Summary: skip to the pictures after the
<big> text under heading 2.
Since 2009, pundits have concerned themselves with economic inequality. Robert Reich’s infographic about the US I’ll treat as a summary.
Let me dummyise the opinionscape into three camps:
- John Galt. The etymology of aristo-cracy is “rule by the best people”. The market rewards output fairly. Tax the best people and you will drive them out of France and into perfect stateless seasteads. Lose them and you’ll be sorry.
- Maximilien de Robespierre. F—k the rich. They inherited their way to the top. Connections, luck, brown-nosing, and false confidence determine incomes more than "merit". The middle manager is no better than his underling. The applicant who got the job is no better than another applicant who was ignored. Guillotine the superfluous gentleman, the role will still be filled; the new girl may even do it better.
- Vilfredo Pareto. Hey—if the rich aren’t actively making the poor worse off, what does it matter?
The third view is the one I want to challenge just now.
When I see a manual farmer being destroyed by Nature, I feel:
- sorry for the farmer
- the longer I spent thinking about their suffering, the sorrier I feel
- Why doesn’t somebody do something? They don’t need much. They just need a little help.
- This is so unfair.
And somehow, gut reactions are part of real morality and ethics.
So here’s my challenge to the Paretians. Which image galls you more:
- a farmer suffering from drought, with the whole community destroyed—families crying into each other in solidarity as they all lost pretty much everything
- next to the damned farmers weeping on their knees, stands the Monopoly Man, laughing, swirling a flute of champagne and recounting the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.
To the extent that these gut reactions translate into legitimate morals, the Robespierreans win over the Galtists and over the Paretians.
Envy exists. From this one infers that when the rich get richer but the poor don’t, that their individual utilities can still drop. But let’s go beyond society-as-a-collection-of-independent-individuals.
The image of the Monopoly Man merrily dancing next to the poor (or even indifferently ignoring their plight) curdles the blood. Gucci little piggies go first against the wall for a reason.