Why Flee Equality?
EspañolWhen discussing the exodus of peoples from communist regimes such as Cuba’s, it is common practice to describe their escape as a flight from oppression, or a search for freedom.
These labels are evocative and correct, but in order to deepen our understanding of the root causes for this migration, it is also helpful to think of it as a flight from equality. Fleeing equality is a provocative description that also contributes intellectually to our current political discussion of inequality.
Collectivist ideologies are based on the idea that an individual’s life does not belong to the individual, but to the society to which he belongs. The individual is not recognized as having any rights, and must forgo his values for the group’s “greater good.”
Communist thinking identifies the collective as the central unit of moral concern. In the collectivist view of morality, man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy.
In contrast, classical liberalism holds that each individual is morally an end in himself and has a moral right to act according to his own judgment free from government’s coercion. In this way, individualism has driven innovation, the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and the most inspiring explosion in wealth creation and poverty reduction the world has ever witnessed.
Notwithstanding its unparalleled track record reducing poverty, individualism — which is essentially our quest for personal freedom — has been castigated by collectivist thinkers as a selfish philosophy to be replaced by state-imposed egalitarianism. And yet, it is precisely that forced equality that those fleeing communist societies seek to escape. Freedom is individual, not collective.
Cubans fleeing that tragic island have already experienced the devastating moral and economic consequences of collectivist policies that seek to craft an egalitarian society — a failed experiment that sought to create a “new man” that would be communal in outlook and sacrificial for the common good. That experiment resulted in an economically bankrupt dystopian society featuring enormously repressive social-control systems and a government with unlimited power over its citizens.
To be clear, the equality that millions flee from is the equality of economic outcomes imposed by the ruling class. They reject the egalitarianism which, in some ways, underpins calls for income redistribution in the United States. Income redistribution proponents fail to acknowledge that when we confiscate a person’s wealth, we directly violate his freedom.
It is not callous to explain that, by definition, at any given time in a free society, 20 percent of the population will be in the lowest quintile of income (the poor), and 20 percent will be in the highest quintile of income (the wealthy). But in an expanding free-market economy, income will increase for both quintiles. Yes, the rich get richer, but so do the poor.
Just as importantly, in a free-market system, the populations of both quintiles are constantly changing. Studies of income distribution in free-market societies reveal a remarkable degree of income mobility with individuals moving up and down in the income distribution scales as their circumstances change. That is, the quintiles will always be filled by someone, but not always by the same people. Free-market societies offer the opportunity to escape the equality imposed by collectivism.
Thus, one of the attractions of free societies is that they are characterized by what sociologists label as “circulation of elites,” where no one is kept from entering the ranks of the economic elite. Economic elites in market societies are always open to new members, where elites in other societies tend to be static, resting on military power, group membership, or family connection.
Examples abound in market societies of individuals who left behind countries where markets are severely restricted or hampered by special favors for the politically connected, and in one generation have succeeded in joining the upper quintile. Miami showcases the Cuban example.
As we embark on efforts in the United States to redistribute wealth by government edict, it is worth understanding why people flee the equality we are trying to bring about. Social scientist José Benegas defines slavery as the 100 percent expropriation of an individual’s labor. This definition reminds us that appropriating coercively any portion of a person’s income is partial slavery.