Re: Why life is unfair for so many...

Date: Tue Feb 05 2002 - 10:49:33 MST

In a message dated 2/3/02 10:12:11 PM, writes, in
relevant part:

>Does the ability to earn money really vary by a
>factor of a million from person to person, in their own right? How much
>of that variance is from the person, and how much from the position in
>society they happen to occupy, which any non-moron could exploit? If a
>lot comes from the position (no one would say it all does, but a lot
>might), then we could contemplate a society with fewer bottlenecks to be
>occupied by lottery. (Or more but less lucrative ones.)

Plainly, societal infrastructure plays a necessary but not sufficient role in
creating large inequalities in wealth. Among hunter-gatherers, even someone
twice as smart, strong, and liked as his peers will not own billions more in
assets than his peers.

Beyond that, I'm at a loss for hard measures of the relative influence of
chance, innate ability, acquired virtues, and societal infrastructure in
creating disparities in wealth. Perhaps social scientists can measure such
things; I cannot say, as it is not my field of study. But I wax skeptical.

At any rate, it seems to me that no one can intelligently address
inequalities in wealth unless and until they make clear whether they care
about inequality per se or simply poverty. If the latter, they will have to
answer very hard questions about why we should care about inequality and how
we justify forcibly redistributing wealth.

I've found that most people care about inequality per se because, ultimately,
they fear envy. Note that I do not say "feel" envy; in my experience,
outrage about inequality comes mostly from those who have relatively great
wealth (though that perhaps reflects the media I consume). Helmut Shoeck
wrote an excellent book, ENVY, about the important role that poisonous
feeling plays in cultures and economies. I won't reprise his argument here,
but I do strongly encourage interested parties to look into the work.

Regarding justifications for forcibly redistributing wealth, I think most r
eaders of this list know how the arguments go and long ago decided which they
prefer to follow.

T.0. Morrow

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