[This post is part of an ongoing series on ethics in which Massimo is exploring and trying to clarify his own ideas about what is right and wrong, and why he thinks so. Part I was on meta-ethics; part II on consequentialism; part III on deontology; part IV on virtue ethics; part V on contractarianism.]
We are getting close to the end of this multi-part series on ethics. Before I try to put everything together in the next post, I am going to briefly discuss egalitarianism, a view that is as important as it is controversial to contemporary debates in moral philosophy. Depending on what one means by “equality” in this context, egalitarianism can describe moral philosophies as different as Rawls’ type of Kantian contractarianism, Nozick’s libertarianism, and Marxism. No, seriously.
The first obvious question about egalitarianism is: equality of what? For instance, in most modern democratic societies it is uncontroversial that citizens have an equal right to vote, or an equal right to justice. (Of course, both of these are true only in principle, considering that the rich can buy the best lawyers and even determine the composition of the Supreme Court, but that’s another story.) I doubt anyone would reasonably disagree with that sort of egalitarianism, except for despots, many men in a large part of the world (wherever women don’t have equal legal rights), and incurable aristocrats. So let’s move on.
For Rawls, as we have seen, egalitarianism goes pretty radical, as it affects wealth as well as resources. While Rawls does concede the possibility of some inequality in wealth being just because it may be of advantage to everyone, his principle of equality of fair opportunity is as radical as egalitarianism gets (although not-so radical affirmative action policies, for instance, go somewhat into that direction).
Then again, most democratic societies have no trouble with the milder idea of formal equality of opportunity, where public employment, education, and even private employment are regulated so as to guarantee equal access to individuals and groups. (This is distinct from, and less radical than, affirmative action, because it does not establish quotas.)
As I mentioned earlier, however, even libertarians can be thought of — surprisingly — as egalitarians. Modern libertarians are really followers of John Locke, who famously said that people are endowed with a set of fundamental “natural” rights, most clearly life and property. I tend to agree with Jeremy Bentham, who famously referred to the idea of natural rights as “nonsense on stilts” (i.e., very, very tall nonsense). But for the purposes of this discussion, clearly Lockean libertarians agree that all people are equal in terms of natural rights.
Marx, too, though hardly usually thought of as an egalitarian, can be interpreted as advocating some type of equality. When he famously said “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” he was indeed advocating a principle of equal rights, though of course those rights are very different from those that Nozick and other libertarians would entertain.
So, we can see that different moral philosophies can be egalitarian about distinct criteria: a) opportunity (of jobs, of achieving a satisfying life, of pursuing happiness); b) income and wealth (the difference between the two being that the first is a flow, the latter a stock); c) resources (education, health care, etc.); d) civil liberties (including political representation and status under the law). There are more, of course, but these seem to cover most of what people actually care about.
There are several important issues about which, presumably, even the most Rawlsian egalitarian would readily agree. Equality does not mean that society is morally bound to correct all instances of bad luck a person may incur, nor that people cease to have to take responsibility for ill management of their resources. For instance, it is humane to provide additional resources to help people who — by genetic lottery or accident — are disadvantaged physically or mentally. But it would be absurd to pretend that society is morally bound to keep pouring resources on those people so that they achieve the same level of employment, education, and happiness as the population’s average. (Don’t laugh, New York City is legally obliged to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuitions for some students who cannot graduate from high school, even though after all that effort and money they still are functionally illiterate.) By the same token, if people willfully and repeatedly squander their resources (e.g., in the case of addictions that lead to loss of income or jobs), surely it is not up to society to keep providing them, beyond basic sustenance and medical and psychological help.
There is also some interesting discussion concerning what exactly counts as a resource. Clearly, external things like education, access to health care, jobs, housing, and so on, are resources, about which we can have discussions concerning the degree to which they should be equally accessible or distributed. But some egalitarians consider internal resources — i.e., personal talents and inclinations — fair game as well. Obviously, people will always (well, short of permanent genetic engineering of the human species) come with a variety of natural talents, which will immediately put some people to an advantage and others at a disadvantage. But it seems to me that it is going beyond the pale (not to mention the limits of practicality) to say that society ought to redress inequalities in natural attributes.
A trickier problem, actually, comes when we consider the effects of so-called “unchosen luck” (like early socialization) or so-called “chosen luck” (one’s decisions later in life, in college, or on the job). Children cannot be responsible for their early socialization experiences, and yet we hold the resulting adults responsible for their choices, even though psychological research clearly shows that the two are far from being causally independent.
Yet another issue with egalitarianism arises when one asks the question of to whom the principle applies. If we respond that one is concerned with equality within one’s society, the obvious question is why not extend the principle to the whole world? Well, one may answer, because though that would be nice, we simply don’t have the resources, political will, etc. to be able to do much about the rest of the world, except in a slow and indirect way. But then egalitarianism risks being perceived either as too parochial (it’s all about our in-group) or hopelessly quixotic (it’s about the world, man).
