Ben Stein's Diary

A Reason to Be Republican

A reading from Hayek via Bartlett's.

By 10.9.12

So, I am in my parents' apartment at the Watergate. This has been a tumultuous trip. Both Alex and I have been both sick and ill. But Alex has been sweetly following me down the hall at the Watergate when I go to the elevator. That's what my mother used to do. She would trudge behind me silently, get in the elevator with me, just look at me, then go back upstairs with a tear in her eye. This went on for about ten years before she died.

Now Alex -- sometimes -- does the same thing. These acts of love by the women in my family overwhelm me. I am just humbled. Moved deeply.

Then, tonight, to make matters worse, I talked to a dear pal of years ago from Hollywood. She was incredibly good to me for decades. Now, she has COPD and she says she has six months more to live at most. I am overwhelmed, once again. This is a truly great woman.

But right now, which is Sunday, I am looking in my favorite book, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, for a quote by Hayek about how you cannot clearly associate economic effects with economic causes because so many different circumstances are at work each time.

I cannot find that quote in this edition -- maybe a 1976 edition -- but I did find a better one from Hayek which I paraphrase here: the attempt at social justice causes more misery than almost any other factor in human life (again, a paraphrase).

Yes. The Communists. The Jacobins. The Communards. The Maoists. The Khmer Rouge. They all caused untold suffering in the phony and vain attempt to make everyone equal… phony because it was just a fig leaf for terrible people to seize power.

We are not supposed to be all equal. Let's just forget that. We are supposed to have equal rights under law. If we do that, we have done enough. If we try to engineer outcomes, if we overturn tradition to make everyone the same, we ruin society. If we upset tradition to allow for an equal shot at the starting gate, everyone wins, except for the charlatans and would be dictators.

Yet another reason to be a Republican. Give everyone an equal shot -- but do not require equal outcomes or even roughly equal outcomes by law. That way lies catastrophe.

Every soul deserves a shot at a Cadillac, but not everyone should be guaranteed a Cadillac… that way lie the tumbrels and the guillotine.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.