The reason for inequality

Image: Margerretta


A person subjected to a structural inequality that makes him dependent, a servant or even a slave cannot be free.

Em The rise of the Chicago School of economics and the birth of neoliberalism, Hob van Horn and Philip Mirowski, document the leading role of Friedrich Hayek in the formation of the main US neoliberal matrix. And they cite an interesting remark from the British Ambassador to the US in March 1945: "Wall Street looks to Friedrich Hayek as the richest gold mine ever discovered and they are marketing their views far and wide." The quotation is valid for the intuition that the financiers were finding then and, more and more, a new aggressively formulated liberal reason to attack all those who fought for justice and social reforms. And to ostensibly legitimize the concentration of wealth, profits and income.

Since John Stuart Mill in the XNUMXth century, social inequality generated and multiplied by the capitalist market had been the object of problematization and criticism. A theory of justice, by John Rawls, from 1972, perhaps the most influential work of liberal intelligence in the last half of the XNUMXth century, today should be seen as the last cry of a liberalism that wanted, in its own terms, to be egalitarian. Because the radical neoliberal argument against social justice was clearly and increasingly dominant in Western democracies and in capitalism's own growing divide between the core and peripheries.

Em Analysis of Hayek's critique of social justice, thesis defended in 2019 at the University of Louvain, Simon Lefebvre systematizes the main arguments that would support this concept of unequal freedom. For this new argument, even the liberal proposition of an “equalization of opportunities” of individuals in the market would be contested.

Friedrich Hayek's first argument against social justice concerns the order of language and the possibility of knowledge. To speak in the name of "social justice" would be an abuse of language as there are different notions on this subject. As meaning can only be established by individual action, it is not appropriate to speak of the public interest, the general will and, much less, social justice.

This abuse of language sought to legitimize arbitrary State interventions aimed at distributive justice over the prevailing market rules. Friedrich Hayek formulates here a strictly commutative reason: each one should receive what he gave in return, according to market rules. It would be unfair to decide against the results achieved within these rules.

Even merit, difficult to agree on in a pluralistic society, should not serve as a basis for a residual idea of ​​social justice. Hayek uses a football metaphor here: one team played better than the other, but in the end, for some reason or as a result of luck, another was victorious. Under the rules of the game, this contingent outcome is fair.

But Friedrich Hayek's final argument is a moral one. The appeal to social justice would come from resentment or envy, it would reveal a “morality of the weak”. The one who wins, according to the rules of the market, is the one who deserves the credit.

By this new language of mainstream liberalism, billionaires are the winners. There is no room for guilt, shame or modesty in displaying your triumph. And they must, without parsimony, display their trophies of luxury and wealth publicly, even in a society of the poor.


five lines of attack

This frontal attack on the very civilizing notion of social justice would legitimize five fundamental changes that are at the base of the exponential growth of social, racist and patriarchal inequality in the societies in which we live.

The first of these is in the fiscal order itself: the culture of progressive taxation has shifted to the competitive race for tax exemptions favorable to capitalists. The tax itself began to be execrated, giving ample traffic to the flight of capital to the so-called “tax havens”.

The second was the disruption of the Social Welfare State's budgets through the implementation of new legal and even constitutional parameters for a permanent compression of its expenses. One cannot strictly speak of the search for budgetary balance, but of a financialization of the budget, its functionality for the payment of financial debts.

The third line of attack was against labor unions and the very notion of formal employment and labor rights. Neoliberal culture constituted a whole science, a whole strategy of a “saturation war” in the world of work.

The fourth line of neoliberal confrontation, in general very little known, but with devastating effects, was aimed at deconstructing the so-called development theories of countries with a colonial or even semi-colonial past. A new culture of colonialism was thus formed at the end of the XNUMXth century into the XNUMXst century.

Finally, this new reason for inequality shaped a new tradition of being more free in an increasingly unequal world. The notion of competition at the center replaced the idea of ​​solidarity that supported policies that sought greater social justice.

Friedrich Hayek's "gold mine", after all, turned out to be deeper and richer precisely because it inspired a new era of the reason for inequality.


equal freedom

Em Rousseau and Marx: egalitarian freedom (1982), Galvano Della Volpe sought to respond to the challenge of thinking, in the socialist tradition, the question of the relationship between freedom and equality. He sought a path different from the commonplace of a certain Marxism that, in the face of the liberal apology for freedom, unilaterally positioned itself in defense of equality. Asked about growing inequality in contemporary societies, a neoliberal would argue that he is in favor of freedom and that inequality is an inevitable result of competition within market rules.

The struggle for the hegemony of the socialists against the neoliberal order centrally involves demonstrating that structural inequality of class, gender or racialism impedes freedom. A person subjected to a structural inequality that makes him dependent, a servant or even a slave cannot be free.

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).

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