Inequality discussion on Cato
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
[I am very late in linking to this. I've been trying to put together my own thoughts on inequality, which, in the end, I decided are neither very original nor well expressed, so I just ended up being a week late.]
Cato Unbound's latest issue, talks about whether inequality is important. In the lead essay, David Schmidtz makes a very clear-headed argument against obsessing on equal opportunity:
In a race, equal opportunity matters. In a race, people need to start on an equal footing. Why? Because a race’s purpose is to measure relative performance. Measuring relative performance, though, is not a society’s purpose. We form societies with the Joneses so that we may do well, period, not so that we may do well relative to the Joneses. To do well, period, people need a good footing, not an equal footing. No one needs to win, so no one needs a fair chance to win. No one needs to keep up with the Joneses, so no one needs a fair chance to keep up with the Joneses. No one needs to put the Joneses in their place or to stop them from pulling ahead. The Joneses are neighbors, not competitors.Schmidtz's essay ends by asking "which inequalities are ours to arrange". This is, I think, the question to ask. If inequality really is an emergent side-effect of division of labour and voluntary exchanges between individuals, does anybody have the moral authority to "force" equality? Tom Palmer's response picks up on this and dissects some of the approaches to and justifications for redistributionism. (Indeed, this essay and one of its footnotes helped clarify my thinking on the claim that wealth is created "jointly" by societies.)
For balance, read this from crookedtimber.org. The comments thread is in that post is quite interesting.