If we have moral equality, we must also have ethical equality, that is to say, equality in our social rules. This is also a clear consequence of the universality principle: any rule must be applicable to all people at all places and times, or it is not a valid ethical principle. We cannot, therefore, grant a right to some and not to others. We also cannot grant some people rights on the basis of fantasies or illogic (and we certainly cannot grant them to all, for that would mean the whole society would be grounded on fantasy and illogic, which can only lead to evil on a wide scale).
What are we to make, for instance, of the “right” of the capitalist owner to get other people to sign a contract where they surrender their responsibility for their own production to him? This is pure fantasy. What are we to make of the “corporate person,” which is as make-believe of a person as Santa Claus or Bugs Bunny? These are absolutely incompatible with ethical equality. And we can find these kinds of rules present in any hierarchy that exists, from religion to parenting and everything in between.
If these work contracts are invalid, then the rates they extort are equally invalid. The idea of offer and demand determining wages is just as flawed, invalid and unethical as the idea of offer and demand determining any other prices. A person’s hour is worth no more or less than any other person’s hour and, with modifiers compensating for extraneous costs and expenses (such as the expense of a higher education), wages should be equal for all.
The equality of wages is the most concrete expression of association between individuals. People who are associated together share the work, and therefore share costs and benefits, blows and praises alike. People who reap unequal benefits are no longer associated with each other, for they are committing injustice against each other.
Equality of wages is perhaps the form of equality I have listed here that will be most argued against, and many objections can be raised against it. The labour theory of value and the near-complete dependence of one’s person work on everyone else’s work are two major arguments for it. Nevertheless, let me examine some of these objections.
Probably the major argument is that humans are all different in capacities, and that therefore they deserve higher or lower wages. Proudhon completely destroyed this argument more than a century ago, but sadly it is still a popular bromide, generally backed by a circular argument based on the subjective theory of value (STV).
Saying that inequality of capacities must lead to inequality of wages would only make sense if all work was the same, in which case the person with lower capacities should be paid more (for having to do a work more difficult than he can actually do) and the person with higher capacities should be paid less (for having to expand less effort for the same work). But in reality, the variety of work to be done is as great as the variety of capacities that exist in people’s natures. Since people can always find some work that suits them, or is at least proportional to their capacities, inequality of capacities coupled with a proportional inequality of work leads us back to equality of wages.
Another argument is that in equality of wages there is no incentive to work harder. First of all, it is not clear why exactly we should always want to work harder. Of course one may always choose to do so, but it should not be one of our goals to make our lives more difficult. Secondly, labour theory of value (LTV) does incorporate a certain level of need for efficiency, in that the customer must (subjectively) choose which product to buy, and price will necessarily be a part of that equation. And prices, being based on cost, decrease as efficiency increases, although efficiency is not the only factor involved.
Equality of wages is necessarily linked to LTV, especially since rejecting STV leaves it as the only means of evaluating value. In STV, the value of a product depends on how much the producer calculates he can get away with, and how much the customer is ready to pay for it. This is a very callous, anti-social view of trade, one which is based not on facts but on the urgency of need.
LTV, on the other hand, bases the evaluation of value on the facts of production- costs, expenses and work. These numbers are measurable and provide a stable benchmark that the STV, with its arbitrary standards and arbitrary variability, cannot provide. But most importantly, the result is a price which exploits no one, contrarily to profitable prices, which use needs (even corporate needs, although I don’t believe in the corporation’s legitimacy) to exploit. The idea that no one should be able to exploit anyone else is obviously an egalitarian concept (which we can clearly relate to ethical equality).
So I’ve written on all these various types of equality. What they all come down to is the fact that society cannot exist without the free association of individuals seeing each other as equals, and that we utterly depend on society’s strength. All forms of equality I have listed can be reduced to the principle that human beings must, in the end, be either associates or enemies. They point to human beings who, instead of trying to control and subordinate each other, let things develop naturally, which is not only the only ethical stance but also a much less servile and stressed frame of mind, with no more tension between the individual’s subservience and his human needs.