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Are there any arguments for wealth inequality being desirable?

Dahlen          8 September 2015 03:33 AM


I don't mean good in the sense of an acceptable byproduct of a just system. Nor do I mean better than the alternative of income redistribution. I mean desirable as an end value the evil twin of wealth egalitarianism, wherein too much wealth equality is something to be fixed by reverse redistribution. Is such a position conceivable? What are the mental gymnastics required to arrive at it? I'm picturing some sort of old money classism whereby lower class culture persists across income levels and wealth might be wasted on them. A more callous position would be a supposed economic necessity for an underclass to be exploited for cheap labour. The most reasonable argument I can think of is for the desirability of variety of consumption levels and class demographics, based on the idea that frugal lifestyles can be worth having as well, while glossing over the uglier aspects of poverty. I don't personally support any of these positions, but it's interesting to think about. What do you think?



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VoiceOfRa 8 September 2015 08:30 PM
77%

How about: Creating socially worthwhile things, e.g., art, science, technology, requires large concentrations of capital. More generally, having a few large concentrations of capital makes it easier for society to coordinate to do important things.

For example, one common explanation for the relative success of England compared to Ireland is that England had primogeniture whereas Ireland had the more egalitarian partible inheritance. This resulted in Ireland constantly being divided between rival petty lords none of whom were powerful enough to stop the great British Lords from taking over Ireland.



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melian 12 September 2015 06:40 AM
76%

Good example. The English also directly interfered in Wales in order to prevent the Welsh from switching to the primogeniture system.

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Dahlen 9 September 2015 03:04 PM
67%

This is not an argument for selective deprivation. The existence of large concentrations of capital (technically) does not preclude the existence of equal concentration of non-capital e.g. luxury consumption goods. Wealth goes beyond capital, and this does not say much about poverty in both absolute and relative terms.

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VoiceOfRa 9 September 2015 09:00 PM
68%

The existence of large concentrations of capital (technically) does not preclude the existence of equal concentration of non-capital e.g. luxury consumption goods.

Also, things like art and pure science are luxury goods, and without sufficient concentrations of wealth no one can afford them.


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VoiceOfRa 9 September 2015 08:57 PM
65%


This is not an argument for selective deprivation. The existence of large concentrations of capital (technically) does not preclude the existence of equal concentration of non-capital e.g. luxury consumption goods.


Except in practice it does.


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Silent Cal 11 September 2015 03:59 PM
73%

It could be that the human brain is tuned for a certain level of inequality, and if we can't express our impulses to acquire and protect status, we'd suffer for it.

Of course, in the absense of monetary inequality, you can bet humans would preserve lots of social inequality, they'd just have to find other bases for it. Is there a reason to think this would be worse? Maybe people overweight the ladders they're high on when evaluating their self-worth, so having more ladders lets more people be higher on some ladder and produces positive utility, and eliminating wealth inequality would remove one ladder.

Or you could go reverse-Rawls and try to maximize the maximum utility (fun fact, Ayn Rand once said she would do exactly this if she were put behind the Veil of Ignorance). I guess this isn't pro-inequality per se, since it'd be just as happy with everyone having the same high wealth, but seems worth mentioning here, as it certainly does justify reverse-redistribution.


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aliad 31 October 2015 05:23 PM
70%

It's a fundamentals part of monetary wealth is that it's transferable. If you want to have any sort of trade or commerce you have to allow items of value to be transferred from one entity to another. A transfer implies that there was an inequity either before or after. Wealth inequity s implies by humans sharing value with each other and humans sharing value with each other is a good thing. You can decide you want to limit wealth inequity but you need to be aware what you are saying in terms of real world implementation is that you want to negate/forbid/slow down transactions that would lead to inequality



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Dahlen 1 November 2015 06:02 AM
74%

I see what you mean, but in theory, trade is supposed to make both parties better off, or else the transaction wouldn't occur (if the price is too high, the buyers would rather keep their money; if too low, the sellers would keep their products). Unless some people are systematically forced into accepting bad bargains, trade shouldn't necessarily lead to unfair outcomes.

