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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › What's wrong with the 1%? - Equality and inequality

What's wrong with the 1%? - Equality and inequality

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 214
I'm going to host a meetup in late September dealing with philosophical issues related to equality of condition. This should be timely given the prominence of this topic in this election year. I'm posting some questions for thought and discussion.

Is equality INTRINSICALLY valuable by itself? Some philosophers think that equality has no relationship to justice. They cite the "levelling down" objection. For example, let's say that we make the 1% poorer, but the money is just lost and everyone else is the same. Most people would say that something bad has happened (overall utility has decreased), but has anything good happened, just by equality increasing? If so, what?

Hardcore libertarians might argue that the fundamental right is self-ownership (that is, we stand in relation to ourselves as a master might to a chattel slave). This right cannot be abridged. So the argument goes that we own our bodies, and thus our labor, and thus the fruits of our labor. In this formulation, any form of redistributive taxation is a form of forced labor or partial slavery, since if one is taxed, one has to work harder in order to make the same amount. Therefore by taxation, the government has acquired partial ownership rights in persons (the extra labor you do to pay taxes), which violates self-ownership (some might accept that taxation for the purposes of protecting self-ownership - property rights and defense - is legitimate, but any form of redistribution is strictly off-limits). In this argument, no amount of inequality is just or unjust, only the procedures used to acquire property can be just or unjust. What do you think of this argument?
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 215
If one thinks self-ownership is the most important fundamental right, why is this the case? For example, let's say that a rich person can be taxed to provide lifesaving medical care. The rich person refuses citing self-ownership. If taxation is applied involuntarily, let's say, for the purposes of this argument, that self-ownership has been violated and a wrong has been done. If the taxation saves a life, could it be said that the violation of self-ownership was justified, or is self-ownership so fundamental that it can never be violated? If so, why?

There are those (quite a few) who cite self-ownership arguments in support of, say, abortion rights, but also favor redistributive taxation strongly. But how is it that one could have an absolute right of self-ownership in one's body, but not in one's labor?
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 216
Those who argue for greater equality of condition often base their arguments on the basis of luck, and the resulting lack of desert. For example, it is argued that we do not deserve the fortunate, or unfortunate circumstances in which we are born, the quality of our parents, and so on. Most controversially, it is also argued that we do not deserve the natural talents with which we were born. Thus justice requires that we attempt to mitigate the effects of bad luck in the natural lottery. What do you think of this argument?

An influential philosophical thesis is "luck egalitarianism". This holds that we should aim for equality of condition when it concerns factors over we have no control (e.g., parents, natural talents), but allow for inequality in areas where brute luck does not play a role (e.g., effort, choice). However, going back to the free will debate, if we lack free will, it may not be clear how we can be responsible for working hard, or making good choices - thus the lack of free will would seem to imply a more throughgoing egalitarianism. So do you think that whether or not we have free will should influence how much equality of condition we strive for?
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 217
John Rawls argued that if we were bargaining under a veil of ignorance (e.g., we do not know anything about what type of people we will be), one of the principles we would agree upon is the famous Difference Principle - any inequalities in condition are only acceptable to the extent that they benefit the least advantaged members of society (note that this could allow for tax cuts on the wealthy, if they cause the wealthy to work harder, invest more and generate more jobs). Do you think that we would agree to this if we were in the situation Rawls stipulates?
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 218
Why is it that we should care about inequality in America, in the face of global inequality where the bottom billion lives on a dollar a day? Consider the most "equal" developed countries, the Scandinavian countries and Japan. From the global perspective, all these countries are doing is making people who are already very well off by global standards more equal. It could be argued that a country which allows more poor immigrants to enter, even if these immigrants are very economically unequal, does more for global justice as long as the immigrants have a better quality of life than in their home countries. Why should we not be far more concerned with the global poor than the "poor" in America who are quite well-off by global standards?
William T.
15496715
Chicago, IL
Post #: 10
This probably won't be something I could actually participate in until a year from now (when I start going to and from Seattle more often), but has anyone ever considered doing a side-by-side reading of Rawls and Nozick?
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 110
For those interested, here's a video of a conversation between Elizabeth Anderson and another philosopher, David Schmidtz, on the subject of political equality and what the point of it is and the types and why prevailing views of what it means are mistaken in her view:

http://www.philostv.c...­

Anderson's famous paper on equality is cited by Gene.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 111
William,

We did have a reading and discussion specifically on Rawls and Nozick about a year and a half ago. We may again, if there's interest.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 234
William,

I wasn't at the prior meetup on Rawls and Nozick but the current meetup might cover some of the issues raised by these 2 philosophers. I've read both Theory of Justice and Anarchy State and Utopia in the past. Theory of Justice is a longer and more complex book, and since its publication in the 70s there has been a massive amount of commentary on it. Anarchy State and Utopia is a shorter and simpler book, and Nozick essentially abandoned this area after publishing the book and moved on to other interests. So the comparison may be less relevant today, given that the Nozick viewpoint has not really been developed as fully. Both philosophers are similar in that they reject ulitarianism and adopt "deontological" approaches, Nozick most notably with his emphasis on rights.

Victor,

Thanks for the link, I've seen this video in the past. David Schimdtz will actually be in Seattle giving a talk at UW next month.

Gene

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