Government Enforced Inequality

By James Hanley

Note: This post is part of our League Symposium on inequality. You can read the introductory post for the Symposium here. To see a list of all posts in the Symposium so far, click here.

What, if anything, is wrong with inequality? From my perspective as a libertarian, inequality of wealth per se is not a problem. Nor, consequently, is increasing inequality of wealth so long as the least well off are not becoming less well off. That’s the classic Pareto improvement standard—if you can make some better off without making others worse off, then it’s good.

I do, though, care about inequality of opportunity, at least to some extent. And in this post I want to focus on a particular type of inequality of opportunity–government created and enforced inequality. There are several reasons for this focus. First and foremost, it’s an issue I’ve long been interested in. Second, I think it’s under-discussed in policy debates such as we have here at the League. Third, I think it’s an important counterweight to the standard “the market (or society) is the cause of inequality, and government is the solution” approach, which I think is simplistic and radically misunderstands the nature of government.

Government appears to have literally begun as an exercise in creating inequality. Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, links the appearance of formal government to the development of agriculture and the consequent food surpluses. Hunter-gatherer communities generally fare well, but rarely experience long-term storable food surpluses. They also tend to have fairly informal governance, just the leadership of the influential person, with little formal or direct authority, in a society that was predominantly egalitarian. But agricultural societies tended to develop formal government. Diamond’s argument is that the governments came into being as a way to control food surpluses. Not a benevolent organizational development with the public service goal of ensuring the protection of the surpluses and a fair distribution, but essentially a hostile takeover by a gang capable of accomplishing the task. They then set themselves up as the elite of society, and doled out the food surpluses to those willing to kowtow to them. As Diamond argues,

[C]hiefdoms introduced a dilemma fundamental to all centrally governed, non-egalitarian societies. At best they do good by providing expensive services impossible to contract for on an individual basis. At worst they function unabashedly as kleptocracies, transferring net wealth from commoners to upper classes. These noble and selfish functions are inextricably linked, although some governments emphasize much more of one function than of the other. The difference between a kleptocrat and a wise statesman, between a robber baron and a public benefactor, is merely one of degree: a matter of just how large a percentage of the tribute exacted from producers is retained by the elite, and how much the commoners like the public uses to which the redistributed tribute is put. (p. 276)

The history of the world since then has been the effort to tame government, to enhance the public benefactor aspect of it and diminish the kleptocratic aspect of it. Obviously the U.S. is doing better at that than, say, Syria, but I don’t know many people, of any political stripe, who think that the U.S. has reached the ideal state of affairs in that regard. And I don’t mean that the U.S. doesn’t have a sufficient social safety net in comparison with European states, but that the kleptocratic tendencies are still rife at all levels of government. And I’m not sure that most close observers would agree that the kleptocratic tendencies are sufficiently dampened even in the European social democracies.

Some (like me) argue that government is not actually about discerning and fulfilling the public interest, but is essentially nothing more than a tug of war between specialized interests. There is very little that is truly definable as public interest. National defense, sewage treatment, and things like that, yes, but most policies are created at the demand of whatever interest manages to have sufficient influence at the right time. As Lasswell defined politics, it’s who gets what, when, and how. Yes, this means labor is a specialized interest, as are farmers, as are Christians, as are teachers, as are any identifiable group in our society. Or as James Madison defined them, they are factions,

a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

It is indeed a better system when lots of interests have influence (what Theodore Lowi calls “interest group liberalism”) than when only one or a few do But as public choice theory has amply demonstrated, the aggregation of specialized interests does not necessarily result in something we can plausibly call the “public interest.” If my group cadges a tax break for its particular activity, and your group cajoles legislators into giving it a subsidy, that’s just an accumulation of specialized interest policies; they don’t, by mere summation, transform into a public interest.

One–not the only, but one–consequence of this is a tendency for government to pass policies that create, reinforce, and effectively mandate inequality.

Let’s begin with the most obvious, or at least most egregious, examples, to demonstrate the point: slavery and genocide. Slavery is a system that cannot exist without government complicity. Free markets don’t create slavery, government policy does. In a world absent government, I am able to enslave you against your will only if I am able to be continually vigilant and deny you any opportunity to escape. If I fail, you get away and have the opportunity to make a better life for yourself, or at least give your children the chance for an improved life. In the world of government approval of slavery, the force of the state can come to bear on you and on anyone who assists you in escaping. It’s not that in a world absent government people won’t try to enslave others–they will, and some will succeed. But as a systemic social structure it requires governmental support. Genocide arises out of the ugliest of human impulses, impulses that exist whether government exists or not. But only governments have been able to organize people sufficiently well to commit genocide on a grand scale. Declaring that you may live, but he must die, each due to an accident of birth, is surely the worst kind of inequality.

