Tuesday, February 6, 2007

More Equal Than Others

This is a week smattered with news and postings on inequality. That is a good thing. The nation has already decided what it thinks of Iraq, if not how best to proceed from here. Dealing with the issue of inequality is our next greatest challenge.

Mankiw says that the difference between the right and the left comes down to Rawls vs. Nozick, and the question – is inequality of results in and of itself a bad thing?

For the uninitiated, Rawls is perhaps the most famous egalitarian philosopher. His central thesis is that we do not choose our innate talents or the income and education of our parents and so we should develop a society that benefits the least lucky among us. For if not for the grace of god, there would go we.

Nozick on the other hand argues that first and foremost we are people with the right to self-determination over our mind and body No one has the right to use us as simply a means.

Taken to its logical conclusion this means that we have the right to exit any relationship we deem poisonous, even if that relationship is working to benefit the poor. Perhaps, we should help the poor, but no one has a right to force us to help the poor. Nozick was at least for a time the leading libertarian philosopher.

However, there is a third approach. An approach that says we are not forced to help the least lucky. Yet, to the extent that our good fortune allows us to make a better living in society, society has the right to provide insurance for the less lucky.

The idea would be look, if you want to shirk off all of the benefits of government and organized society then fine, you have a right to that. Most people, however, will not be in a position to make the most of their wealth or their brilliance without the help of others.

It is no accident that nearly half of America’s billionaires live in either New York City or Los Angeles. Whether you are making money or spending money, the city is the place to be.

Technically, speaking I think this means that everyone has the right to denounce their citizenship and not pay taxes of any sort. Of course, this means not doing business with any tax paying citizen or anyone who does business with a tax paying citizen. In reality that group of people who would choose this is small and they could probably evade taxation anyway.

In reality this third approach means that we can and should provide some sort of social insurance to our population, but we should not do it to the point we begin to drive out our more wealthy and talented citizens. In a modern global economy I think this is the natural equilibrium anyone – good thing it also happens to be supported by my pet theory of justice


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