A related problem is posed by the consideration of equality among groups, not just individuals. What if we find evidence of inequality between ethnic groups, or genders (if you can imagine that!). Are they going to be eliminated by a focus on inequality at the individual level, or is there room in moral philosophy for group-level considerations? And let’s stay away from the thorny issue of animal rights, of course...
Finally, there is a risk that egalitarians may be mistaken about their central concern: that the issue shouldn’t be equality, but something else that often highly correlates with it. The classic example is the gap between rich and poor. Is the problem posed by inequality per se? If so, we could solve it by making everyone poor, but that would strike most people as absurd. Then perhaps the issue isn’t inequality, but the fact that, as George Orwell famously put it (cited in this very comprehensive article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), “a fat man eating quails while children are begging for bread is a disgusting sight.” Would it be all right if the fat men kept eating quails while the children were still poor but with enough bread to live?
Next: the full shebang...
Would it be all right if the fat men kept eating quails while the children were still poor but with enough bread to live?ReplyDelete
It solves one problem - namely, the starvation of the poor - but what about all of the other (epidemiological) problems typically associated with poverty?
Besides, given the pervasive power of money, I think it's fair to say that there is an inherent tension between political democracy and economic inequality - even where the living standards of the poorest are high, relative to other or previous social conditions.
Whether or not those levels or degrees of inequality are rationally defensible (e.g. on the assumption that the wealthy and the poor deserve their lots in life, or that the political cure would likely be worse than the disease), to describe such societies as "democracies" has long struck me as rather far-fetched.
That said, it seems to me that equality is as useful a concept as ever, but then I admit that my thinking on this topic is also influenced by the book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.
Egalitarianism is essentially a dishonest concept.ReplyDelete
Nobody in any human social structure actually wants everyone else to be equal. More equality for themselves, possibly, but less equality for others, more probably.
You might want to take a glance at this:
>"there is an inherent tension between political democracy and economic inequality"
Would you elaborate....what is that 'tension' and what cause it in your opinion?
>"Egalitarianism is essentially a dishonest concept."
Equality is inversely proportional to freedom.
The attempt to bring about equality leads to big government and loss of freedom.
I think the fact that Locke, Marx, and Rawls could all be lumped under the same moral philosophy header shows right there that that particular moral philosophy probably has a monkey wrench or two. And Massimo identifies it, at least in part.ReplyDelete
But, to take this issue more fully, people are never going to agree, not just on what is egalitarian, but more simply, what is fair, what is just, etc., nor on what is fair or just in distributive actions to try to achieve egalitarian outcomes in fairness, justice, etc.
And, that all doesn't even touch on the issue of who, or what entity, will enforce such egalitarianism. While I am generally a big-government left-liberal, it doesn't take a seer to see how egalitarianism can become Orwellian. After all, it did and has with various forms of Marxism. And, with Lockeanism, if combined with Catholic-heavy Christian Democrat type politics, could do the same there. And, at least Randian forms of libertarianism, if they ever gained the political upper hand, would surely be Orwellian.
Equality is not in any real sense inversely proportional to freedom. Nobody has ever seriously attempted to bring about complete equality - not even the most ardent marxists. If force has to be used for equality, then you've lost the equality along with the freedom that this equality had been hoped, ingenuously, to represent.
Massimo writes, "For instance, in most modern democratic societies it is uncontroversial that citizens have an equal right to vote, or an equal right to justice...I doubt anyone would reasonably disagree with that sort of egalitarianism, except for despots, many men in a large part of the world (wherever women don’t have equal legal rights), and incurable aristocrats."ReplyDelete
Universal justice is hardly objectionable. I find universal suffrage to be much less unassailable. For example, Daniel Okrent in "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" argues that women's suffrage was a decisive, cooperating cause of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the distribution of alcohol. If this is true, it, in my mind, should have been weighed against the benefits of women's suffrage at the time.
I should add that William Lecky in "Liberty and Democracy" made the following claim: "Universal suffrage, which to-day excludes free trade from the United States, would certainly have prohibited the spinning-jenny and the power-loom."ReplyDelete
DJD: Your link appears to be the same as mine, and I've already done more than glance at it. (And, yes, I'm aware that Wilkinson and Pickett have critics.)ReplyDelete
As for the tension between democracy and inequality, Massimo hinted at it in the parenthetical part of his statement:
For instance, in most modern democratic societies it is uncontroversial that citizens have an equal right to vote, or an equal right to justice. (Of course, both of these are true only in principle, considering that the rich can buy the best lawyers and even determine the composition of the Supreme Court, but that’s another story.)
Indeed, and a long story at that.
But just to put a finer point on it: Given what we now know about the influence of money in politics, such a principle strikes me as ridiculously naive (not that the founders of this country were all that into democracy - in any strong sense - to begin with, given their limitation of political participation to white male land owners and their stated concerns about mob rule).