Less severe than either slavery or genocide, but still obviously unacceptable is legal segregation. Again, based on accidents of birth, we tell this person, “you get to go to the good school, use the public swimming pool, and use the public restroom when you have need,” and tell that person, “you must go to the unfunded school, may not use the public swimming pool, and if you have to pee you’ll need to go around back and use a tree (and by the way, then we’ll call you an animal for not using a restroom.” Again, in a world absent government, there will, of course, be discrimination. But the best I could do to discriminate against you is to refuse to associate with you, socially or economically. Only with government can I tax you for benefits to me that are denied to you, and only with government can I go beyond refusing to serve you at my lunch counter to actually having you arrested and jailed for daring to sit down at it.

Next to those, what does simple economic inequality matter? Would you prefer to be a wealthy person who has to go to the kitchen door of the restaurant or a poor person who can walk in the front door. People can reasonably differ on that, as subjective preferences differ, but you can’t reasonably sneer at the person who takes dignity over wealth.

But those are the easy cases. Let’s look at things that are likely to create more debate.

How about education, which is obviously related to equality of opportunity? Who educates, to the extent they get educated, the vast majority of children in the U.S.? Governments. To the extent some children are screwed out of the opportunity for economic advancement because of a lousy education, it’s primarily government that’s screwing them. If our current system was in fact the result of the market is there any doubt that critics would be pointing the finger of blame in that direction? And yet there are vigorous objections to pointing the finger of blame at government for bad schools. That is, the institution that organizes the system would be blamed if it were the market, and demands would be made to supplant that organizing institution with another one, but when the organizing institution is the government it is not the institution that gets blamed, and there is no call to replace it with a different organizing institution–instead, blame is directed at specific policies and specific actors in the political system without ever realizing that such policies and such actors are very much the typical consequence of a government-based aproach. It is the nature of government and politics that creates many of the problems that result in a subpar education for so many children.

Or consider economic regulations that create barriers to entry in a particular profession. Most states require a person to be licensed to be a hair stylist. Yes, damage can be done by hairstylists that is worse than a bad perm. Scissors could put out an eye, the wrong use of chemicals could cause burns, etc. But that’s a call for a credentials program, not a strict licensing regimen. And my understanding is that the licensing regimens normally focus less on chemical safety than on knowledge of particular techniques. One example is finger curls. I believe it is (or at least was) New York that required a course of training that included learning to do finger curls in order to become a licensed hair stylist. That’s a barrier to entry for immigrant women who A) can’t afford the courses at a beauty college, and B) are unlikely to have a clientele that demands finger curls. Want to help reinforce inequality? Regulate poor people out of a profession in which they could improve their lot in life. (See, for example, here.)

In my experience, a common response is, “Oh, yes, that’s a bad regulation.” But by focusing on the particular example, the response misses the point that regulatory schemes tend to move in the direction of creating barriers to entry. They tend to for two reasons: 1) regulators find it easier to justify adding more rules than in reducing rules, because there’s always something that might be advantageous for a person in the profession to know, and if something ever goes wrong for one customer of one person in that profession there is likely to be a call for regulation to ensure that the particular thing never happens again; 2) those already in the profession find it advantageous to make it harder to get into the profession, to limit their competition.

What purpose does the bar exam for lawyers actually serve? Does the ability to pass one more big test after successfully completing three years of law school really separate the good lawyers from the bad ones? I’ve asked numerous lawyers, and not yet had one agree that the bar exam serves that purpose. Then there’s the California Dental Boards, which require the dental school graduate to find their own patients on which to perform a specific set of procedures within a three day period, a test they can attempt only once. Failure for any reason (“I had someone lined up for a root canal but they didn’t show!”) means you can never practice dentistry in California (unless you redo dental school, at which point you can try the boards, once, again). Does that protect the public from unqualified dentists, or does it serve to reinforce economic inequality?

Then there’s my favorite economic regulation scheme, taxicab medallions. I used to drive a cab. I paid $85 a day to drive a piece of shit I personally wouldn’t have driven for my own vehicle. As the low man on the company’s totem pole, I was given the leftovers, including cabs with faulty brakes, non-working windshield wipers, and suspension systems that had me roaming from lane to lane at the breakneck speed of 45 mph. I’m all in favor of regulating cabs for safety, because it’s a market where there’s too little information. Too many customers are one-timers, so they don’t know what kind of vehicle they’re getting in to, and the problems may be hidden. So by all means make everyone who wants to be a cab driver have a clean driving record and demonstrate their vehicle’s safety. But that’s not what medallions do. The medallion system limits the number of cabs, hence the number of cab owners. And the money is not in the driving, but in the owning. That $85 dollars was 1989 money, equivalent to about $150 today. At 5 nights a week, that’s $750 per week, or $3000/month. You damn sure betcha I could cover a car loan, insurance (even though it would be more than for the normal driver), and repairs and still have some left over. Not everyone wants to be their own boss, of course, but those who do are denied the opportunity by medallion schemes, because the limited availability means the ones that do become available on the market go for over $700,000. Is that a free market problem? No, it’s the market responding rationally to a market-distorting government regulation that limits economic mobility, especially among immigrants.

