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September 17, 2013



It's unfortunate that we can't achieve justice by democratic methods, because undemocratic methods almost systematically prove to be poor alternatives.
The good point in democracy however is that, although quite imperfect, it is a self-correcting system (just like the market). The equilibrium may never be optimal, but extreme situations are only temporary.
Switzerland will soon vote on a referendum initiated by young leftists that would limit the top remuneration in a corporation to a 1:12 ratio with the lowest remuneration in that corporation.
The odds were initially high against that referendum, but it now appears that its fate is not necessarily doomed.
This would be a striking example of the self-correcting effect of the political system imposing a correction to a market failure.


Because we understand that it's a direct consequence of globalisation.

Lady Gaga is selling more records than Kylie. One is global and current, one isn't.


This raises an interesting thought experiment: if a citizens' basic income were to be introduced, and this increased people's sense of personal security as well as potential (i.e. being able to take the risk to try a new career), would this erode the tolerance of inequality?

In other words, would a CBI be a major psychological step towards equality (across multiple dimensions) as well as a fiscal one?

Ralph Musgrave

Another reason for accepting inequality is that people at the bottom of the pile nowadays enjoy things that kings and queens could only have dreamed about in the middle ages: television plus a hundred different radio stations to listen to – all with vastly better quality music than was available in the middle ages.

Then there is health care, which again is far better quality than anything available in the middle ages.

I seem to remember a survey which asked people if they’d given up their television in exchange for a million pounds. About half said they wouldn’t. So you could argue that people on benefits who have a TV are worth a million.

Steve M

Is there any proof whatsoever that government redistribution of income would reduce inequality, though? Intuitively, it would more likely increase the income of the largest of the 1% - the government itself - at the expense of everyone else.


Steve M, can you explain in words of one syllable please? I don't understand your point.


Perhaps Steve is saying that government efforts at redistribution bloat the public sector while not appearing to do very much for the intended recipients.


Maybe it's the thought that counts = )


Doesn't the data suggest something more complex? That the losers in a more equal society want a society more equal than losers in a more unequal society; but that those in a more equal society want to increase inequality somewhat and those in a more unequal society want to reduce it quite a bit.

That would suggest that there is some political mileage in calling for a more equal society in a very unequal one, just not as much as an egalitarian may like

Dan Kervick

I wouldn't despair so much about the possibility of democratic change. One reason people lack the capacity to oppose inequality effectively is that they simply never hear the arguments against inequality and against the idea that unequal earnings are deserved. They are propagandized on a daily basis by a corporate-owned entertainment industry that pushes the message that poor individual outcomes are always a consequence of a failure of individual virtue. That appears to be the message of about 90% of "reality shows".

However, it is also important that we don't just appeal to "justice", since the sense of justice is a mysterious faculty which varies from person to person. Inequality is a dysfunctional social condition that undermines the capacity for democracy and destroys the political power of those at the bottom; and it is a dysfunctional economic condition that prevents a society from achieving its full economic potential.

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