Society’s Choice: General Welfare or Equality

07/29/2019Per Bylund

Imagine a social system in which those contributing to the welfare of others are rewarded for it, and those contributing more get access to more resources—so that they can serve us better. Such a system would generate ever more welfare, and for more people.

Then imagine an alternative system under which we institute a central force in society with the object to make sure resources are always equally distributed regardless of how they are used and whether they contribute to welfare.

These are the two “ideal” but contradictory systems, the eternal conflict between economic and political means, that have generated our current state of affairs: a mixed system of social meritocracy and utter force.

Today, there are only limited rewards for serving others, often combined with a penalty for gaining access to resources, and a parallel system imposed on this order, in which those with influence but without the intention or track record of serving others can gain and retain access to resources.

This access is provided by the central force instituted to take resources used to serve us from those doing it better–to give to those who have little or poor track record in this service. The outcome is unsatisfactory for proponents of both “ideal” systems, both claiming the influence of the other system corrupts the workings and outcome of our present social order. And they are both correct: general welfare is hampered by the distortions of redistribution and regulation; equality is hampered by both the limited meritocracy and the distorted incentives due to the availability of non-welfare based access to resources.

The solution to the problems in our current state of affairs is to move to one of the ideal systems: markets or state.

The choice depends on what we prefer–general welfare or equality.

Either one offers only limited ability to satisfy also the other ideal, which is why these ideals are in eternal conflict.