The Incompatibility of Economic Equality, Individual Freedom, and Civil Peace

Here’s the abstract:

Political philosophers have doubted the compatibility of various major values, such as equality and freedom. Ethnographic and historical evidence has indicated the presence of (1) economic equality and individual freedom in the absence of civil peace in segmentary societies based on self-help; (2) economic equality and civil peace in the absence of individual freedom in corporate societies; and (3) individual freedom and civil peace in the absence of economic equality in mercantile and capitalist societies. However, little if any evidence has documented all three–economic equality, individual freedom, civil peace–in stable coexistence. By way of delineating the relations between among the values in question, I offer “The Iron Law of Politics,” which asserts that economic equality, individual freedom, and civil peace cannot all exist simultaneously in any society, although any two of the three can.

Cheery thought, eh?

The source is Philip Carl Salzman, “The Iron Law of Politics,” Politics and the Life Sciences 23(2):20-39. 2005.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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9 Responses to The Incompatibility of Economic Equality, Individual Freedom, and Civil Peace

  1. Scott Hanley says:

    Should i read this, or just let you do my reading for me? My first thought is that the abstract describes analog processes in digital terms: equality is either yes/no, liberty is either yes/no, etc. Does the analysis do a more rigorous job dealing with these fuzzy concepts?

    That seems important to me, simply because I hardly expect to enjoy a world where none of my values ever conflict or have to be compromised to some degree.

  2. I wonder what Hegel has to say about this.

  3. Dr X says:

    Ditto Scott, particularly as it applies to economic equality I’m still not sure exactly what that is, but it certainly isn’t close to binary.

  4. ppnl says:

    (1) economic equality and individual freedom in the absence of civil peace…

    Everyone is dirt poor and free to run for their lives in any direction they choose?

    (2) economic equality and civil peace in the absence of individual freedom…

    The government that can guarantee total economic equality pretty much rules out freedom.

    (3) individual freedom and civil peace in the absence of economic equality…

    As long as a minimum level of goods reach most of the people. Otherwise they will kill the rich bastards and we will be back at 1.

    I have to agree with the comments about the assumed binary nature of the values. Only the sith deal in absolutes.

  5. Matty says:

    (3) individual freedom and civil peace in the absence of economic equality…

    As long as a minimum level of goods reach most of the people. Otherwise they will kill the rich bastards and we will be back at 1.

    I’m not sure a minimum level is enough, you also need at least in modern society some opportunity to change your economic position. I’ve been thinking about this recently and there seems to be a problem with keeping civil peace if you have a significant number of people who feel they are not part of the same society as others even if in absolute terms they have material security. Put another way people get angry when they see that luxury and power belong to a club they feel they can never join.

    The issue of course is what happens then, in Tunisia and Egypt the ‘outsiders’ discovered democratic ideas and political protest, in London where they knew that elections change little they discovered that getting the luxuries you want is easier in a riot, FSM help us all when a crowd of people who feel outside society discover real political or religious fanaticism.

  6. Lance says:

    No utopia for you!

  7. Dr X says:

    interesting to compare gini and economic freedom rankings.

    Of course, the determination of these rankings can be questioned, but it is interesting to see that there are countries that are ranked higher than the US in economic freedom, but considerably with lower GINI.

    I use economic freedom because (I think), at least with respect to First World nations, restrictions on economic freedom are often the more prominent areas of interference with individual freedom. (except Singapore Hong Kong).

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html

    http://www.heritage.org/index/Ranking

  8. Dr. X says:

    Sorry for going OT. Couldn’t find any contact info. I just wanted to share a link to an article I found interesting over at Thoma’s blog.

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2011/09/new-old-keynesians.html

  9. James Hanley says:

    Hey, folks, unfortunately I haven’t had time to read the article–it’s currently in my large and growing “to read” pile. I just thought it was an interesting abstract. As to whether the author uses binary values, sometimes you need to for a first pass at something as a way of making it tractable. Sure, it’s imperfect, but it’s no less imperfect than fuzzy terms with no clearly defined category breaks. Still, since I haven’t read it, I can’t say whether his use of them in this case would satisfy me or not.

    But I think it’s interesting because I know a lot of people who do want civil peace along with economic equality but without putting too much hindrance on economic freedom (that’s why they’re called liberals, not commies).

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