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Pick your inequality

March 29, 2010

Tyler Cowen:

Wednesday I was in The City and out of The Suburbs. It is always startling how much better looking people are in The City, and how much looks matter there. These same good-looking people are left-wing Democrats to a high degree. They are reveling in the primordial inequality, namely that of looks and social alliances. Inequalities of wealth are of more recent vintage, from an evolutionary point of view. It is interesting how well young Democrats do at this inequality game and with what enthusiasm; only a few southern Republican women can rival them….

I think of The Suburbs as a revolutionary development. Pull people apart from their neighbors and pair them off in separate parcels, so that looks don’t much matter. Enhance some of the new realms for inequality competition, namely jobs and income. Overall lower the level of inequality competition. Subsidize the ugly. Put them in cars.

We all have blind spots when we talk about mental categories like “inequality.”  While lefties are concerned with economic inequalities and social inequalities between particular large groups, inequalities in looks, charisma, and social networks aren’t “real” inequalities to be mitigated.   And while righties like laissez-faire in market competition, they seek to reduce social inequalities through rules that apply to everyone.  Since pretty, well-liked people can get away with more in a state of nature, these moral rules most constrain the behavior of the socially best-off.  Social mores are progressive taxation on status!

There’s yet another form of inequality, that appears to cut across party lines.  This is inequality in influence.  Hippies and Tea Partiers alike decry it (as “elitism”); academics and business leaders support it (as “meritocracy”).  And, despite my pleas, nobody seems to care about temporal inequalities.

One thing that people do care about, however, is inequality of thesis completion, a very serious issue that I should probably go back and start redressing.


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