One Easy Question and Three Tough Ones

Since November and especially since January RedState has been full of ideas for the future, ranging from day-to-day tactical reactions to long-term strategic prescriptions.  Central to the latter has been the necessity for framing our message clearly and attractively.  Many have rallied around “Equality of opportunity, not equality of results” as a slogan that appeals.  I’m one of them.  Those seven words (or five, allowing for the two repetitions) may be among the most valuable we have right now.

But definitions are important.  As are ramifications.

Think back two hundred years, to the mine owner’s ten-year-old son packing his footlocker before heading off to another semester at an expensive school, and a mile away the miner’s ten-year-old son working underground six days a week.  No one here would say those two boys shared equality of opportunity.  Equally no one here would advocate that they should have been forced onto an artificial level playing field.  I think we instinctively understand that somewhere along the curve between then and now, there must have been a satisfactory, real-world sweet spot.  For me, it was maybe in the 1880s.  Child labor had been abolished, there were free schools of decent quality everywhere, and every city and town had a free library.  Retrospectively I would wish for racial and gender neutrality, in which case, overall, that would have been good enough, I think, in a rough and ready, no-crying-in-baseball kind of way.

So, first question, the easy one: where was your sweet spot?

But, second question, a tough one: That sweet spot almost certainly involved the overturning of principles held dear by the rightists of the day; for instance, the abolition of child labor produced howls of outrage from contemporary free-marketeers.  So, what, if anything, are we wrong about today?

And, third question, another tough one: why did we move right past that sweet spot?  Why did we reach the top of the hill, and then slide down the other side?  What forces and mechanisms were in play?

And let’s not answer in purely parochial terms, because fourth question, another tough one: why did the whole world do the same?  Economies have been recognizably modern for a couple of centuries, and there are a couple hundred countries in the world, so, given that we see transcendent virtues in the conservative model, why hasn’t a perfectly conservative society taken permanent root in at least a few places?  We can’t just say, “Because people are dumb,” because by definition the mass of people are average.  What exactly are we up against?

Your input, please.