And looking at economic policy in general, while one of the best routes towards economic advancement is entrepreneurship, the U.S. actually has one of the world’s smallest small-business sectors. The likely response is that it’s about cost of health insurance. Perhaps (that’s a suggestion offered–not demonstrated, just offered–by the report’s author), but it’s not certain that’s all there is to it. Examples of other types of red tape that inhibit small businesses are not hard to find. To the extent regulations hinder small business startups, it must be recognized as government creating policies that (even if inadvertently) reinforce inequality.

Of course inequality of opportunity can arise from one’s social environment, too. I don’t think anyone will disagree that growing up in a comfortable suburban home as the child of white collar parents gives one a better likelihood of success than growing up in the ghetto as the child of a poor mother and an imprisoned father. And the primary cause of the latter case is government. Prior to the great drive to create affordable housing for the poor, lots of kids grew up in shitty tenements, but in those tenements most of the fathers worked and then came home to their families. Public housing projects tend to be much more dangerous, and the men tend not to go to work in the morning and come home in the evening because of the war on drugs. What makes my blood boil is that while my kids see mommy and daddy working at a college and just intuitively know that an education is the route to economic advancement, there are kids who see nobody in their neighborhood who has a college degree, no men holding steady jobs, and damn near every adult male having a criminal record. You want inequality of opportunity? There is the most significant inequality of opportunity in the U.S., brought to you courtesy of government. Is it intentional? Hell, no. But yet another road to hell paved with good intentions? Hell, yes.

Does government sometimes reduce inequality? Sure, without a doubt it does so at times. But does it also create and reinforce inequality? Without a doubt it also does that at times. And so any discussion of inequality that focuses solely on the market as the problem and government as the solution cannot be taken entirely seriously, because it ignores a fundamental part of the problem.

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98 thoughts on “Government Enforced Inequality

  1. The organized use of force creates segregation and genocide at a scale that anarchy cannot.

    Regrettably, it seems fair to say that anarchy creates the organized use of force.

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    • David, I agree. I think anarchy is a disequilibrium condition, while the organized use of force is an equilibrium. Fortunately the totally authoritarian organization of force is not itself an equilibrium. Unfortunately, I’m not yet certain the democratically organized use of force is, either.

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  2. Government… because of food surpluses??? Sorry, cart’s in front of the horse again.

    The primary problem with agriculture isn’t “who gets the food” it is “How do we stop overpopulation”
    Fucking’s far more of a problem than some people seizing power — he sees government. I see religion, systems that create eyes looking over people’s shoulders, and morality.

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  3. In a world absent government, I am able to enslave you against your will only if I am able to be continually vigilant and deny you any opportunity to escape. If I fail, you get away and have the opportunity to make a better life for yourself, or at least give your children the chance for an improved life.

    hahahaha. you only think you can get away.
    /bitter

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  4. Government is power. So is money. So is land. So is guns.

    Take a look at company towns — or some of the stuff major corporations do in countries with no functioning government. Abuse of power isn’t limited to government. And a lot — if not pretty much all — of the those potentially abusive entities will care even less about you than representative democracy does. Oftentimes a LOT less.

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    • Morat, I was afraid this would be the response. I never said abuse of power was limited to government, but you are quick to imply I did, and thereby avoid actually having to give any real consideration to the problem of government created inequality. Please address what I did say–is there any error? Is the problem false, or not worthy of consideration?

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      • There’s lots you can do, lots that should be done.

        After all, wasn’t the United States’ own formation a response to an abusive government? (And it’s formation as a more powerful government after the demise of the first as insufficiently so for actually working).

        You shouldn’t be “afraid” that this is a standard response — heck, you should probably highlight it. Because while you might consider it a given (government is abusive, yes, but we settled on it because it’s so far better than anything else we’ve tried, how do we make it less abusive) that’s not actually a given out there in the real world.

        Especially not among libertarians. I’m simply not comfortable talking about “abuse of government” without first noting that government is, in fact, nothing special in that regards — and was itself a response to abuses of power.

        But yeah, your whole slavery example is pretty laughable. Slavery exists just fine without government — all it takes is numbers. It doesn’t take police and courts.

        I mean, come on — surely you’re aware of human trafficking? Sexual slavery? Things that exist here and now, despite being blatantly illegal — actively hunted and opposed by government?

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      • Morat,

        But you seem comfortable talking about the abuses of the market without first noting that it is not special in that regard. I doubt you ever pause in a debate about the market to say, “well, let’s not forget that gov’t does shit, too,” but your very first response when the subject is gov’t is, “but the market…”. I don’t mean to be unfair, but it sounds to me like you really want to avoid having to face up to the problems of gov’t. Cetainly you employed a redirection technique here that I haven’t seen a liberal employ when the issue is the problems of markets.