BTW, I agree that there is also tension between equality and freedom. The question then (for me, at least) is: How to find the right balance between these competing values? I think the point of a book like The Spirit Level is that some countries do a better job of this than others.
“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” he was indeed advocating a principle of equal rights,ReplyDelete
Equality? Where are you getting equality out of that? It seem to me to be a statement of absolute inequality since we all have different needs and abilities. Even basic physiological needs are not the same. Larger people need more food, water and air just to live.
I tend to agree with Jeremy Bentham, who famously referred to the idea of natural rights as “nonsense on stilts”
You speak of right fairly regularly in a non-ironic fashion. So if they aren't 'natural' rights where do they originate? I am reasonably sure you wouldn't cite a supernatural source for them, so what does that leave?
> Egalitarianism is essentially a dishonest concept. <
First of all, you have too bleak a view of human nature, plenty of people are genuinely interested in fairness and equality. Second, the whole point of a social contract is to agree on something that is equitable and acceptable to all: some individuals would like more for themselves, but they still wouldn't agree to a society where others could get unfair advantages (that's a fundamental advantage of Rawls' veil of ignorance).
> The attempt to bring about equality leads to big government and loss of freedom. <
That's libertarian nonsense.
> It seems as though Rawls was weened on Marx. <
Have you read either Rawls or Marx? Because if you had you wouldn't have written this.
> I think the fact that Locke, Marx, and Rawls could all be lumped under the same moral philosophy header shows right there that that particular moral philosophy probably has a monkey wrench or two. <
You are missing the point. Egalitarianism is not a type of ethical philosophy, it is a principle underlying different (and sometimes wildly divergent) types of ethical philosophies. The difference, of course, lies into what exactly one is trying to equalize.
> Where are you getting equality out of that? It seem to me to be a statement of absolute inequality since we all have different needs and abilities. <
It's a type of equality meaning that all people - regardless of gender, social class or ethnicity - would be treated in the same way. As I said, it is certainly not what most people mean by equality nowadays, but it certainly is a type of equality.
you can't be serious abut universal suffrage. Or maybe you are, unfortunately.
> Universal suffrage, which to-day excludes free trade from the United States, would certainly have prohibited the spinning-jenny and the power-loom. <
That sounds like nonsense to me. And at any rate, I agree with Rawls that civil rights come before economic advantages, so there...
"First of all, you have too bleak a view of human nature, plenty of people are genuinely interested in fairness and equality."
People are genuinely interested in fairness, yes. They are not genuinely interested in equality as a goal, unless your argument is only that equality is a measurement on a fairness scale. Which was not your argument as I recall.
And it's not at all "bleak" to recognize that all people use specious arguments as a "legitimate" means to obtain what they've convinced themselves they have a "right" to.
Baron, on what evidence does your claim that people "are not genuinely interested in equality as a goal" rest? Granted, they may not desire perfect equality as a goal, but according to this study (which I've cited here before), Americans clearly desire a lot more equality than they've actually got (viz. more like that of Sweden than that the USA).ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, the same study indicates that they also greatly under-estimate just how unequal their society is, which is not exactly a recipe for egalitarian activism.
Social hierarchies can be ranked by their relative degrees of fairness, but none have been fashioned to have a citizenry that are of equal ranking in anything close to all other societal respects.ReplyDelete
Fairness in any case represents a general satisfaction with the rules of the game, and equality is a much more nebulous concept.
The current day cultural discussion regarding egalitarianism and equality is mostly about equality of results, not equal opportunity.....although some try to maintain that lack of equality of results is evidence of lack of opportunity because their idea of equal opportunity has been expanded to include just about everything that might contribute to a persons outcome.ReplyDelete
One definition of "equality of outcomes" .ReplyDelete
"Egalitarianism in economics is a state of economic affairs in which equality of outcome has been manufactured for all the participants of a society."
And this seems to be our culture's current discussion.
There seems to have been a recent shift in our culture's discussion about equality. There is a focus on the part of our society that has done well....as in "the rich are getting richer" mantra." This may just be a rhetorical tool that some are using in order to do more for the poor, but it smacks of envy and resentment and envy politics.ReplyDelete
There see s to be two different types of egalitarians in our society. Those that want to raise the abilities of the poor so as to raise more people up in their eventual outcomes....and those that want to drag others down because of some evolved emotion involved in status levels.(envy?). Of course there is also the radical or revolutionary that wants massive redistribution right now...not just improving individuals and groups chances over the long runReplyDelete
In the real world, "raising the ability of the poor" requires public investment and social insurance - i.e. the kinds of institutions that market fundamentalists tend to hate.ReplyDelete
BTW, I don't know anyone who wants to "drag others down", unless that means requiring that the wealthy pay their fair share to society, just like everyone else.
