Cohen describes a class of “politically engaged socialist egalitarians… [who] have no strong opinions about inequality at millionaire/billionaire levels. What they find wrong is that there is, so they think, unnecessary hardship at the lower end of the scale.” (31) In holding these views they are hoisted by their own petard. Mises counters their position as follows:
Seen from the point of view of the economically backward nations, the conflicts between “capital” and “labor” in the capitalist countries appear as conflicts within a privileged upper class.
In the eyes of the Asiatics, the American automobile worker is an “aristocrat.” He is a man who belongs to the 2 percent of the earth’s population whose income is highest. (HA, 836)
Who is to say that the present working and middle classes in America are not the millionaires of the days of old? For ours is the age, Mises writes,
in which industry supplies the consumption of the masses again and again with new commodities hitherto unknown and makes accessible to the average worker satisfactions of which no king could dream in the past. (HA, 605)
The European worker today lives under more favorable and more agreeable outward circumstances than the pharaoh of Egypt once did, in spite of the fact that the pharaoh commanded thousands of slaves, while the worker has nothing to depend on but the strength and skill of his hands.
If a nabob of yore could be placed in the circumstances in which a common man lives today, he would declare without hesitation that his life had been a beggarly one in comparison with the life that even a man of moderate means can lead at present. (Liberalism, 22-3)
If so, then there is no non-arbitrary minimum of the wealth of the general public that would satisfy the politically engaged socialist egalitarians and rid their cause of urgency. They are so predictable, we might with good reason sneer. If the standard of living of today’s average worker were to reach the level of today’s average millionaire, and the standard of living of today’s average millionaire were to reach the level of today’s average billionaire, then this apparently happy development would not, oddly enough, cause the egalitarians to shut up. They’ll continue to cry bloody murder even if, as Rothbard puts it, the workers “only enjoy one yacht apiece while capitalists enjoy five or six.”
Consider again the Donald Boudreaux’s thought experiment. Thomas Woods argues that “what would most impress [an ancestor from the year 1700 today] are the aspects of Gates’s life that the software giant shares with ordinary Americans. When you consider the differences that characterized rich and poor prior to the Industrial Revolution, on the other hand, the ‘capitalism-promotes-inequality’ myth is further exposed as the ignorant canard that it is.”
It is clear that our politically engaged socialist egalitarians are inconsistent, but precisely in being politically engaged they rather appeal to the cheap envy of the masses. Apparently, since envy, as a mortal sin, we always will have, we must also forever endure the socialists.