(Still) More on Inequality
Two responses to David Schmidtz's article
on inequality at Cato Unbound; one from Peter
Singer, the other from Tom
Singer argues for egalitarian policies on a utilitarian basis. (Since
$100 is presumed to be more utile to a poor person than a rich one,
we can raise overall utility by taking it from the rich guy
and giving it to the poor person.)
That aspect of Singer's response is critiqued here
by "KipEsquire", who really disagreed.
Much better, in my view, is Palmer's article. He observes:
Most—perhaps all—of those who are intent on
eradicating inequalities of wealth, or income, or welfare start by
assuming that they are entitled to rearrange the lives and entitlements
of other people. It's just obvious to them that they have a legitimate
right to determine how other people live. Of course, they assume that
it's not "they" who have those rights; rather it's the state, which is
assumed to be their—er, our—agent, that has those rights.
Mr. Palmer then proceeds to blow this assumption out of the water
in masterful fashion.
But, as I observed before, it's Inequality Season, and Arnold
Kling has a good
article on the topic too. He asks a question I've often pondered
myself, on both this topic and others:
The question I have for people on both sides of the debate is this: what
would the data have to look like to get you to consider changing your
position? That is, if you think inequality is a big deal, what would the
data on relative consumption or wealth or income have to look like to
make you think it is not a big deal? Conversely, if you think inequality
is not a big deal, what would the data have to look like to make you
think that it is a big deal?
Since I quoted the question, I suppose I should attempt to answer
from the "not a big deal" side: I'm not so sure I can answer it in
a "data" sense, but in a policy sense: we have to worry when the
political processes put up barriers to the dynamism that fuels
economic and social mobility. I'm not so much interested in what
the wealth or income distribution statistics "look like" as I am
in in having a free and prosperous country.
(Of course, this conveniently answers
the question in a way that avoids changing my position. Sorry,
Via Arnold's article, you can also check out this debate
at the WSJ
site between lefty Heather Boushey and Cafe Hayek's Russell Roberts.
Not surprisingly, I think Russell has the better argument there. And
(finally), see Russell's co-blogger, Don Boudreaux, on the topic
at the Cafe.
Among the good points made there is a parenthetical one:
By the way, I put "distribution" in quotation marks because, as David
Henderson once reminded me, income and wealth in market economies aren't
"distributed" in any meaningful sense of that term; income and wealth
are created and initially owned by those who create it. Wealth isn't
created and then distributed. The pattern of wealth's possession is
determined by the process of its creation. Therefore, what we call
"redistribution" of wealth is really distribution of goods confiscated
mostly from their creators.)