I'd suggest something along the line of Alan Dershowitz's "Rights from Wrongs" (http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/subpages/reviews/dershowitz105.htm) may offer an alternative to the false dichotomy of natural/supernatural rights. See the link for a review of the book and a brief summary of his secular theory of the origin of rights.
Rgarding the "study" you mentioned....did you see this interesting footnote?
"We used Sweden’s income rather than wealth distribution because
it provided a clearer contrast to the other two wealth distribution
examples; although more equal than the United States’ wealth distribution, Sweden’s wealth distribution is still extremely top heavy."
DJD: Putting "study" in quotes is just a cheap way to dismiss research whose conclusion one doesn't like, for whatever reason. But it does nothing to undermine its validity.ReplyDelete
And what's your point about the footnote? That Sweden is not perfectly egalitarian? If so, then that's made perfectly clear by the contrasting pie charts in Figure 1, which illustrates Americans' preference for significantly greater equality.
This web site explains the deceptive nature of this study.
It was quite flagrant.
Even if it was not deceptive....it was meaningless. A silly academic exercise to attempt to provide some ammunition for egalitarians.(and probably politicians).
DJD: That was a valid critique. I agree that it was misleading for Norton & Ariely to have labeled that pie chart "Sweden" when, in fact, it was an idealization (or, as Ariely put it, "we created a more equal society than the most equal society in the world"). That was a mistake, not only because it's counter-factual, but because it weakens the study's results (and my point here in citing them), which show American preferences to be even more egalitarian than what actually obtains in Sweden.ReplyDelete
Incidentally, the other source that I mentioned in this thread, The Spirit Level, compares the income gaps, rather than the wealth distributions, of the rich developed countries. On that chart (e.g. see here), Sweden is only the fourth most equal (behind Japan, Finland, and Norway). But, to quote your source:
In countries like Sweden, indeed, the social safety net is strong enough that you don’t need to build wealth in the same way you do if you’re Chinese, say. Wealth is a form of insurance, and when insurance is nationalized, you need less wealth. As a result, people can enjoy the fruits of their money, instead of saving it up for emergencies or for retirement — and only a small percentage of the population really spends a lot of effort in a successful attempt at accumulating more.
PS: Just to be clear, my response to Baron above ["Americans clearly desire a lot more equality than they've actually got (viz. more like that of Sweden than that the USA)"] still stands, although I might now amend the parenthetical part to say instead "(viz. even more equality than exists in the relatively egalitarian Sweden)." Again, thanks for strengthening my point.ReplyDelete
I think most people would, in theory, say that they favor more equality. Who wouldn't? It would be great. But, the picture dramatically changes when it come to actually doing something about inequality, choosing trade-offs, differing on what will work and what will not, what will do harm, what has worked or failed in the past, etc. Then you get into the controversies regarding desserts. Who deserves this or that.
It is one thing to prefer something in theory. It's another when it comes to the real world of conflicting interests, conflicting factions, and questionable proposals.
If you realized that more equality means more responsibility, you might want to be a bit more careful about what you wish for.ReplyDelete
>"Americans clearly desire a lot more equality than they've actually got (viz. more like that of Sweden than that the USA)"] still stands, although I might now amend the parenthetical part to say instead "(viz. EVEN MORE EQUALITY THAN EXISTS IN THE RELATIVELY EGALITARIAN SWEDEN"
Interesting interpretation, since Americans ideal distribution allowed for 32% of wealth, while in Sweden, the actual figure (shown in the study) is 73%....even without the needed adjustments for Sweden's wealthy holdings offshore not being counted.
"Indeed, Sweden and the US are even closer together, in terms of wealth inequality, than the charts above suggest: as Gimein notes, the Swedish data exclude money held offshore, the value of family owned firms, and the considerable wealth of super-rich Swedes like Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, who left the country to avoid taxes."
I agree. And, although much social welfare and attempts at creating an artificial equality of incomes start out with "maternal", liberal nurturing with no strings attached....ultimately, the other arm of Communitarianism must be applied....the "paternalistic" side....the side that seeks to control behavior. The maternal side without the paternal side holding people responsible, will collapse.
Except that I'm defining responsibility as a form of duty rather than as an accountability.ReplyDelete
DJD: I do not dispute Salmon's facts about Sweden. But if you intend to use his factual correction to the Norton & Ariely study as an excuse to dismiss its results, then (at best) you misunderstand what those results actually measure, which is Americans' preference (or lack thereof) for wealth equality. (Actually, that's only one measurement from the study. Another is Americans' knowledge about wealth distribution in the USA.)ReplyDelete
And, like I said, the picture looks quite different when we look at income gaps (e.g. by comparing the top 20% to the bottom 20%, as Wilkinson & Pickett do), where some developed countries - viz. Japan, Finland, and Norway - are more egalitarian than Sweden, but all of them are significantly more egalitarian than the USA (again, in these terms).