        Again, why can’t we talk about this? I’m interested in a liberal’s actual consideration of the issue, not an avoidance of the issue. And that avoidance is the response I was afraid of getting. The only reason to highlight it is to imply that liberals won’t engage–that’s not what I actually would like.

        As to slavery, please re-read what I wrote. Nothing you say about it contradicts what I said.

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          • Except that I did say it would happen sans gov’t. We’d have a more productive conversation if you’d respond to what I said, rather than what you assume I’ve said.

            And after you’ve read me accurately, please tell me, is the current extent of slavery in the U.S. (which does exist) greater or lesser now than when the government supported it? How does human trafficking compare in countries that that don’t support it compared to those that at least tacitly support it? In a world of true anarchy (which I am not advocating), would it be harder or easier to punish people who helped runaway slaves?

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  5. The problem is a fundamental one, in so far as material inequality only exists when ownership rights are actually given recognition, and that recognition hedges on the existence of government. Arguably, there’s no inequality in a material sense if there were no government and we were limited in our ability to enforce our will upon what we could see.

    If we’re going to go in this direction, then inequality is in the end, a matter of power disparity. Institutions that aggregate humans, whether economic, political or even cultural exist to create power disparities by concentrating the power of individuals into a collective. If there’s been one project of the liberal order over the past two hundred years, it’s been to erect barriers to the use of concentrated power over individuals with less power.

    The question of course is whether or not we’re still in that process. I’m not sure we are. We’ve turned tools that were used to defy old concentrations of power into tools that are used to create new concentrations and extend them. I can elaborate on this a bit, but essentially, I’m not sure if there’s any “original” mechanism of power defusion like constitutional government, labor unions, economic regulation, market economics, non-state actors remain that haven’t been coopted as a measure of power concentration itself today.

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    • Good points. But from the perspective I’ve outlined, I’d guess the natural prediction would be that efforts at such co-opting would be inevitable. Given enough efforts over enough time, and maybe success is inevitable. Sigh.

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      • It’s kind of depressing to think about…

        And as market scales get larger, the need for larger entities to govern certain aspects of them increases. Government tendency to hoard power gets magnified with scale (IMO, though there are greater institutional barriers at the same time) which in turn makes enforcing global inequality easier.

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  6. Oh Lord. It’s the Hunter-gatherers again. Hunter-gatherers never fared well. Their modus vivendi kept their numbers small. They did have food surpluses of a sort, as do all carnivores, game stored in vast hunting territories. These they would viciously defend. Their governance was highly formal, as rigorous and binding as a captain’s authority aboard ship or a modern passenger airliner.

    Hunter-gatherers were reasonably benevolent, rather more benevolent than the societies which rose in their wake.

    There are documented cases of solidarity and care to weaker subjects e.g. the case of the mandible with no teeth found at Dmanisi dating back to 1.7 million years ago and a Neanderthal at Shanidar with multiple fractures in the clavicle of the upper right arm.

    Someone was feeding a toothless member of their clan. Someone was setting a broken arm and feeding the injured person while he recovered, and it happened multiple times.

    Hobbes explains how all this happened. Not the Nasty Brutish and Short bit everyone knows. Hobbes observes people want to live in the context of binding law and there’s nothing more efficient than a dictator. Plato covers all this too. There’s no hostile takeover: the ancient cities were centred on their marketplaces and centralised power meant citizens were safe within the city walls.

    Genocide is not the exclusive province of government. A lion will kill the cubs of his predecessor. Nor is segregation the exclusive province of government. That’s cultural, too. Endogamy is segregation, care to argue that point? It’s also bad genetics, but freedom of association remains enshrined in law where Plessy v. Ferguson hasn’t.

    We regulate industries because it makes economic sense to do so. For all that stipulation about how New York requires a course in finger curls, clearly you don’t understand how difficult that stunt actually is or the chemicals required to do it. A finger curl is to cosmetology what handmade puff pastry is to cooking. Having a couple of daughters does teach an old man about these things.

    This is an excellent regulation. If only we could get software engineers to submit to certification, it would be a better world entirely. I grow tired of looking at resumes submitted by incompetents and liars. I do not want to climb into a cab in Chicago only to find the hapless driver does not know his way to O’Hell Airport. If you do not like the medallion system, a few rides in Lagos jitneys will change your mind on this subject.

    No, James, given the choice between the tender mercies of the markets which tell me “Caveat Emptor” and the horrible old government, which for all its faults and failing promises me “Equal Justice Under Law” I shall go with the government. I have seen the alternative.

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    • Blaise, your first paragraph is just utterly erroneous. There’s a lot of literature on this issue. Once upon a time I did a hell of a lot of reading in the anthro literature, and it all comes from there. I’m afraid I’m going to have to rely on the peer-reviewed lit, not on what you tell me.

