Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What's Wrong with Inequality?

One hears a lot of talk about inequality these days, and hardly any of it good (economic inequality being the "defining issue of our times").  But what is wrong with inequality?  Sure, there are obvious cases where an unequal state is worse than one which is equal, for example, where one has excess food and one's neighbor is starving to death.  But (a) examples such as this don't demonstrate that there is anything wrong with inequality per se and (b) there are examples of equal states that are worse than unequal states, for example, when I have as much money as you because I stole some of your money.

So maybe there's nothing wrong with inequality per se.  Consider the following from Alexander Pruss who has produced an interesting little argument from Christian theology for the conclusion that there is nothing intrinsically bad about inequality:

1. There is nothing intrinsically bad in heaven.
2. There is inequality in heaven.
3. So, inequality is not intrinsically bad.

There should be little dispute about premise 1 (at least among Christians).  Evidence for premise 2 is that God and humans are in heaven, and everything is infinitely unequal compared to God.  Humans and angels are also not equal in various ways.  Further, rewards in heaven are based on merit (the merit being the work of God's grace) and the merit is unequal.

Is there any non-Christian or non-theistic argument that inequality is not intrinsically bad?  Let's try this one which should appeal to pluralistic sensibilities even if conflicting with egalitarian ones:

1. Diversity is intrinsically good.
2. There being diversity logically entails there being inequality.
3. If something is intrinsically good, then whatever it logically entails cannot be intrinsically bad.
4. Thus, inequality is not intrinsically bad.

Premise 2, if true, is analytic.  There being diversity entails there being either two or more different things or two or more ways of being.  Equality is a relation of oneness and inequality its negation.

Premise 3 seems intuitively plausible.

What about premise 1?  If we think of diversity the way liberals often think of it, namely, as some state of affairs wherein certain political constituencies of the left get special favors, then 1 is surely false.  :)  But here we mean genuine diversity.  Is there reason for thinking that genuine diversity is good?  There is reason for thinking that it is good if there is reason for thinking that there being 2 things is better than there being 1 thing, or (supposing Spinoza is right) if there is reason for thinking that the only thing would be better if there were more than one mode of its existence.  On the other hand, oneness (unity) is something that also seems good and oneness seems opposed to diversity (here I'm thinking of the Medieval doctrine of the transcendentals, i.e., that (roughly) Good, Being, and Oneness differ in intension but not extension).  Perhaps unity and diversity are both intrinsically good (and maybe there's an argument for Trinitarian theology in the neighborhood).  Or perhaps this whole line of thinking is mistaken and there is no meaningful sense in which unity or diversity are intrinsically good; perhaps there is only unity of a certain sort or diversity of a certain sort that is good.

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