DJD: Is Japan paternalistic? How about the state of New Hampshire? I ask because, according to Wilkinson & Pickett, both of these polities have somehow achieved their egalitarian outcomes without much in the way of (after-tax) redistributive policies (e.g. read this article).ReplyDelete
Besides, however much you fear Big Government is irrelevant to the question of whether or not greater economic equality is worth wanting in the first place. Only if the answer is "yes" is a policy debate warranted.
Who or what we bear a sense duty or obligation to is mostly determined by our current and historical connection with, and attachment to, those around us.....our family, village, peer groups, etc. As Hume has said...There is nothing to judgments of virtue and vice except the expression of feelings of approval and disapproval that are caused by those whose approval and disapproval matter to us. Why would you define responsibility as a form of duty, when experience seems to indicate that others "hold" us 'responsible' or 'accountable'?
>"where some developed countries - viz. Japan, Finland, and Norway - are more egalitarian than Sweden, but all of them are significantly more egalitarian than the USA (again, in these terms)."
I fail to understand the significance of these findings. So what if these other countries are more egalitarian than the USA?
> "Is Japan paternalistic? How about the state of New Hampshire?"
Absolutely....Thoroughly and in a very rigid way. Behavior is enforced and expectations are very for behaving "right". There is great feelings of shame for those that behave wrongly.
> "How about the state of New Hampshire?"
Like Sweden, they have been very homogeneous for a long time. That makes a difference.
" " the question of whether or not greater economic equality is worth wanting in the first place"
I addressed that in a post above..It is one thing to ask a silly question like "Wouldn't it be nice if the amount that everyone made was closer to being equal?" Why not just look at reality. People may say "that would be nice" in the abstract....without having to consider what we would have to do to make that happen...what trade offs for them personally...what to do with those that will not reciprocate.....and on and on. They U.S. has been trying to create more equality of incomes for 50 years....and spent$trillions trying to do so. Some methods actually turned out to have perverse effects.
We have been too maternal and not enough paternal. We have demanded nothing in return. We have not enforced changes in behavior. This is what I mean when I say both sides of Communitarianism must be present for social welfare can work effectively in obtaining the results that we desire. In a family....you may get an allowance...but that allowance is dependent on proper behavior...usually demanded by the father....and it is usually the father that is the punisher/enforcer. The same set of dynamics must exist in any community that sets out to take care of one another.
By 'paternalistic' I mean controlling behavior
Redistributing goods and incomes to those with less is 'maternalistic'.....nurturing instinct, etc.
Do you know anyone that would not think it was nice if we could achieve more income equality?
DJD: If Wilkinson & Pickett are correct (as I suspect they are, given the strength of their empirical arguments in The Spirit Level), then equality is more than just a "nice to have." It's a necessary (albeit, insufficient) ingredient in social well being.ReplyDelete
All functional societies control individual behavior to some degree. But only some achieve the positive social outcomes that countries like Sweden and Japan, or US states like New Hampshire and Vermont, achieve (which, btw, ethnic homogeneity alone does not explain). Your labeling them "paternalistic" (despite their diverse policies) is just a cheap way of dismissing success stories, because they contradict your ideological narrative.
DJD: We, as both humans and social animals, do our duties as much for self approval as for other's approval, and much less for avoidance of punishment.ReplyDelete
(And regardless of what you take as Hume's meaning, punishment is more likely to be of unfair service to the punisher than to the punished.)
In a fair society, duty is what each individual accepts as his or her right share of responsibility for its overall success, their own individual success included.
Resulting, perhaps, in more of an equality of fairness, but that's not at all the same as an equality of material wealth.
Also, homogeneity is important on a cultural level to such fairness. Ethnic differences may or may not result in the cultural diversity that breeds unfairness.
I agree with you that humans sense of "self approval or self esteem plays a role. But, for most people, in most cases, the behavior that satisfies their sense of self esteem is the very behavior that will also elicit approval by their peers, family, parents, etc. The magic of internalization plus the fact that much of cognition is non-conscious, leads us to feel like "we" made the choice...conveniently forgetting the past influences that played a role in determining ones sense of "right" behavior. As for "In a fair society...duty is what each individual accepts..." seems to be a very relativistic, subjective idea of 'duty'.
>"then equality is more than just a "nice to have." It's a necessary (albeit, insufficient) ingredient in social well being."
That may be, but the study did not ask that nor did the responders say that. The implication that you drew from the study is probably one of the implications that the "investigators" wanted
you to to draw. These investigators surely knew before they did the study that most Americans would like to see more equal incomes in the U.S....who wouldn't. S0, it raises suspicions as to why they bothered to perform such an inane, meaningless study. I suspect it was done and promoted in hopes that people would unconsciously draw implications from the study
that served the investigators ideological/political beliefs This has been the history of the social sciences. They likely wanted to influence the political debate in the direction of government becoming even more activist in "creating" equality of incomes....and thus create more support for government activism by saying "but this is what the people want." But....most people already would like more equality, and most people know that, what is the point. They simply hoped that additional implications would be made that did not show up in the study. It will likely work.
