Review of Yaron Brook’s Talk in Nashville
Last night’s Bastiat Society meeting featured Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute. Mr. Brook is the Executive Director of ARI and has a new book coming out in March of 2016. The book is titled Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality and his discussion was on the same topic.
Mr. Brook’s overall theme was that the culture of this country is one that needs an overhaul. He told a story about an award’s dinner that was set to honor several businessmen that had completely shaped their communities with jobs and a massive economic boost. He mentioned that each man was given about 10 minutes of praise, 2 for their efforts in business and 8 for the philanthropic endeavors. Mr. Brook challenged that arrangement and said that it should have been the other way around. Eight or even nine minutes should have been devoted to their work. After all, even with all of the charitable contributions Bill Gates has provided to the world, Microsoft will be his biggest impact on improving the lives of everyone.
He used words like “evil” and “haters” to describe the cultural contributions of the left. Economists like Krugman and Reich know basic economic concepts. They know that raising minimum wage causes unemployment and disproportionately hurts the poor. In fact, Krugman writes about this very relationship in his text book. They just do not care that their work harms millions of people.
Brook also mentioned Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty’s book is full of empirical evidence that lends support to the left, but economist after economist has shredded these arguments. The real problem for economists is that explaining economics takes time and is rarely simple. Tom Woods frequently uses the phrase “people before profits” to demonstrate how easy it is for liberals to make a case for social policy. The strength of the left often comes from simple phrasing for complex matters and a redefining of the word fairness.
Mr. Brook described the success of the United States and how our fortune stems from our unique definition of fairness. We opted to not use equality of outcome or even equality of opportunity to describe what is fair. Americans chose to use equality of rules and treatment by the state to shape a culture of fairness. Brook pointed out that equality of opportunity is also impossible because each individual has a unique set of advantages and circumstances. The reality of that ideal is an impossibility.
“But the extent to which certain countries were free was the exact extent of their economic progress. America, the freest, achieved the most.” -Ayn Rand
Not only is the definition of fairness we currently use most frequently an impossibility, but it has had dangerous results throughout history. Brook reminded the audience of Pol Pot and his effort to create equality. He moved everyone out of the cities and into the farms of Cambodia to force equality on the people of his country. However, he still found that some were better at farming, or had a college degree, or that some simply outworked others. This led to more inequality. So, he killed off the overachievers, which amounted to about 40% of the population of Cambodia–nearly 3 million people. Despite this atrocity, there are many college professors that espouse the ideas of Pol Pot to this day.
While capitalism isn’t terribly popular right now, it is still important to focus on the free-market and it’s contribution to everyone. Sure, it creates inequality, but it also provides the best life possible for the poor. As a society, we seem to prefer that the poor be poorer because that will also make the rich less rich and close the wealth gap. It is morally better to have a smaller piece of a smaller pie.
We also frequently confuse capitalism with cronyism. Mr. Brook told a story about Bill Gates and his initial dealings with the government after Microsoft’s instant success. The basic idea is that he would leave them alone if they left him alone. However, the government became insulted that one of the biggest companies in the country didn’t have a presence in Washington. In fact, Orrin Hatch pointed this out to Gates. The implication was that he wasn’t receiving the bribes from Microsoft that he thought he deserved. This lead to anti-trust litigation against Microsoft for offering a free web browser with their Windows platform. Now, Microsoft has a beautiful building in DC and all of the right politicians are receiving their proper payments.
Free-market capitalism has always lead to immense wealth for some people. The very best of us under this economic arrangement will acquire a lifestyle that is hard not to envy. However, it is important to remember that this also creates more opportunities for the poor and gives them a lifestyle that is the envy of many others around the world. As more of the world has implemented some aspects of capitalism, they have seen the rewards. China is a great example of how a little capitalism can go a long way. The World Bank has recently forecast that the global poverty rate (those living in extreme poverty) will fall below 10% for the first time ever. This feat would not be possible without the massive wealth created by free-market capitalism.
*This is a guest blog post and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon Center.
The post originally appeared on adamvassgal.com.