Friday, September 12, 2014

Average is Over (5) Academic Angst

In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen suggests that concerns about inequality are strongest among intellectuals.

Sometimes I wonder why so many relatively well-off intellectuals lead the egalitarian charge against the privileges of the wealth. One group has the status currency of money and the other has the status currency of intellect, so might they be competing for overall social regard. And in that competition, at least in the United States, the status currency of intellect is not winning out... The intellectual class, however, is small in number, so growingly inequality wont by itself lead to a political revolution along the lines many intellectuals have imagined (258).
A lot of commentators, most of all from the progressive Left, object strenuously to rising wealth and income inequality. Even if they are correct in their moral stance, they too quickly conclude that rising inequality has to cause other bad results, such as revolution, expropriation, or a breakdown in social order. That does not follow, and I sometimes wonder if it isn’t an internal psychological mechanism operating in some of these commentators, almost as if they were wishing for the wealthy to be punished for the sins (253).
I wonder if this “threat of revolution” argument isn’t a substitute for actually making a good case for a feasible reform. I’ve very often heard commentators from the left suggesting that if we don’t “do something” about income inequality, citizens will take matters in their own hands. There is a vague insinuation of a threat of violence, yet without any endorsement (or condemnation) of that violence. The commentator or writer doesn’t want to suggest that violence is in order, yet still wants the rhetorical force of having violence on his or side of the argument, as a kind of cosmic punishment for the objectionable inequality... The predictions of violence tell us more about the predictors than about the likely course of future American Society. Inequality can have bad consequence and we are like to experience some of those consequences, but these predictions of durable and significant unrest are some of the least though-out and least well-supported arguments with wide currency (254).

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