>"Your labeling them "paternalistic" (despite their diverse policies) is just a cheap way of dismissing success stories, because they contradict your ideological narrative."
No...I am labeling Sweden as 'maternal'..using govt. to nurture it's people, to provide vast social welfare programs for the people. My point is that they could do this without a lot of governmental paternalism (behavior regulation)
partly because they were homogeneous, and the dynamics that result from being homogeneous.
There is less abuse of the system....less "free rider" problems, less excuses tolerated...than in a non-homogeous society.
DJD: I think you're confusing the Norton & Ariely study with The Spirit Level. Only the latter argues that "equality is...a necessary (albeit, insufficient) ingredient in social well being."ReplyDelete
But, in either case, your charge of confirmation bias is groundless and thereby worthless...as is your claim that Sweden could have achieved its level of equality and social well being simply on the basis of ethnic homogeneity.
I think we're done here.
"But, for most people, in most cases, the behavior that satisfies their sense of self esteem is the very behavior that will also elicit approval by their peers, family, parents, etc."
There's no "but" about it, since self esteem is always dependent on the rules and standards of the culture where one needs to successfully function.
You also write:
"As for "In a fair society...duty is what each individual accepts..." seems to be a very relativistic, subjective idea of 'duty'."
Because the determination of fairness in any society is always relative (necessarily or arbitrarily) to the dictates of its culture.
This is what I said about Sweden:
"Like Sweden, they have been very homogeneous for a long time. That makes a difference."
"partly because they were homogeneous, and the dynamics that result from being homogeneous."
And you said in reply:
"as is your claim that Sweden could have achieved its level of equality and social well being simply on the basis of ethnic homogeneity."
This seems to raise a question regarding your intellectual integrity....and it seems that you are committed...a true believer..in something that you desire to desperately defend.What are you defending, at the expense of exposing yourself as being disingenuous?
DJD: I apologize for my carelessness in reading your last comment re: ethnic homogeneity.ReplyDelete
But I still think you over-estimate the role of ethnic homogeneity in achieving positive social outcomes. Again, see here for an explanation of why.
Thanks....We'll start fresh.
Sweden did not begin experiencing significant immigration until after 1945....a relatively short time ago. I looked at Wikipedia and this was listed under Immigration: "The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, impact on upward social mobility, crime, and voting behavior."
This development has occurred in a very short time....in spite of only 14% of the population is foreign born....mostly from the Middle East...Immigrants from the Middle East tend to fare well in the U.S. Most of the rest are from around Scandinavia. There are also 31,000 from Somali....in a population of 9.4 million.
The Equity Trust is an organization dedicated to campaigning for more income equality. It is critical of liberal democracies with free economies.
DJD: If you mean to suggest that any organization that advocates greater income equality (i.e. no matter how compelling the evidence in its favor) is an enemy of "free economies", then that's pretty much a conversation-killer for us, isn't it? For example, it suggests to me that you define "free economy" in a way that I find extremely unappealing (i.e. one that is characterized by acute health and social problems).ReplyDelete
That said, the Equality Trust FAQ that I pointed you to (and its underlying research & book) does not deny that ethnic divisions can contribute to inequality (albeit, inconsistently), but they subsume it under the larger category of "markers of social status differences", which includes "issues of language, religion or ethnicity", as well as "attributes of class alone" (i.e. even within ethnically homogeneous populations).
Regardless, they argue (and I provisionally accept), "the underlying processes are basically the same" - with poorer outcomes for everyone (including the relatively wealthy).
Gee...and here I thought that they were pushing for the U.S. to become more like Sweden and the other Social Democracies in Europe.
You make the classic mistake of most liberals. You refuse to recognize that nearly everyone agrees that it would be great if we had more income equality. There are simply substantial disagreements regarding what policies should be used to improve that equality of incomes. And that requires a sound knowledge of what explains and causes those inequalities. There are great problems, challenges, and difference of opinion about what to do and what not to do. There are many, however, that act like college freshmen....they have ideals and simply demand that those ideals be met. And, they are eager to demonstrate their righteousness. To others as well as themselves. That requires demons for them to compare themselves with. Oh...and damsels in distress for these white knights to rescue. They must earn their "I care more than you do" badges.
DJD: Thanks for the cartoon caricature of a liberal.ReplyDelete
At least we agree that "it would be great if we had more income equality." That agreement, however, was not obviously shared in the last paragraph of Massimo's post ("perhaps the issue isn’t inequality") or in Baron's comment ("They are not genuinely interested in equality as a goal"), to which my comments initially responded (i.e. before you and I got started).
