Friday, May 14, 2010

Inequality With Respect and Equal Access is OK

David Halpern, in The Hidden Wealth of Nations, reported on the Blair administration's attempts to improve the lot of the worst off in Britain by removing barriers to achievement. To the discomfort of the left, they discovered that removing barriers didn't do much to reduce inequality because many people at the bottom didn't want to seize more opportunities (and more work).

He also reports that most nations are not opposed to inequality, if they think the process that produced it is basically fair. This is true regardless of how unequal that nation's economic condition actually is.

So Halpern suggests a sensible centrist aim for government. The state should focus on fostering decency, mutual respect, and access to basic services, especially on the part of the state itself. The government should not put its main effort into eliminating inequality or poverty.


Katie said...

Does he say how governments are supposed to go about fostering decency? It seems like a good goal but one that is tricky to achieve.

Alex said...

Wasn't it Robert Nozick who stated the notion that as long as transactions and their conditions are fair the final outcome of the distribution of wealth cannot be deemed wrong?

Would, for instance, the derivatives market on Wall Street be deemed fair and reasonable conditions?

I think decency begets decency, but the opposite might be even truer.

Gruntled said...

The Blair administration did quite a bit of work on fostering respect - for old people, immigrants, the unemployed, even jobless youths who were scaring other people with their own lack of respect.

Halpern says the positive value of fostering doing good works was harder, and really beyond what Blair tried to do.

Alex, I wouldn't say that a far process can't produce a wrong outcome. I do think that most people accept our highly unequal society because they believe that they could, through a process of learning and hard work, change their own circumstances if they wanted to.

randy said...

i agree. that's why there's never been a left Revolution here.

but if the day ever dawns when a certain magical number-a tipping point if you will-of US citizens wakes up and looks around, realizing that they aint NEVER gonna make it no matter WHAT they do...

well then; take cover, baby, cuz it is gonna get soooome ugly.