Besides, like I said, I'm looking for arguments in favour of enthusiastic support of wealth inequality, rather than arguments for its inevitability.

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aliad 1 November 2015 07:13 PM
72%

Focusing on enthusiastic support for wealth inequality: It supplies an avenue for micro punishments and micro rewards that moreover can be implemented in an egalitarian rather than authoritarian manner. If someone does something really Wong you can use punishments like sipping or throwing them in jail. But there are certain bad thinks that formal punishment just seems massive overkill: things like being rude and unpleasant to others, being careless and inattentive to your work, and not keeping promises. Loss of business opportunities and in egregious cases fines and monetary civil judgments provide and good middle grounds between ignoring bad behavior and draconian punishment. It also allows for more participation from the everyday people in direct contact with the offender. But if everyone is mandated to have about the same amount of wealth tense types of punishments loose effect as ... read more

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melian 8 September 2015 05:16 PM
69%

If you want a purely hypothetical scenario here is one:

Suppose an alien civilization arrives to our planet, but instead of hunting down humans in accordance with the best traditions of our xenophobic science fiction it gives us free material wealth. It also takes upon itself the task of completely eliminating wealth inequality, so a person who earns X dollars by his own efforts receives a subsidy of Y-X dollars. The Earth is finally free from poverty and all humans are free to pursue their personal spiritual quests.

In this situation, unless humans decide to resist and restore wealth inequality, our civilization is going to collapse within at most three generations and aliens can take our planet without a fight.


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Dahlen 9 September 2015 03:07 PM
73%

Uhh... Alright, premise granted, now how does the conclusion follow from the premise? And how credible is the claim that all people would pursue spiritual quests if given the chance to do so?

Do you mean that material incentives are only meaningful when unequal, and that the pursuit for wealth is only motivating when framed as "keeping up with the Joneses"?

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melian 12 September 2015 06:35 AM
73%

how credible is the claim that all people would pursue spiritual quests if given the chance to do so?

I did not say that all people would pursue spiritual quests, only that they would be free to do so.
Do you mean that material incentives are only meaningful when unequal

If no matter how hard you work you earn the same amount of money (Y dollars), most people would simply stop working (unless they risk North Korea style penalties).


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Benito 1 November 2015 11:48 AM
67%

One might argue that people have gotten used to the situations they find themselves in. The poor are happy being poor and the rich happy being rich, and noticeably changing those situations would not make anyone happier, in fact the poorer maybe would get no happier and the rich would get less happy.

That's a hypothesis I believe is false, of course.


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Paul 23 November 2015 03:28 PM
67%

If knowledge is easily transferrable once developed or discovered, and if it is expensive to develop or discover, then it makes sense to concentrate society's resources on those most likely to develop or discover it.


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is4junk 12 October 2015 03:27 PM
66%

Reverse redistribution was very popular with empires that required tributes to be paid.

For a democracy, I would assume reverse redistribution would be popular for its leaders for the same reason it was for an emperor.



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is4junk 13 October 2015 08:20 PM
65%

Thinking about this a bit more, isn't tithing another reverse redistribution. As for it being desirable - it is usually voluntary. So even if your community started in a equal wealth state (in some way), a charismatic religious leader could undo it. They probably wouldn't even have to be religious - just have the right cause.

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melian 14 October 2015 05:16 AM
75%

In theory, individual priests did not own the tithes they collected. Also, in the last 1000+ years tithing was not voluntary in most cases.

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gogog00 29 October 2015 10:08 PM
65%

Absolutely. The desire to attain *relative* superiority in social status is an innate goal of humans (especially males). Capitalism brilliantly matches acquisition of increased social status (through attainment of wealth) with creation of consumer surplus (through innovation and competition).

If we had a switch that magically flat-lined everyone's wealth forever, the result would be:

1. It would cripple innovation (and thus the global economy, etc.) both through destroying incentives and through the lack of capital flowing to where it is optimal

2. People would find an alternative way to differentiate social status

It is impossible to argue that pure wealth equality would be beneficial to humans, on net.