One other thing that I'd like to mention: You said above "Sweden did not begin experiencing significant immigration until after 1945." Yet, according to the Equality Trust: "Sweden owes its high levels of equality to policies introduced since the 50s." (source)
If you're ideologically opposed to those policies, fine. (I'm not, but that's a much larger debate, which I'm not interested in having here or now.) But these facts hardly favor an ethnic-homogeneity explanation of Sweden's equality and related social well being (although, to be fair, you initially proposed that idea re: New Hampshire, not Sweden). The more likely explanation is: it's those policies that you so dislike.
Evidence from history and comparative culture studies of the current world, have shown that difficulties in economic equality becomes a difficult phenomenon to address....for a combination of reasons. There has also been evidence presented over several years that it is more difficult to make social welfare programs work for a number of reasons. Sweden is still very homogeneous, so they are not a good example to cite. Also...the methods that work in one country may not work in another. There are strong arguments that the welfare programs that were instituted in the 60's played a major role in the breakdown of the family structure among poor blacks in inner cities. The question for many has been "what works and what does not work or even have perverse effects?"
Those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
DJD: Except that I learn a very different lesson from history: namely, that those societies that permit inequality to grow out of control eventually suffer a terrible cost in terms of health and social problems, while those that somehow contain or reduce it enjoy relative well being. The USA and Sweden lie on opposite ends of this spectrum, but there are plenty of examples that fall somewhere in the middle (e.g. Switzerland, Spain, Canada, and France), all of which out-perform the USA (and its partners in social dysfunction, the UK and Portugal).ReplyDelete
That said, it's possible that Sweden would never have adopted its progressive policies back in the 50's & 60's had it been more heterogeneous, but we don't know that. And, even if we were to assume that (for argument's sake), so what? Once we recognize that equality is better for all of us (as the evidence strongly suggests), we then have another incentive to get past our prejudices. The remedies will then follow.
>"Except that I learn a very different lesson from history: namely, that those societies that permit inequality to grow out of control"
But that's the big question. How did they grow out of control? What did we do wrong?
<"while those that "somehow" contain or reduce it enjoy relative well being."
It's that "somehow" that needs to be explained.
The question is not whether, but how?
>"That said, it's possible that Sweden would never have adopted its progressive policies back in the 50's & 60's had it been more heterogeneous". Mufi....it was very heterogeneous in the 50's and 60's and it still is. It has never not been heterogeneous.
>"Once we recognize that equality is better for all of us"
Come on Mufi...As I keep saying to you...We HAVE recognized that equality would be better for all of us. We just don't know how.
>"we then have another incentive to get past our prejudices."
The U.S. has been trying to increase equality since the 60's. $trillions of dollars have been spent, affirmative action has been used...extra money has been spent on schools in poor neighborhoods....we have tried at the Federal level, the state level, and local levels. Did you miss all that?
DJD: I'm familiar with the narrative that you're telling. I just don't buy it. For example, as I've already documented, the American inequality trend that I speak of only began around 1980, when Reagan was first elected. Do you really want to argue that the conservative Republican policies that ensued were characterized by the kinds of remedies that the Equality Trust's research recommends? If so, then I don't envy you.ReplyDelete
>" the American inequality trend that I speak of only began around 1980"
And all this time I thought you were concerned about the income inequality that has been with us for the last 100 years. Now you say that you just think Reagan created more wealth. The poor prospered as a result of Reaganomics...
Mufi....I can only urge you to recognize that you need to learn....not just collect ammunition to reinforce the sentiments that you have today.
You seem to believe that anyone that disagrees with the liberal ideology is not merely misinformed, but lacking empathy, is likely a racist, doesn't care about the poor, and likes to see the downtrodden stay there...and I'll bet you think they are immoral.
Study Mufi, study.
DJD: I'll just leave you (or, better yet, anyone else who might read this thread) with this excerpt re: political scientist Larry Bartels. It speaks to the growth in inequality in the USA - particularly, as an outcome of conservative Republican policies:ReplyDelete
In his 2008 book, Unequal Democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age", Bartels demonstrates that income inequality expanded under Republican presidential administrations and narrowed under Democratic presidential administrations since the early 1970s, when income inequality first started to expand. Under Republican presidents, rich families saw substantial net gains in their income, while poorer families saw negligible gains, producing a significant net increase in income inequality. By contrast, under Democratic presidents, poor families did slightly better than rich families proportionally, lessening income inequality. But, all income brackets---from the bottom twenty percent to the top five percent of the population---saw significantly greater increases in income under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents. In other words, had Democratic presidents been in office since the 1970s, income inequality may have lessened since the 1950s, not grown into what Bartels calls "The New Gilded Age" of the early 21st century. Bartels's findings led him to conclude that "economic inequality is, in substantial part, a political phenomenon.
