Dreaming of inequality

Don Arthur at Club Troppo (the closest thing in Australia to a nineteenth-century debating salon) has a splendid post on inequality, shedding light on the simple but ferociously difficult question: how much is too much?

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6 Responses to Dreaming of inequality

  1. Patrick says:

    You overmodestly omit that the post was inspired by a typically humble comment by your good self!

    The combination of that discussion thread and your post on the ACT 2020 thing does pretty much irrefutably negate Don’s earlier thesis that classical liberals should ally themselves with ‘progressives’, though!!

  2. perhaps not says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Tangential to the blog, but you might want to check Tuesday’s FT, in which John Plender cites your co-authored article in income inequalities in Australia on a long commentary piece on the issue.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Patrick, I’m not sure whether I was being humble or pig-ignorant. I’m glad you thought it was the former. I reckon the CL/Prog syngeries are there on many issues, though.

    PN, I liked the piece, which was surprisingly wonkish. Made me wonder if Plender was an economist himself, actually.

  4. Patrick says:

    Editing the financial pages of the Economist must have given him a feel for the discipline!

  5. Patrick says:

    I reckon the CL/Prog syngeries are there on many issues, though.

    This was Don’s point, too. But the threads I pointed to above show that there are such fundamental differences between them that any fusion appears seriously unlikely. You are (I believe) actually a pretty lefty classical liberal, so it is easy to see why you (and similarly Don, Argy and N Gruen) would see this. But pretty much everyone thought of as a ‘classical liberal’ rejected the idea out-of-hand: Jason Soon, Andrew Norton, Skepticlawyer, etc (myself for that matter).

    Most seriously, the ‘progressives’ appear to have no serious commitment to property or economic liberty. Someone on the troppo thread proposed 95% taxation on the rich! A slight catch, wouldn’t you think?

    Similarly, as Jason Soon pointed out, when the synergies do exist, typically on social liberties, they are only superficial: socialistsprogressives think social liberties are a matter of equally dispensing the state’s privileges whilst liberals think they are a matter of equality, full stop. Hence socialistsprogressives can’t conceive of anything wrong with banning smoking, whereas liberals think that it has to be, at least, justified.

  6. perhaps not says:

    It’s true that lefties are not clear on how much inequality is acceptable; the post is right to point out that Rawls sidesteps this problem. But his notion of justice undoubtedly allows significant levels of economic inequality.

    But one should also remember that liberals, and I’m thinking of Milton Friedman here, are also unclear on this question. In Cap. & Freedom he has a poor answer to the question of how to manage economic inequalities derived from differences in innate capacities, as opposed to differences in effort (which individuals can be held morally responsible for). Clearly he feels, rightly IMHO, that people should not be responsible for outcomes derived from characteristics over which they have no control, but he has no good answer to how to deal with this conundrum.

    Which is not to say that I do, of course, merely that few people have good answers to the question, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.

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