Bret Stephens offers Wall Street Journal readers a chilling prediction of the future state of the American union. He takes for his inspiration a 1961 short story from Kurt Vonnegut, which foresaw a future society of absolute equality. (“Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.”)
The year was 2019 and Americans were finally on their way toward real equality. Not just equality in God’s eyes, or before the law, or in opportunity.
They were going to be equal every which way.
All this equality was due to bold new government action. There was the Decent Wage Act of 2017, which pegged the minimum wage to the (inflation-adjusted) average hourly wage of 2016. There was the NEW-AMT, which set a 55% minimum federal tax rate on individual income over $150,000 (or 80% for incomes above $500,000). There was the Unemployment Insurance Is Forever Act of 2018. There was the 2018 De Blasio-Waxman CEO Pay Act, which mandated a 9-to-1 ratio between the highest and lowest paid person in any enterprise.
Happily, none of this harmed the economy in the slightest. Higher minimum wages have “no discernible effect on employment” ( Schmitt, 2013). High marginal tax rates have no effect on productivity and business creation (Piketty-Saez, 2011). Preserving jobless benefits puts money into the hands of consumers and thus stimulates the economy (Zandi, as usual). As for the 9-to-1 pay ratio—that’s just plain fairness, OK?
New rules on income weren’t the only way America was achieving equality. Thanks to the efforts of Attorney General Thomas Perez, disparate outcome lawsuits were changing the country’s public culture in unexpected ways.
For example, the average height of NBA players for the 2007-08 season was just under 6 feet 7 inches. The average American male is 5 feet 9 inches. Patently unequal, patently unfair. Mr. Perez demanded that the NBA establish an average-height rule that would require each team to offset taller players with shorter ones.
Americans quickly adapted to the Midget-Monster rule, as it was lovingly known, though alley-oops were never quite the same.
Another industry transformed by the new rules was Hollywood. For “The Bourne Equilibrium,” Matt Damon returned to the title role of Jason Bourne, a former super-assassin now entirely at peace with himself and the world. For his efforts he was paid $330,000 (or $130,000 after federal, state and local taxes), which is still nine times the salary of the second-assistant key grip. It was a far cry from the $20 million he was paid for the 2007 “Bourne Ultimatum” but, as he said, “it was totally worth it” because he now has no choice but to send his children to public school.