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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Equality and Inclusiveness

The foundation of the Enlightenment was the concept of equality. It was the revolutionary idea that ordinary men were as able to make decisions for themselves as priests and kings. The "divine right of kings" became the "inalienable rights of man".

Yet, the simplistic idea of equality has ever been difficult to make a reality. In America, the Constitution intentionally disenfranchised all blacks, Indians, and women. It upheld the elitist idea enshrined by the constitutions of the various states that only men of a certain wealth should have any say in politics.

We have made steady progress towards the goal - forging a national consensus on the right of women and racial minorities to vote, striking down laws that witheld equal protections, waging righteous civil opposition to usurous wealth and oppression in the name of general prosperity, equality, and inclusiveness.

There is no mistake, an equality that excludes certain groups is a false equality. It is a not-so-comic attempt to implement the Animal Farm concept of "some people are more equal than others". It is non-sense. Among attempts at this are the claims, in some quarters, that the US Constitution does not guarantee protections for non-citizens. In fact, the only protection citizenship offers through the Constitution is the right to vote. All other constraints are upon the government, regardless of whether or not the object of their action is a citizen or not.

The United States, under President Lyndon Johnson, even became the first to tackle head-on the reality of exclusion through poverty. Johnson's "War on Poverty" is often derided as irrelevant and unsuccessful - but such claims are often made by the same people who now claim there is no need for anti-poverty programs. Such groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Republican National Committee, want to have it both ways. If there is no need, and the efforts were unsuccessful, then what they are really saying is that poverty never existed in America. That, my friends, is patently false.

Economic inequality is perhaps the most insidious of all forms of exclusion. This is because it is the easiest to see, yet the most difficult to reveal. The exclusion of Blacks, Indians, and women all had economic and non-economic factors. It was, eventually, the economic factors that forced everyone to see the wrongness of the situation. The best, most ambitious and brightest woman should not be condemned to earn less than a man who is obviously her inferior - nor should she see her property taken from her because she enters into marriage.

Ah, but this is the way things always have been - and that easily convinces people that it is the way it should be.

Of course, it is a lie to say that an injustice should be perpetuated based on heritage. It is doubly false when the reference to heritage is false.

The single best way to move towards greater equality is to move towards a more progressive tax system. A system where a $20,000 a year household pays as great a percentage of their income in taxation as does a $5,000,000 a year household is forgetting an important lesson in equality: that there are two ways to create inequality.

The first is to treat people different when no difference exists - such as denying Blacks the right to vote or paying women less money than men. The second is to treat people the same despite significant differences - such as requiring low wage earners to pay high tax rates or building a public courthouse with lots of stairs but no wheelchair ramps or elevators.

When the French Revolution found its feet, it was due, in part, to the example of the American Revolution. It is no coincidence that the French rallying cry Liberte', Egalite', Fraternite' is built around the central concept of equality.

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