      As for medallions and knowing the way to the airport, the two are 100% unrelated. The medallion system is about limiting the number of cabs, not about ensuring quality drivers. I can vouch for that from experience–my cab company had medallions, but I didn’t know my way around central San Francisco (Twin Peaks area) to save my life, and boy did I get some heat fron passengers for that. But even if it did, I’d rather have to give a cabbie directions than be stuck in the rain unable to find a cab.

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  7. JH-

    Do you think at least part of the issue people have seeing the reality of government created/enforced/perpetuated inequality has to do with the timeline(s) in which people are evaluating the situation? Because to me it seems obvious that government is just as likely to be a force for bad as for good when it comes to inequality.

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    • Sorry, missed this comment earlier. I’m not sure just what you mean by timelines. My interpretation is that you mean they are looking at an extant market-caused problem, so naturally they look to government? Maybe, but then why the resistance to looking at an extant government-caused problem and naturally looking elsewhere? (But maybe I missed your point entirely.)

      My gut take on it is a reluctance to experience cognitive dissonance. We know the market causes problems, and the only realistic alternative is government. If we think seriously about government causing problems, then the only realistic alternative must be….the market? Which we already know causes problems? Fuck, what do we do now? Where do we turn?

      It’s easier to live with our pleasant mythologies than to grapple seriously with the thought that we just might be seriously fucked whichever way we turn. But refusing to grapple with it doesn’t diminish whatever truth value it has.

      Humans tend to be like that. It’s a lot easier on our psyches. Extreme free market types who are unwilling to recognize that markets do fail sometimes are no different, really.

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      • By timelines, I meant that people tend towards a myopic view… people in favor of government as a solution to inequality look at the Civil Rights Amendments and say, “SEE HOW WELL THAT WORKED?” They ignore that the Civil Rights Amendments were necessary because of what the government had been doing up to that point. Their timeline for evaluating markets versus government as the solution to inequality starts in 1965. Or where ever else is convenient.

        However, now I must ask you… is “the market” and “government” the only two places we can turn? Do we risk creating a false dilemma if we limit ourselves to those two options?

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        • Kazzy,

          OK, I get you. It could be. I honestly don’t know, because I honestly don’t understand those types of people.

          As to your other question, not really. There is a third option, which is voluntary non-market-based cooperative organization. Small scale self-governance. E.g., a church group that takes care of its own, a neighborhood watch, etc. Those tend to work well at the small scale, but are very difficult to scale up as coordination problems increase with size, exponentially probably.

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          • Hm. My running theme throughout this series is that inequality, especially the type that we are seeing, is a problem and one that I believe is a result of flaws in both the market (which I really think is to say flaws in people) and the government. However, I think most government solutions are more problematic than the problems they seek to solve, either pratically, princibly, or both. Ideally, the solution will come because people of their own volition will “do the right thing”. Unfortuntately, there are too many social and cultural pressures to do otherwise. Many of these are borne out of norms that aren’t inherently bad (e.g., American culture’s emphasis on independence versus Japanese culture’s emphasis on interdepence) but carried to an extreme end can lead to a “culture of greed” and so on. I don’t believe you can legislate this, at least not in any of the ways most folks propose. At this point, I fear we just have to hope folks start saying, “Ya kow what? There is a better way to do this…”

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  8. Why does it follow form a libertarian perspective that there is nothing wrong with wealth or income inequality or rising wealth or income inequality? Or, if you’re not saying that it necessarily follows from a libertarian perspective but just from yours, why is there nothing wrong with wealth or income inequality or rising wealth or income inequality?

    I’m not arguing that there is something wrong with it, but given that this was the question around which we decided to frame the entire exercise, I was hoping that when we got direct answers to it (and kudos to you for offering them), I was hoping some reasons for why those answers are correct might be included in the deal (not that I can claim to have not gotten my money’s worth out the Symposium already).

    Again, not because (as I made clear previously) I think there is necessarily something wrong with … that …, but just because I’d hoped that coming out of it, we could have a clear understanding about why we should think there actually isn’t, if that’s what we think, rather than just saying we don;t really know (which is where I’ve always been at, and why I don’t have an entry for the series).

    …I suppose for that matter, it’s actually still a question in your essay why there is there something wrong with inequality of opportunity (or at least why you care about it) when there isn’t anything wrong with the other types mentioned? Are there any other other kinds of inequality that there might be something wrong with?

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        • Yeah, well… I went camping in Indiana. Canoed down the Hoosier state’s most beautiful stream, but there’s precious few salmon in the Mississippi River Basin.

          Oil the grill top? Uh, oh. I just put some spices on it and slapped it on the grill skin side down. Did I do wrong? I know we have several serious hobby chefs here, so it’s with great trepidation that I ask that.

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                • Obviously, if you like what just came of the grill, no reason not to keep it rolling.

                  But here’s what I do with salmon:

                  2 steaks (one for me, one for her), 2 inches wide each

                  8×8″ Pyrex baking pan.