PS: Even if one reject Bartels' thesis re: presidents and the economy (e.g. as this critic does), the important point to bear in mind is that the income gap widened in the USA (and the UK) during the same period (while narrowing in Sweden). Whatever caused that trend, policy was almost surely a factor.ReplyDelete
No one on this thread has denied that there has been an increase in income inequality. There clearly has.But, you refuse to show any interest in what explains this increase. If you don't understand the causes, how can you expect to fix the problem. You just seem to keep saying....there is growing income inequality...do something, anything. Have you taken any time to read up on the variety of causal inputs to this problem? Inequality has existed since nation states have existed. And, each nation has it's own variety of causal inputs.
DJD: Just because your ideological narrative tells you that nothing can be done about inequality does not make it so. At the very least, the fact that inequality changes over time (as opposed to being a stable and static feature "since nation states have existed") raises questions about what we can and cannot do to decrease it.ReplyDelete
That said, I recommend journalist Timothy Noah's 10-part series on the causes of the Great Divergence.
>"Just because your ideological narrative tells you that nothing can be done about inequality does not make it so."
How did you conclude that I believe that nothing can be done about inequality?
DJD: Perhaps your dismissive attitude (e.g. political caricatures and slogans) towards my sources (including proposals for remedies) that I referenced earlier led me to that conclusion - that, plus the fact that I can't recall your proposing any alternatives remedies. Sorry if that conclusion was mistaken, but you thus far give me no reason to believe that you understand the causes of the problem, or its likely remedies, any better than my sources do. Indeed, my hunch is that you know a good deal less.ReplyDelete
Many of the lowest-paid workers are poorly educated. These workers have seen their real earnings fall dramatically over the past 25 years. A man without a high school diploma, for instance, now earns a wage that is worth about a third less than what he would have earned in 1973.
Even if, as some economists have argued, the official statistics overstate the rate of inflation by about 1 percent per year, poorly educated men still earn less now than they would have 25 years ago. Much of the increase in income inequality can be attributed to this growing gap between high-wage and low-wage men.
Although the widening wage gap has been the largest factor accounting for increased income inequality, changes in family structure have exacerbated the trend, especially since the 1960s. As is well-known, single-parent families are much more likely to be poor than are two-parent families, so the growing proportion of single-parent families has helped increase the percentage of families with very low incomes.
While the overall numbers have not been good news from an egalitarian's point of view, some bright spots should not be overlooked. For the first time this century, the pay gap between men and women has been shrinking quite significantly. And the pay gap between African-American and white men has also shown some signs of closing in the last few years. These equalizing trends simply have not been large enough to offset the factors that have increased inequality overall.
Why has inequality increased?
It is always tempting to look for a single cause that can explain a major social or economic event, but in all likelihood the growing gap between rich and poor has many causes. A list of the "usual suspects" is easy to compile; evaluating their relative importance is far more difficult.
Much evidence points toward declining demand for low-skilled workers as a crucial factor. In the view of many economists, the principal source of this shift has been technological change that has allowed firms to economize on low-skilled labor while increasing the demand for highly educated workers. Ironically, these changes are broadly a consequence of the growing importance of computers and automation in the economy, the very technological advances that have helped drive the current economic boom.
Globalization of the economy may also have played a role. In the past 25 years, low-skilled American workers have experienced increasing competition from both low-paid immigrants and low-paid workers living in other parts of the world who produce goods that compete with American products. Although the effects of globalization are not negligible, most economists think they are less significant than the effects of technological change on wage inequality.
Finally, institutional changes in the labor market have had an impact. These include the declining membership in labor unions in the private sector and the declining real value of the legal minimum wage, which until recently had been severely eroded by inflation.
International comparisons support this analysis. The pressures on low-skilled wages from technological change and globalization have affected all developed economies, but the growth of inequality has been far greater in the United States. International differences in wage-setting institutions and income-transfer programs may explain the different outcomes. They may also help account for the higher unemployment rates in many other developed economies, a perspective that casts the U.S. experience in a more favorable light.
This speaks to causes and remedies.
It's the middle of the night, so somebody might have beaten me to it, but -ReplyDelete
DJD's long post is a copied section from:
That page goes on to say (among many other points):
"If narrowing the gap between rich and poor is to be accomplished in the here and now or the near future, old-fashioned income redistribution policies still have much to recommend them. Income transfers to the poor, financed by a system of progressive taxation, have the virtue of targeting those in need without undue disruption of the economy."
Hello Timothy...I didn't know there was anyone left on this thread besides Mufi and me.ReplyDelete
Your addition from the web page has nothing to do with the causes of the widening income gap. It simply says that there is a way to immediately rectify the gap by ....."essentially giving money to the lower income groups" This has nothing to do with understanding the causes so that we can rectify those causes. Giving money to the lower incomes or non-incomes, is part of the problem....not a solution....at least when the developments are viewed long term. As for the more recent increase in inequality, there are numerous factors that may prove difficult to address.
Sorry if my recent post was at all misleading....it was not meant to be.