2 thoughts on “The Spirit Level and the imaginary £39 billion (part 2)”

  1. Posted 19/03/2014 at 18:19 | Permalink

    Chris, I think the problem here is that, though you may well be absolutely right, when you question the veracity of information on inequality, most people think you are simply saying inequality isn’t a problem. And put simply, most people just don’t agree with that. I’m not sure there is an easy way around it, but I do think you need to address some questions to clarify your position before you get a fair hearing. These are:

    1. Do you believe that high levels of inequality have any negative social or economic effects at all (I think any discussion on the definition of ‘high levels’ runs the risk of the problem I mention)
    2. Do you believe there is a legitimate moral argument against high inequality, as church leaders seem to believe?
    3. If 5 people have as much wealth as a fifth of the population (Oxfam report), do you believe this difference is an accurate reflection of the relative amount of hard work, intelligence and risk-taking of these groups?

    Personally I’m more interested in the economic argument on inequality from another angle. I know you’ve said that most economists believe there is a trade-off between redistribution and economic growth. Do you still believe this to be the case? In which case what did you make of the IMF’s recent report on this?

    A final question. In the Sock Doctrine you talked of the loud voices that give the impression of a popular mandate, and how these may subvert the democratic process. You seemed to suggest that politicians should only be influenced by populist policies. In which case, given over 80% of people think the gap between the top and bottom is too big, do you think Government is obliged to recognise this?

    I hope this doesn’t sound too combative. We probably do approach this from different angles, but Im interested in your thoughts.

  2. Posted 21/03/2014 at 17:14 | Permalink

    JB – you (assuming you’re an egalitarian?) need to consider another question. Let’s assume that (wealth) inequality is an issue that ought to be addressed – a flawed assumption, but still. Is government intervention really an effective way to achieve that equality? I’d say that there’s a fairly large body of anecdotal evidence which suggests otherwise, at the very least, as well as academic based arguments eg. Public Choice Theory, Hayekian ‘knowledge problem’ questions and so on, and of course there are moral questions too about compulsion. This is another question that Spirit Levellers avoid and that they need to address.

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