In defense of inequality

Economic inequality is created by the very same things that most make life enjoyable: family and friendship. Therefore, a radical egalitarian ethic is necessarily inimical to family and friendship.

Well-off parents make their children better off even if they don’t give them money (though money certainly doesn’t hurt), by teaching and modeling behaviors that allow their children to thrive. Well-off friends make their acquaintances better off even if they don’t directly give them money or influence, by providing networks of information and access. Think: do you want to prevent parents from teaching their kids to sit up straight, shake hands, and dress nice for an interview? Do you want to prevent people from mentioning to their friends that there’s a job opening at the bank they work at? A parent who failed to teach his kids how to behave would be a bad parent, and a friend who failed to pass a tip along to an acquaintance would be a bad friend. Yet these very actions create the systemic, inter-generational inequalities that we all observe around us. The aristocracy and the old boys’ network are merely the fully-grown, mature forms of the systems of inequality that we all participate in.

There is a certain amount of systemic inequality that we may have to live with. The cure would be worse than the disease.

(Inspired by Megan McArdle’s provocative, tongue-in-cheek defense of a 100% estate tax.)

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