Equality, liberty, and efficiency – finding a balance

Our society has skyrocketed in efficiency. I see this efficiency and how it’s been a long-time in the making. I also see in politics how the left-right arguments tend to highlight a supposed battle of equality vs liberty-and-efficiency. How, if at all, does liberty and efficiency go together nowadays, and how does our prioritization of efficiency impact equality?

I think our preference for efficiency has led us to an imbalanced state. In mainstream tendencies, I see that we prioritize efficiency highest of all. Because of this, equality has suffered, and even liberty is at loss; concentrating power in few makes it more difficult for the many individuals and common goods to reach real opportunities and to contribute to their personal and our collective potential. What kind of liberty do I have in a setting rigged[1] by powerful few, keeping their own high-and-mighty interests & direction in mind? What kind of liberty can both my neighbors and I enjoy, if we found our success in debt-based finances[2]? Though I hear folks claiming to fight for liberty by supporting high prioritization of efficiency, I see the preference for extreme efficiency breeds an authoritarian oligarchy, destroying liberty in the same breath as it blocks equality; destroying our common resources and environment in the same breath as it blocks the human spirit.

Liberty is something important in the middle I think. In libertarian philosophy there are subsets which sway to the left, favoring equality, and subsets which sway to the right, favoring efficiency. What is the middle ground? In the United States, we are familiar with the word as we pledge our allegiance “…with Liberty and Justice for All.” How can we move in this middle way?[3] The last word of that pledge is “All.” The core value of equality comes from that word “All” and its meaning, and it fits naturally in a saying calling for liberty and justice.

Statue of Liberty with Sunset (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BAI_wySCcAEOgaK.jpg)

Just as there is this imbalance toward efficiency, we can also be imbalanced toward equality. What that would look like, I’ll leave mostly to your imagination. I will say that there are historic examples of societies highly prioritizing economic equality and in-turn yielding authoritarian governments. Efficiency has its place too – it is a physical imperative that we maintain some degree of efficiency, lest entropy and time devour us. Too much priority in that direction can lead to authoritarian government[4] as well. There is a middle way, but as John Adams said “…in politics the middle way is none at all.”[5] I think like a breathing lung, the key is not to find stillness in the middle, but to find a solid and steady spot in the natural vibration between poles of full and empty – no breath too deep or held for too long, and vice versa…just the right balance of efficiency and equality, in and out, in and out, to power the beating heart of “…Liberty and Justice for All.”

To balance things out we must observe our current condition and values, and given our imbalance toward efficiency, we need to give more weight to equality in order to find that sweet middle ground. I have heard arguments against (economic) equality, complaining that things like increased taxation and social services or minimum wage are robbing the average Joe so some schmuck shmoe can live better for nothing – I argue that this is a misunderstanding of our situation: given our current condition, it isn’t the weakest we’ll do well to look at as if max efficiency is our only concern, it is the most extremely polarized and unjustly powerful who we’ll do well to concern ourselves with if we value equality and liberty. Taxation and social services, getting big money out of politics – these are not unfair uplifts but are quite reasonable ways of bringing the excessively wealthy down-to-Earth. By leveling the playing field and creating more equal conditions for all to try to succeed in (again, much more work to be done in that regard leveling the peaks than raising the valleys), we also lessen hindrances to liberty which emerge from an oligarchy maintaining and elevating their status[6].

For the sake of liberty and justice for All – for our common goods and the human spirit – I hope we can identify our imbalances and look at how to find more stable ground. I see that stable ground as a place with more true equality of opportunity, where we see one another in a more coherent way on a more level playing field, and where we value one another in a way more in tune with empathy than efficiency. I believe that in general giving higher priority to equality will help shift our perspectives and habits to live more content and overall productive lives (in forms of wealth far more resilient than $ – see [2]), and we will begin to restore liberty, and justice, for All.

~~~ and as I set this writing to sea, I realize there is so much more to study & see [7] ~~~

  1. Lots of talk about ‘rigged’ this-and-that given some political & economic situations in the U.S. & U.K nowadays. To clarify what I mean when I say rigged here, please consider this definition (first one from a Google search) with some analogous thinking:

    make (a sailing ship or boat) ready for sailing by providing it with sails and rigging. synonyms:equip, fit out, supply, furnish, provide, arm ex:”the boats were rigged with a single sail”

  2. Wealth itself, in terms of the forms of capital it commonly takes, is also imbalanced. This may go hand-in-hand with the imbalance favoring efficiency. Though there are many forms of capital, we focus efforts on financial capital. Why is this? Perhaps it is an insatiable necessity of our system founded on debt.
  3. I say liberty may be a key in the middle, because this is what I observe in nature – it, along with incomprehensible justice, is essential and enforced in the wild by Mother Nature and Father Physics. It begs the questions, though: What does equality, or a lack thereof, look like in nature? What is efficiency, or a lack thereof, in nature?
  4. Authoritarian government – what’s so bad about it exactly anyway? How close or far are we in relation to it?
  5. John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, said a number of philosophical things – he was a pretty philosophical politician. Here’s another quote for ya:

    Metaphysicians and politicians may dispute forever, but they will never find any other moral principle or foundation of rule or obedience, than the consent of governors and governed.

    People power ya!

  6. How does the super-rich getting richer hinder liberty? Many problems of social, environmental, and economic justice are connected with wealth and other related forms of inequality. Here’s 1 article on that (and an alternative link to the same article: Laurent, E. (2014) Inequality as pollution, pollution as inequality).
  7. Additional Qs to follow-up on which emerged out of writing this:
    • What is the role of debt in our imbalanced tendency toward valuing efficiency over equality?
    • How does debt affect liberty?
    • The word Justice naturally comes up throughout this. What is the role of Justice in considering equality, liberty, and efficiency? Ties closely into considerations of ethics.

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