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Dahlen 30 October 2015 01:59 PM
72%

So, why is this a case where it's good to give people what they desire, particularly when the desire is of such a nature that inherently not everybody can be satisfied? Why shouldn't people... I don't know, suck it up? (Besides the fact that, like you mention, it might wreak havoc to an economic system partially built around this desire. Ethically speaking, I mean.)

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gogog00 30 October 2015 02:17 PM
68%

Why is this a case where it's good to give people what they desire


We don't "give" people what they desire, they earn it through creating economic value which in turn creates a host of benefits for consumers.

Like I said, the beauty of capitalism is that it aligns the human desire for social status with the creation of consumer surplus.

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DanielLC 9 September 2015 06:14 PM
65%

Wealth inequality is necessary to motivate people to work. You make the people who work more wealthier. But having it as an end value in of itself, or even having wealth involved in end values, is ludicrous. Wealth is a useful system, but it's not fundamental. Wealth isn't important for its own sake. Wealth just allows you to do whatever it is you find terminally valuable, like having fun.


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Fwiffo 27 September 2015 02:06 PM
58%

Unless you have direct access to more desirable things, then it becomes non-neccesary

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DanielLC 5 October 2015 11:40 AM
65%

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Can you rephrase that?

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rathmaster@gmai 30 October 2015 09:58 AM
64%

This isn't necessarily an argument that wealth inequality is desirable - I think others have covered the spread on that one pretty well - merely that it is not inherently harmful in the ways lots of people assume.

Obviously, poverty is real, and there are people in first-world countries who go hungry. However, even though wealth distribution might be extremely "unfair", very few people actually starve. The rich have gotten much richer, true, but the poor have gotten richer as well, just not as quickly.

Among the poverty-stricken people I know, very few of them don't own a laptop and/or some kind of gaming console and a TV, and even fewer don't own a cellphone. Lots of them are living off odd jobs and take the bus to get around, and many have to live with several roommates to make the rent. But for the first time in history, it's possible to do very little to no work (due to mental illness or economical problems) and still do okay.

It might seem phenomenally unfair to the father-of-two who works two minimum wage jobs and isn't able to get fully on his feet that there are people who earn literally thousands of times what he does, but it's thanks to those giant corporations and billionaires that our quality of life has increased so dramatically. He wouldn't have a TV or a cellphone if giant corporations hadn't made them.


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VoiceOfRa 30 October 2015 06:17 PM
67%


Obviously, poverty is real, and there are people in first-world countries who go hungry.


Don't conflate poverty (in the absolute sense), with inequality.


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Fwiffo 27 September 2015 02:27 PM
60%

Having people live lives in different wealth levels allows for more forms of life and more chances of evolving and adapting.

Poor people are usually efficent in resource use and are more motivated to be ingenious, which once invented can also be utilised by the rich people or for the rich people. This is even without any effect on potential of gaining a big reward. Jamie Oliver also believs that the best foods are invented by the poorest.

Wealth inequality can be used to breed the species in a certain direction. A species that conciously chooses to evolve in a certain way is in some senses more autonomous.

Rich people usually have their visions implemented to a greater extent.

Climbing social ladders can be a fun game in the right circumstances. There is a reason "game of thrones" is worth a watch and it would not exactly pan out if there were no thrones to fight over. Soap operas have their viewers and the yellow pages need some source for their headlines.

Peaks of civilization embody in single persons which makes them more relatable. World politics is done more personally and less distributed. There is more located seat of control

Well darn these following two were already covered and asked not to repeat (yet there they are).

In a way ancient Greece philospohers were possible because they didn't have manual labour to do. Hint: somebody still did manual labour.

"It is good to be the king." Poor people are more reliant on wealthy people and are more suggestible resource. Even if one allows to identify with the whole human race,if everything else stays fixed isn't the addition of a whole bunch of poor people a better thing than not having them? (the repugnant conclusion is relevant).



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