2008-02-12

The problem with reducing inequality

Lane Kenworthy, a leftist confiscatorian, has published an article with charts showing that the government action which most reduces inequality is not taxation itself, but transfers.

In other words: the aspect of government which achieves the inequality-reducing effects that leftists desire is not that it punishes the rich; it is the transfer of money to those with "less". It does not matter much whether the money was originally confiscated with a progressive income tax or a flat sales tax or whichever method.

Consequently, Lane goes on to propose that the U.S. should consider a national sales tax in addition to the existing income tax system, so as to alleviate the suffering of the masses. Who undoubtedly suffer much. [/sarcasm]

The problem with reducing inequality is that equality is inherently unfair. Some people want to strive to have more, others aren't willing. Why should those who are willing to strive be denied their rewards?

On the other hand, people suffering and not being given opportunities for no good reason isn't fair either. But to help alleviate such pointless and unnecessary suffering, it is not necessary to reduce inequality. In fact, I believe that policies aimed specifically to reduce inequality actually increase suffering.

Policies intended to alleviate pointless and unnecessary suffering should aim to alleviate pointless and unnecessary suffering. Not reduce inequality. Inequality is not suffering. Unless, perhaps, you count feelings of envy as reasonable grounds to complain.

2 comments:

dare said...

"Unless, perhaps, you count feelings of envy as reasonable grounds to complain."

I wanted to write something very similar in response to a previous post of yours, so here goes: I'm afraid you have to count "envy".

I could even generalize this point and say it's an issue I have with hard-line libertarianism (generally i'm sympathetic to libertarian ideas). I believe you people refuse to accept the reality that people define their well-being in relative, not absolute manner. So if inequality is rising for example, you cannot dismiss it by simply saying that everybody is absolutely better off than before.

denis bider said...

We dismiss it because the alternative is Slovenia or, more radically, North Korea. An environment where strict equality is enforced requires that everyone is poor; that is the lowest common denominator. Only if everyone gets nothing, no one has cause for envy.

I believe we have seen in practice that this causes more grief than the benefit (no one feeling envy) is worth.

However, I have no problem with forming two completely separate states, one for people who wish to be free, and one for people who wish to be equal. Then people who think they would be happier in the equal state can move there - but they won't be able to take their freedoms with them...