New Castle News

February 17, 2014

Mitchel Olszak: America’s problem with equality

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — What does it mean to be equal in America?

It’s a deceptively complex question, because we know people aren’t equal. Some are more intelligent than others. Some are physically stronger than others. Some have greater artistic or musical talents than others.

Human beings differ in countless ways in terms of assets and abilities.

Yet a fundamental document linked to America’s founding — the Declaration of Independence — holds that “all men are created equal.” So what gives?

The answer involves something best described as essential equality. We, as human beings, are equal in the sense that we are each distinct individuals. And under the rule of law we have crafted in this country, we are recognized as possessing the same rights and liberties as the guy next to us.

It seems a simple enough concept, but talk of equality gives a lot of Americans the willies.

Take the ongoing dispute over gay marriage. Courts are increasingly rejecting state and federal laws that fail to recognize the rights of gays to marry, mainly on the grounds such laws fail to extend equal rights.

When the United States Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, denying individuals fundamental rights because of sexual orientation poses a serious problem.

Meanwhile, President Obama lately has been talking about economic inequality in America, warning it is an issue that must be addressed.

The case can indeed be made that societies with extremes between rich and poor are inherently unstable and ripe for revolution and collapse. But does America come close to fitting that description?

And is it the role of government to do something about it? It’s one thing for government to protect the essential equality of individuals; it’s another thing to develop policies designed to level the economic playing field.

One reason for that is a genuine disagreement over whether government policies along those lines help or hurt. In some eyes, government social programs lend crucial aid to those in need. To others, they are traps that create a culture of dependency on government services.

In a free society, there is room to have serious and sincere debates on such issues and the notion of how to deal with economic inequality. On the other hand, you have Tom Perkins.

Perkins is a billionaire venture capitalist who claims he is concerned American tax and fiscal policies will lead to the “extinction” of wealthy people. There is, by the way, absolutely no evidence this is even remotely occurring.

Speaking recently in San Francisco, Perkins told his audience that voting ought to be based on the paying of taxes. He suggested people should receive one vote for every dollar in taxes they pay.

It’s an elitist notion based on the idea that tax payments somehow translate into wisdom. In reality, there are plenty of rich people who expend considerable time and resources practicing the art of tax avoidance. The federal tax code — crafted mainly to benefit the wealthy — assists mightily in that effort. I can assure you the wealthy in America are not suffering.

But we can at least be grateful to Perkins for demonstrating that having money isn’t the same has having common sense.