                  (optional: oil bottom of pan – h/t me)

                  preheat oven to 450 (can go hotter for glazier finish on fish, but have to watch to not dry it out)

                  -place steaks side-by-each in pan

                  -generously grind fresh pepper over steaks

                  -thin slices of butter along top of length of each steak –

                  -more pepper on top the butter

                  -squeeze fresh lemon over fish – 1 half for each steak – you want ample liquid in bottom of pan when done

                  -cover with alum. foil

                  – bake covered for 5 or 10 minutes depending on desired int. meat temp

                  -bake uncovered for 5 minutes to glaze butter-pepper crust (Can go all uncovered for more glaze, but covered time infuses fish with butter-lemoniness via steam action. This is where the art lies for those of us who want all three: infusion, glaze, AND nice medium/mid-rare interior. Haven’t hit on exact right temp & timings for that yet.)

                  – serve w steamed asparagus & boiled red or gold skin-on potatoes (butter, salt&pep, parsley)

                  – nice baguette & preferred cheese if you want a bit more carb, nice mix-greens salad if you want a bit more veg

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                • Salmon is an oily fish, and the grill tends to dehydrate or dissipate oil, whereas cooking in a pan tends to preserve the fish oils. I like my salmon oily, so I prefer to bake it or cook it on the stove top. The reason I like to pan sear at as high a temperature as my stove will produce is that I like the full range of done-ness this technique produces. Put some sort of sugary glaze like a honey mustard on the outside of the fish (this helps to “blacken” the outside), crank up the heat on the stove, let the fry pan sit there until it glows red, open all the doors and windows of your house, put the fish on for thirty seconds, flip it over, thirty more seconds, take it off and eat it while it’s still hot. The center should be at room temperature and raw, and you should be able to see the full gradient from raw to burnt to a crisp through the fish.

                  White fish I’ll rarely put on the grill just because it’s rather delicate, and I like the control a fry pan allows for. Swordfish or tuna can be nice on the grill sometimes, but again I’d rather pan sear to preserve the oils and keep the inside as rare as possible. This is especially true with yellowfin, probably my favorite fish.

                  I’ve tried some other varieties of tuna and mako shark on the grill before and really enjoyed them, but it’s required that I cook them a bit more than I’d like to otherwise. Mako tastes terrible cooked anything less than medium, so it’s best to mark the shit out of it on the grill IMHO.

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            • I’ve grilled shrimp on skewers and had it work out, but otherwise same deal here save the occasional deep fry of catfish.

              Salmon is tricky though. All the years of seasoning the crap out of it to get actual flavor from the cooked result…and the most flavorful salmon I had was from a sushi place, raw. I pretty much gave up on salmon since.

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    • Why does it follow form a libertarian perspective that there is nothing wrong with wealth or income inequality or rising wealth or income inequality?

      Other way around. Libertarianism follows from the observation that there’s nothing wrong with income or wealth inequality as such.

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        • You could think it’s a big problem but have a libertarianism so stout that you could think the government shouldn’t do anything about it – either because it can’t or because even if could, you’d still not want it to. It seems to me that for some libertarians that might be a central test of how strong your libertarianism actually is as a proper libertarianism, as apart from just having a Panglossian view of what’s actually the case in the world.

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          • As apart from just having a Panglossian view of what’s actually the case in the world.

            Putting aside my objections to the connotations of delusions associated with the term “Panglossian,” which may or may not have been intended, we don’t have a Panglossian view even in a strictly literal sense. Libertarians are, as a rule, very much concerned about the metastasis of government into areas we think should remain in the private sphere, and with the inexorable growth of individual and corporate welfare. To say that libertarians are Panglossian because we don’t think there’s a problem with income inequality is like saying that leftists are Panglossian because they don’t think there’s a problem with those things.

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            • I just meant to shorthand a denial that x is much of a problem when there is significant dispute about whether it is. I’m not saying that libertarians are Panglossian, but I do find that they tend to say that things aren’t as bad as some people make them out to be.

              You didn’t address my response to the very point you brought up, though. You could think that income inequality is a big problem and also be a libertarian and therefore reject a government attempts to mitigate it, just on principle that they are government attempts. Couldn’t you?

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                    • Well, my “it’s optional” referred to your whole question, which was,

                      “You could think that income inequality is a big problem and also be a libertarian and therefore reject a government attempts to mitigate it, just on principle that they are government attempts. Couldn’t you?”

                      Yes, you could. But you don’t have to.

                      But I’m sure each discrete element within it is optional. Problem the only permutation that wouldn’t be reasonably libertarian is to think that income inequality isn’t a big problem, but want a government program to address it anyway.

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                    • No, I wouldn’t. I draw a pretty big tent for libertarianism. I think they would be pretty unusual, as far as libertarians go, of course. And I’d expect that their proposed solutions would be different from that of liberals. But to say, “no, that means they’re not a libertarian,” seems, to me, to smack of the no true Scotsman fallacy. At some point the statement is obviously true (“No true Scotsman has only ancestors who are ethnically Polish, was born in Poland and only speaks Polish,” is probably not a fallacious statement), but you have to draw the boundaries fairly wide to avoid treading into the territory of the fallacy.

