RE: One humanity, all in the same boat

From: Dickey, Michael F (
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 13:39:46 MST

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From: []
Sent: Monday, January 21, 2002 12:58 PM
Subject: Re: One humanity, all in the same boat (Chris Hibbert) writes:
>I was in general unimpressed by the arguments of "Luxury Fever". I agree
>many people are driven by envy and care about relative standing. I don't
>that that gives the argument moral weight. Some people are doing very well
>improving the lives of others, and they're being compensated very well for

"In a society in which rewards are much more dispersed, a larger fraction
of people are able to accomplish what they attempt.
 That's why the arguments in Luxury Fever imply that there are negative
externalities associated with celebrity-worship. Since I don't see any way
to internalize those externalities, I therefore believe that a moral system
which creates social pressure to make choices that reduce inequality will
produce a nicer society than a moral system that claims inequality doesn't


I am currently reading a book, 'Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny' which
both of you might find interesting. The author, Robert Wright, argues that
the growing level of non-zero competitions between people and cultures
allows and encourages all people in those cultures to be wealthier, happier,
and live longer lives. This increase in non-zero interaction stems directly
from technological innovations in communication, information, and
transportation. Those technological developments further increase the rate
at which other technological innovations come about, as more people can
build on what others figured out, as a consequence cultural barriers fall
and the world is open up to free exchange of ideas and products.
Consequently and paradoxically that freedom invites new cultural barriers to
arise, allowing once fledgling and disparate groups to unite and gain
political clout, but Wright argues that the general trend is one that leads
to longer and better lives for the whole world.

That materialism and luxury fever you mention also provided us all (well,
post-industrialized 'us') with warm cozy homes that are inexpensive (use to
be only the really wealthy had homes), running water (used to be only the
really wealthy had running water) Heat (used to be only the really wealthy
had heat) Hot water, good medical care (even if you can not pay for it, you
are guaranteed by law to receive stabilized health care in the US) and
longer, healthier lives. Think of the influence and changes in our lives
that cheap electrical generation and transmission brought about by
capitalistic competition has sowed. Even rudimentary things available to
third world country members are superior to many of the items that only the
wealthiest had centuries ago. The caloric consumption of 3rd world nations
is increasing every year, and has increased ~30% since 1968, chiefly due to
those big mean agribusiness making money of food, while competing with each
other. Making food nearly dirt cheap makes it more and more difficult to
keep out of the hands of even the poorest people.

> That's why life is so much better for everyone, including the worst off.

" Everyone? Do you deny that there are people who have lost their job
security due to economic change? Do you deny that there are people whose
pristine view of lake Tahoe has become less valuable because someone else
became wealthy enough to build another house within that view?
 The economic progress that I observe looks like some people (often a large
majority) benefitting from an innovation while others lose something as a
result. It's hard to explain the widespread controversy over policies that
promote economic progress unless I notice the existence of people who are
hurt by such progress."

I guess it all depends on what you define 'hurt' by economic progress to be.
Getting a lake view obstructed isn't what I considered 'hurt' by economic
progress, nor is laying off candle makers to make way for the electric light
bulb. In that example, as in most other similar ones, a small fraction of
the population benefits by continuing to make candles (or cars, or TV's,
etc.), a much larger portion of the population benefits by making light
bulbs, and subsequently putting candle makers out of business. What about
the poor candle makers? Well, to bad for them. Utilitarian ethicians site
the greatest good for the greatest number. Kantianists site respect for
persons, modern ethicians search for a utilitarian view while maintaining
respect for persons. Putting someone out of work because of a technological
innovation does not violate the right of the individual as theft, assault,
or enslavement does, and the rest of the world benefits by getting cheaper,
stronger, safer products. Poor out of work American work still has health
care, welfare, heat, hot water, and many other things even that absolute
richest people of centuries ago could only dream about. Sure, the rich get
richer and the gap between rich and poor expands, but the poor get richer as
well (how many poverty level US citizens have more than 1 color TV I
wonder?) and that gap isn't a mythical vacuum, its being filled by the
middle class, whose standard of living also continues to increase. I say on
with progress, and should I get laid off, I'll start learning a new career,
and I will be happy that fewer people are starving to death, getting beaten
to death, or executed by oppressive governments SPECIFICALLY because of the
spread of increasingly less expensive technology brought on by greedy
capitalist materialistic incentives.


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