The fact that our production is a margin on the production of society as a whole (this network of labor) leads us necessarily to egalitarianism in economics, that is to say some form of equality of outcomes (to be contrasted with equality of opportunities, which is a capitalist conceit). This makes sense if we look at the justifications for inequality of outcomes. People will argue that, say, one person deserves to be paid more than another because they contribute more to society. First of all, the basis of capitalism is that value is subjective, therefore such a statement reduces itself to saying that one person deserves to be paid more because they are being paid more. But more importantly, that contribution itself depends on the labor of society as a whole, therefore the value of one person’s contribution is almost completely the result of everyone else’s contributions, making them for all intents and purposes equal.
Furthermore, each person’s labor is as essential as everyone else’s, nullifying the belief that their contributions are unequal. One can say that a surgeon (U.S. median salary: 68.98$/h) saves lives, while an automobile mechanic (U.S. median salary: 16.43$/h) “only” repairs cars, but by no criteria can we say that the surgeon contributes more or less to society (or for that matter, contributes more or less than a star baseball player who makes thousands of dollars per hour). What we can do is point out that both the surgeon and the automobile mechanic are essential to each other as surgeons and automobile mechanics. The fact that their services are rewarded with more or less money in a capitalist economy merely indicates that their labor is socially necessary, not that one form of labor is more or less necessary than another; their respective hourly wages are actually the product of power disparities all the way down, from the costs of schooling to the degree of concentration of corporate power in any given field.
The same criticisms can be leveled at usury, which is, after all, nothing more than a more unusual way to distribute resources unequally, as the money used for usury is going from someone who is trying to fulfill a need to someone who can already fulfill it. Their production is only a margin upon society’s production, and there is no reason for us to say that the person providing capital or jobs is contributing more to society. The capitalists can only say this because they assume that the capital or jobs would otherwise not be made available, when in fact they should be available to everyone in the first place. It is true that the person worked to get that capital, and that work should be rewarded proportionally, but it does not warrant special economic privileges.
As for the second criticism, we cannot even say that usurious jobs are equally essential to society as any other job, since they are in fact not socially necessary at all. While we always need people to keep buildings running, manufacture our units of commerce, and help organize production, we can do without the landlord, the banker and the CEO. We are not interested in measures aiming to keep rents from skyrocketing, or to give workers more input within the corporation, or to make the banking system more accountable. We are interested solely in the abolition of these systems, and redirecting the gargantuan amounts of wasted labor and wasted money that they entail.
In a previous entry I also analyzed the arguments that inequality is justified by differences in capacities, and justified by the need to make people work harder.
As libertarians properly speaking, i.e. people who are against hierarchies and their use of force, we are committed to a certain level of egalitarianism, although that level may vary wildly between individuals. American “Libertarians” and “anarcho-capitalists” tend to be “thin libertarians,” meaning that they see libertarianism as a bare-bones ideology which implies no specific ethical commitments beyond the simplest application of the principle of non-aggression. Left-wing libertarians, on the other hand, tend to be “thick libertarians,” seeing libertarianism as a whole bundle of entertwined ethical commitments (such as anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, feminism, and so on), within which non-aggression is only one strand.
From the “thin libertarian” perspective, any ethical view which goes beyond non-aggression is seen as a violation of rights, especially property rights. Even saying something as non-controversial as “people shouldn’t refuse service to someone on the basis of his race” is seen as an attempt to interfere with the right to choose who one can associate with, and the right to do whatever one wants with one’s property. The “thin libertarians” want us to accept scenarios of widespread racism on the grounds that “being against racism is not what libertarianism is about.” His support for freedom ends where his own “self-interest” ends.
It is therefore easy to see why they become defensive when ethical commitments to egalitarianism are brought up. They firmly believe that any such commitment implies the use of force, just as the State’s own professed social commitments imply the use of force. They blindly follow the rule that “if you are against something, then you must want to use force against it.” If you owe society something, then other people are justified in using force to take it from you, much like how owing taxes to the State means the State is justified in taking it from you by force.
An ethical commitment to egalitarianism is not about anyone owing anything to anyone. It is about acknowledging the facts and aligning society in harmony with those facts, to desire a society which bases its operations on truth instead of lies. It is not even about “the rich” owing anything to “the poor.” It is about building a society where there are no classes of “rich” and “poor,” where resource accretion does not persist from generation to generation, skewing all incentives beyond recognition, making consent and free will impossible. We oppose, not the end results of exploitative behaviour, but the institutions that create and mold that behaviour. These institutions, of course, are constituted of, and supported by, individuals, who inevitably get in the way of change, but we oppose those individuals for getting in the way of changing the world for the better, not because of their specific exploitative acts. Whether the goose or the golden egg came first, the goose will still fight you when you try to snatch it away.
Likewise, we don’t believe that people who don’t “get with the program” should be forced to agree with us. But an Anarchy cannot survive unless people understand the need for equality. As I pointed out before, freedom and equality are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot have one without the other. A society which consciously abandons equality, necessarily abandons freedom along with it. A society which consciously abandons freedom, necessarily abandons equality along with it.
People who refuse to participate to an egalitarian system are free to live outside of it, as long as they don’t overtake that system. If they persist in wanting to live within it, then they must not expect others to respect (legally or otherwise) their non-egalitarian arrangements. Ideally, force should never be necessary, but we know the real world is messier than that.