(Still) More on Inequality

Two responses to David Schmidtz's article on inequality at Cato Unbound; one from Peter Singer, the other from Tom Palmer.

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 illiberal 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, Arnold.)

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.)