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?Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism
and the Division of Labor

Murray N. Rothbard
Who Are the "Oppressed"?

In this regime of group egalitarianism, it becomes particularly important to take one's place in the ranks of the Oppressed rather than the Oppressors. Who, then, are the Oppressed? It is difficult to determine, since new groups of oppressed are being discovered all the time. One almost longs for the good old days of classic Marxism, when there was only one "oppressed class"?the proletariat?and one or at most a very few classes of oppressors: the capitalists or bourgeois, plus sometimes the "feudal landlords" or perhaps the petit bourgeoisie. But now, as the ranks of the oppressed and therefore the groups specially privileged by society and the State keep multiplying, and the ranks of the oppressors keep dwindling, the problem of income and wealth egalitarianism reappears and is redoubled. For more and greater varieties of groups are continually being added to the parasitic burden weighing upon an ever-dwindling supply of oppressors. And since it is obviously worth everyone's while to leave the ranks of the oppressors and move over to the oppressed, pressure groups will increasingly succeed in doing so?so long as this dysfunctional ideology continues to flourish. Specifically, achieving the label of Officially Oppressed entitles one to share in an endless flow of benefits?in money, status, and prestige?from the hapless Oppressors, who are made to feel guilty forevermore, even as they are forced to sustain and expand the endless flow. It is not surprising that attaining oppressed status takes a great deal of pressure and organization. As Joseph Sobran wittily puts it: "it takes a lot of clout to be a victim." Eventually, if trends continue the result must be the twin death of parasite and host alike, and an end to any flourishing economy or civilization.

There are virtually an infinite number of groups or "classes" in society: the class of people named Smith, the class of men over 6 feet tall, the class of bald people, and so on. Which of these groups may find themselves among the "oppressed"? Who knows? It is easy to invent a new oppressed group. I might come up with a study, for example, demonstrating that the class of people named "Doe" have an average income or wealth or status lower than that of other names. I could then coin a hypothesis that people named Doe have been discriminated against because their names "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" have been "stereotyped" as associated with faceless anonymity, and Presto, we have one more group who is able to leave the burdened ranks of the oppressors and join the happy ranks of the oppressed.

A political theorist friend of mine thought he could coin a satiric Oppressed Group: short people, who suffer from heightism. I informed him that he was seriously anticipated two decades ago, again demonstrating the impossibility of parodying the current ideology. I noted in an article almost twenty years ago, written shortly after this essay, that Professor Saul D. Feldman, a sociologist at Case-Western Reserve, and himself a distinguished short, had at last brought science to bear on the age-old oppression of the shorts by the talls. Feldman reported that out of recent University of Pittsburgh graduating seniors, those 6'2" and taller received an average starting salary 12.4 percent higher than graduates under 6 feet, and that a marketing professor at Eastern Michigan University had quizzed 140 business recruiters about their preferences between two hypothetical, equally qualified applicants for the job of salesman. One of the hypothetical salesmen was to be 6'1", the other 5'5". The recruiters answered as follows: 27 percent expressed the politically correct no preference; one percent would hire the short man; and no less than 72 percent would hire the tallie.

In addition to this clear-cut oppression of talls over shorts, Feldman pointed out that women notoriously prefer tall over short men. He might have pointed out, too, that Alan Ladd could only play the romantic lead in movies produced by bigoted Hollywood moguls by standing on a hidden box, and that even the great character actor Sydney Greenstreet was invariably shot upward from a low-placed camera to make him appear much taller than he was. [The Hollywood studio heads were generally short themselves, but were betraying their short comrades by pandering to the pro-tall culture.] Feldman also perceptively pointed to the anti-short prejudice that pervades our language: in such phrases as people being "short-sighted, short-changed, short-circuited, and short in cash." He added that among the two major party candidates for President, the taller is almost invariably elected. [8]

I went on in my article to call for a short liberation movement to end short oppression, and asked: where are the short corporation leaders, the short bankers, the short Senators and Presidents? [9] , [10] I asked for short pride, short institutes, short history courses, short quotas everywhere, and for shorts to stop internalizing the age-old propaganda of our tall culture that shorts are genetically or culturally inferior. (Look at Napoleon!) Short people, arise! You have nothing to lose but your elevator shoes. I ended by assuring the tallies that we were not anti-tall, and that we welcome progressive, guilt-ridden talls as pro-short sympathizers and auxiliaries in our movement. If my own consciousness had been sufficiently raised at the time, I would have of course added a demand that the talls compensate the shorts for umpteen thousand years of tall tyranny.

[8] Feldman's case would have been strengthened had he written after the 1988 campaign: not only did Bush tower over Dukakis, but Representative Charles Wilson, (D., Texas) was able to express the tallist bigotry of his region: "No Greek dwarf can carry East Texas," without calling forth protests and marches by organized short-dom. On the Feldman study, see Arthur J. Snider, "Society Favors Tall Men: Prof," New York Post (February 19, 1972). On all of this, see Murray N. Rothbard, "Short People, Arise!" The Libertarian Forum IV (Arril 1972): p. 8.

[9] It might be instructive to study whether the savage treatment accorded to Senator John Tower in his confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense was due to discrimination against his short size.

[10] A possible project for American historians: most of the big business tycoons of the late-nineteenth century (e.g., Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller, Sr.) were very short. By what process did the tallies quietly seize power in the corporate world?

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