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                    • Or a libertarian could–as someone suggested on one of the threads in this symposium–see it in purely pragmatic terms. Not seeing inequality as a moral problem and opposing government action in principal even if it was a moral problem, but fearing that inequality is reaching the point where a radically redistributive revolution is likely, thinking that government mitigation is the least evil of the likely prospective futures.

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                • How is that a dissonance? Isn’t it a big part of what you sign up for when you get your membership card to know that you’re going to frequently be saying, “X is a big problem but government solutions aren’t the answer”? Or is the whole project now down to either denying that such real problems exist or saying that they exist because of government? Is no-cost libertarianism just how it’s going to be from now on?

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    • Why does it follow form a libertarian perspective that there is nothing wrong with wealth or income inequality or rising wealth or income inequality? … why there is there something wrong with inequality of opportunity?

      I actually did write more about this in my first draft of the OP, but the thing threatened to become ungodly lengthy. I’ll try to recapture some of what I was writing then.

      1. Simple wealth inequality.
      If the very fact of wealth inequality is wrong, then there is something illegitimate about the following scenario. After college, you joined a tech startup and after ten years are a multi-millionaire, while I quickly dropped out of corporate America and became a salmon fishing guide in Indiana, living in great contentment in a simple 15 x 15 cabin without electricity on the banks of my favorite stream. If there is nothing wrong in that scenario, ethically or morally, then simple wealth inequality cannot in itself be wrong.

      Now let’s make it tougher and say I am not content. I want to have what you have, or at least closer to it. Can my discontentment cause the disparity to become illegitimate? That seems quite perverse–that my jealousy could turn a situation from legitimate to illegitimate. Assume you and I were attracted to the same girl, and she favored you. If I was happy for you and content to search for another love the outcome would be legitimate, but if I was jealous of you it would be illegitimate?

      What can be wrong is how the inequality comes about. If we started the tech company together and you defrauded me out of my share, that would be wrong, but it would be the action that was wrong. The resulting wealth disparity might be said to be wrong, but it would simply be subsidiary to the illegitimate action.

      rising wealth or income inequality
      Same scenario as before, but each year your stock options increase in value, making the wealth gap between us ever larger. I am still content. What is illegitimate? Later I realize I have become envious; how does that make it illegitimate?

      Inequality of Opportunity
      This is a difficult one. I think Rose’s post actually dealt with this, if not directly, at least indirectly, and in a way I also began writing about before abandoning that approach.

      I think the essential problem here is that it smacks of not being given even a fair chance. E.g., if you and I run a footrace and you win, we’re unlikely to say it wasn’t a fair outcome, so long as we had equal equipment, ran the same distance, both could hear the starter’s pistol equally well, etc. But if we put a heavy weight on you, or slip some Lunesta in your pre-race snack, then we’re likely to say it’s unfair. It’s an intuition, I think, as much as anything else.

      And when we’re just looking at economic outcomes, it could very well be that the adults we’re looking at made choices to not pursue wealth. (I was offered an opportunity to train as a stockbroker–I was even told the job was so easy a monkey could do it–I declined. That’s my choice, and I don’t regret not chasing that greater wealth, so we wouldn’t normally say it’s unfair that I didn’t get it.) But with equality of opportunity, we’re usually talking about kids–about people who have little to no control over their situation being handicapped before they ever reach a position of being able to make choices.

      If we take a kid from a nice suburb, let’s call him Billy Joe, give him a good education and a fair chance to choose to chase after wealth, and instead at age 22 he says, “Ah, I’d rather sit around, get high and watch the tube, so I’m only going to work just enough to buy ganja and pay the cable bill,” well, that’s his choice. But if Billy Joe grows up in the ghetto, where he’s never made aware that there are better opportunities, and whose time in school is spent just staying alive rather than learning anything, and he ends up sitting around getting high and watching the tube, it’s much more of a stretch to say he chose that. You have to know what your options are before we can really say you made a choice. Suburban Billy Joe made a choice; ghetto Billy Joe got fished. It wasn’t wholly voluntary for him.

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      • So inequality of opportunity that exists between adults who have made different choices from similar circumstances is presumably not as much of an issue at all, then, right? Obviously, people’s opportunities are vastly unequal at any one time, beyond just kids’, including among adults who had essentially the same opportunities through childhood. A thirty year-old who was a rich suburban kid who spent his twenties high on the couch doesn’t have the same opportunities (leaving assets aside) today as one who spent his twenties going to medial school or in the Air Force or learning to become an options trader, and we shouldn’t be too worried about that difference in the inequality between their present opportunities, yes? The issue is really just the savage inequalities that characterize the conditions that the various children in our society grow up in, correct?

