Economic Theory

Standard socialist fallacies #2: “Ability is power”

I have a friend in New Zealand, whose real name isn’t Tim, and who is unusually witty. This gives Tim great “pulling power”. He is married and virtuous now. But as a younger man, the number and beauty of his girlfriends made him the envy of all his mates.

By the logic of socialists (and left wingers more generally), this was an injustice in need of remedy by the state. They don’t say this, of course, but there is no avoiding the conclusion.

At a recent debate on socialism vs capitalism, Andrew Harrop, head of the Fabian Society, repeated the familiar idea that the rich have more power than the poor. And, because everyone’s power should be equal, he concluded, wealth should be equalised by taxation.

But the power that comes from wealth is the same as the power that comes from being witty: namely, finding it easier to get what you want. A rich man finds it easier to buy a car than a poor man does; a witty man finds it easier to seduce a woman than a dull man does. If the former is an unfair inequality of power, why isn’t the latter?

The answer cannot be that what can be bought with money, such as cars, matters more than what can’t, such as love. Even if cars do matter more than love, which I doubt they do, they can be bought with wit as well as with money. A witty man can get a Ferrari from his rich wife.

Nor can the answer be the different causes of inequalities in wit and of inequalities in wealth. Both often have the cause that socialists take to be the most obvious sign of injustice: namely, inheritance. Just as a man may have inherited his wealth, so he may have inherited his wit – through the genes his parents passed to him and through his family’s culture.

A socialist might argue that differences in wealth and wit are indeed both unfair. But only differences in wealth can be remedied within the bounds of what is ethically reasonable. Taxing the rich is OK. But chopping out bits of the brains of the witty would be a step too far, even in the name of social justice.

Alas, that also can’t explain their different approaches to wealth and to wit. For the advantages of the witty could also be eliminated by tax. If all the beautiful women Tim seduced had been liable to a $5,000 fine, I am sure the rest of us would have done much better.

Or, to address another inequality, suppose beautiful people were fined for reproducing with other beautiful people. This would equalise beauty without doing anything left-wingers do not consider acceptable for the sake of equalising wealth.

Perhaps socialists will one day advocate such policies to equalise the benefits that people enjoy from their variable “personal assets”; socialists have always proved willing to translate their theoretical absurdities into practical atrocities.

But I hope the moral equivalence of differences in wealth and differences in wit will lead them to the opposite conclusion. I hope they will conclude that wealth inequality is not an injustice in need of remedy by the state.

And, if they won’t conclude this, I hope they will comment on this blog to explain where my reasoning has gone wrong.


6 thoughts on “Standard socialist fallacies #2: “Ability is power””

  1. Posted 11/12/2017 at 11:12 | Permalink

    Read Kurt Vonnegut’s short story ‘Harrison Bergeron’ for a futuristic attempt to equalize all possible sources of advantage.

  2. Posted 12/12/2017 at 09:00 | Permalink

    The reason is that the left have been corrupted by a Marxist version of power, where inequalities are always to be explained by economic, class based differences. Max Weber, some 140 years ago, argued that in addition to ‘class’, inequalities in life chances come about through social ‘status’ inequalities and also state use of power. What you are talking about is inequalities that arise through social status (social approval). The witty man is able to gain better life chances through his wit to gain social status in the eyes of the beautiful women. You have given just one small example of the important effect of social status on life chances. The left’s one trick pony of income/class can’t hope to gain insight into the true complexity of inequality in life chances.

  3. Posted 13/12/2017 at 03:43 | Permalink


    L.P Hartley’s novel Facial Justice

  4. Posted 13/12/2017 at 03:56 | Permalink

    J S Mill

    It was the Classical Liberals, decades before Marx, who explained that inequality resulted mainly from state exploitation and who had a much superior analysis of class than Marx, who got his version of it in a confused form from Saint-Simon and muddled it up with capitalism and wealth inequality

  5. Posted 14/12/2017 at 21:30 | Permalink

    As Chris Dillow explains, 1. egalitarians can quite consistently believe in the redistribution of wealth and at he same time be perfectly comfortable with inequalities of wit. 2. rthe author of this post must know this…

  6. Posted 16/12/2017 at 14:55 | Permalink

    I do know that egaliarians can believe that some inequalities matter and others don’t. It depends on WHY they think the inequalities they are concerned about matter. The head of the Fabian’s claimed that inequalities of wealth matter because they are inequalities of power, and power should always be equal. But wealth is power in the same way that wit is. So he is committed to the view that inequalities of wit are unjust. Of course, if you had a different reason for objecting to inequalities of wealth, then you might avoid this reductio ad absurdum. But that is irrelevant. He didn’t give one of those different reasons. He gave the one I have mentioned. Dillow’s post, which goes through many of those different possible reasons, is thus irrelevant.

    @DBB … see my reply to Dillow on his site.

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