July 22, 2006

Inequality will always be here, so might as well use it

Stumbling and Mumbling looks at inequality, following Polly's entirely predictable, and predicted, article on the matter. He points out that even if somehow it where possible to make sure that everybody where equally poor that would still not solve the matter. Money is in itself not much, it is an exchange medium, but we also use it as a signifier of something else status.
If people in power - like bosses - can't convert that power into money, they'll convert it into something else, like status. Remember the 1970s? It's no coincidence that high taxes were accompanied by absurd distinctions in status, like "executive toilets". Much the same was true of the old Soviet Union, as Trotsky pointed out.
Taxes, than, aren't the solution.
The real solution then would be to try and do something about the signified, status, rather than the signifier, money. And here you run into a problem, you can't.

There is a glorious diversity of human talent out there, but the fact that everybody is different means that everybody will have different aptitudes and attitudes to different things. This can be seen everywhere. Even in the UK with a state schooling system designed so that everybody ends up equally uneducated some people will still leave it better at whatever their chosen interest than others. Some people are better at some things than other people, either because of being physiologically better at it, or because they are willing to slog their guts out to become better at it. It is only natural that the better quality whatever produced by the people willing to dedicate themselves it's production will have a higher status than a lower quality one, because it is better. The status of the whatever will naturally end up reflected onto whomever it is that produces it.

So if you cannot stop people being different how about stopping people caring? Try to educate out the instinct for higher status? Again, because you can't. Social hierarchy is hardwired into humans, as it is with all other primates. You can also see the problems associated with being lower in the social hierarchy in all primates. You are about as likely to be able to educate out people's instinct to envy as their instinct to love.

So if we are never going to be rid of social hierarchy and status then we might as well try to use it in a productive manner to try and get enough benefit out of it that this out weight the deficits in terms of human happiness. Allow people to compete, because they will anyway, and allow them to reap the rewards of success, because they will anyway in one way or another. Let people goad each other into pushing themselves to excel and so more up or down the social hierarchy on their merits. It is better this than try to restrict competition and so doom some groups of people to the underclass, no matter their abilities as individuals.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice is very germane here.
Walzer says inequalities are acceptable as long as they are bounded - so that inequalities of money don't lead to inequalities of power, and vice versa. I think most of us can live happily with inequalities as long as there are multiple hierarchies, with different people at the top of each.
One thing I find offensive about inequalities - of power or wealth - is the presumption that those at the top are somehow deserving. In many cases, they ain't.

11:45 am  
Blogger chris said...

Interesting I will put that on my list of books that I should read, when I can afford some that it.

8:26 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home