        (I might have more to say to respond to/just question what you’ve said here, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it into presentable format tonight, nor do I know for sure when I might, so for now all I can say is I think I understand your view well.)

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        • Michael,

          That’s generally correct. I’d say the issue exists on a continuum; it’s not binary, although it’s usually easier to talk about it as though it is. At the farther ends of the continuum it’s easy to see when it’s a case of choice or a case of barriers, towards the middle it can be very hard to say.

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      • I’m sort of working on it, but I have limited time at the moment and also have always felt a keen inability to get any reliable purchase on the fundamentals of this issue. Suffice to say that the basic principle that envy isn’t really a philosophically sound argument against someone else’s wealth is enough for me to just concede that there isn’t, but that still leaves us with the fact that philosophical grounding doesn’t fully define our politics. We obviously know that envy is going to play a part in how people look at the society around them. the question is, how are we going to address people’s feelings that, left unaddressed, will affect their politics more, not less.

        And there, I think your post points to a grounded way to address this problem. Namely that, while the envy that people experience when confronted with inequality as a first-order matter can’t be a valid basis for a public response to mounting concern about it as an issue notwithstanding that lack of basis, observations about its effects can be. I actually think this is the approach that authors like Stiglitz and James Galbraith have settled on: to set aside the debate about the ethics of wealth distributions as a primary matter, and instead focus on the effects of certain patterns of distribution of wealth, income, opportunity, or other resources if they are persistent. (My unwritten response to James’ answers to my questions here focus on this as well).

        So basically, I think you’re on the right track. But that’s why I made an issue of the framing of this debate, because if that’s what we want to talk about, then at some point we have to decide that, “What, if anything, is wrong with inequality [per se, as James again puts it in this thread]?” is exactly not what we want to talk about. My point was that that and, “How much or what kinds of inequality, and if what else is also the case that it may or may not cause, do we have problem with and why?” are really very different questions.

        As it turned out, we got a much broader series of entries on the topic on inequality generally, which I think is better. I just thought that, if we agreed that the second of those two questions is really what we want to talk about (and from a comment of James’, it seemed that he did, too), and we were going to try to focus the topic by framing a specific question rather than just naming a topic, as, “Inequality,” or “Inequality: an issue to be concerned about?”, that we may as well frame it around the question we thought really was worth digging into.

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        • …More direct response to your post on its own terms now posted there. I didn’t say there what I say here – that I agree with your general approach to looking at the problem – please take that as implicit. The questions I ask are just to a specific line you draw in that approach.

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  9. Good to have more acknowledgement of the ways government intervention actually cuts against the disadvantaged. The more it’s realized how little of what we’re all complaining about can be filed under It Just Happens That Way, the better.

    My own interpretation of the birth of the state has been that it originally just was those with the most resources by default (that is, who in ancient terms would’ve been “the rich” were one in the same with “the government”), that they figured claiming some kind of authority would be a clever way of protecting & growing their stake. When the claim broke down, that’s where the violence came in, and the scheme got more complex as time went on. Now we look at countries where the politicians have all the money as barbaric absurdities, not realizing the real advance we crow about has been the money people contracted out the work.

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    • Now we look at countries where the politicians have all the money as barbaric absurdities, not realizing the real advance we crow about has been the money people contracted out the work.

      That’s a hell of an interesting thought.

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      • Psycho,

        The concept of division of labor disputes your explanation. Certainly some people concentrated their efforts by specializing in wealth production. Trouble is that others can specialize in wealth exploitation. Find those that have produced, and take it from them. These folks specialize first in violence, then if they are smart they shift to becoming a stationary bandit. They become the elite and delegate responsibility and a share of the spoils to their underlings.

        The problem with the elite is that they became so and continued to be so via violence. The state is how they manage the livestock, and were the livestock. This pretty much matches the last few dozen world history books that I have read from various political persuasions.

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  10. “That is, the institution that organizes the system would be blamed if it were the market, and demands would be made to supplant that organizing institution with another one, but when the organizing institution is the government it is not the institution that gets blamed, and there is no call to replace it with a different organizing institution”

    This is… insane. There’s a contant hue and cry to do just that. Is your claim that because it isn’t universal it isn’t there?

    It is the nature of government and politics that creates many of the problems that result in a subpar education for so many children.

    As opposed to the situation that obtained on the veldt? Or in every time prior to ~Prussia? What sets par, hmm?

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  11. This is a nice, well-written essay. So much so that I almost over-looked the theme of the essay:
    TAXES are THEFT stolen by means of a GUN to the FACE!!!!11!

    The Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil Gubmint is always taking, taking, taking, and never ratchets down, which is why the Post Office owns UPS, FedEx and DHL. Cabinet departments always seize more and more power, like HUD. There is no true “public” space, like roads, or rivers, or the fishing atmosphere.

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  12. I think there’s something even more disturbing about the stance – “well, this thing is a problem, but we should do nothing about it, because, government is EVIL!” rather than straight away believing that something is not a problem.

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