laws that restrain an individual’s adventures and make incomes level. John McDonnell is only the latest evangelist for this beguiling view. How tempting it is, furthermore, to misrepresent this levelling as a common good and in the interest of all. In fact, and on the contrary, the truth is that egalitarianism, collectivist Corbynism for example, serves the short-run self first and foremost and is actually positively harmful to the long-term interest of our intermingling descendants in the future, which is where we find the most profound common good known to man.
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Lawrence James
July 7th, 2018
5:07 PM
'Laws that restrain an individual's adventures' . . . eg the outlawing of the slave trade, the banning of the adulteration of food and legislation which insists upon safety in mines and factories. Victorian laws framed in the knowledge that adventurous capitalists could never be trusted.

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