Who’s the fairest of them all?

In his amusing book Sum, neuroscientist David Eagleman imagines a female god who makes the afterlife unpleasant by introducing equality; no one is happy unless they can look down on others.

If that is true of us, the following chart should add a bit of brightness to almost all our non-US readers. (SW, I am sorry!). Tapping on the chart seems to make a larger version appear on a separate page.

For a recent discussion of the chart, see Charles Blow’s article in the NY Times.

38 thoughts on “Who’s the fairest of them all?

  1. Chile’s rating does not surprise me in the least.

    Chile is an almost segregated society (in terms of social class). There are two worlds
    (the rich/upper middle class and everyone else) which have about as much in common with one another as you and I do with the ancient Etruscans.

    If the rich and the upper middle class could secede from the rest of Chile, they would.

    The position of Greece and Spain surprise me.

    Anyone who reads Paul Krugman won’t be surprised by the position of the United States.

  2. I thinkfew of our reader’s will be surprised, but i expect a lot of people in the states still think the US offers the best quality of life in the world.

  3. People in the U.S., with obvious exceptions, tend to see their country as special and hence, themselves as special.

    People in most countries root for their national football team and sing their national anthem with pride, but in general, have a fairly realistic view of how their nation rates in terms of human rights, quality of life, economic inequality, etc.

    That’s not true with many people in the U.S. I’m not sure why that is so.

    As a wild conjecture, I’d say that being an empire tends to blind most citizens of that empire. Not only does power corrupt, but identification with power (being part of the most powerful nation on earth in this case) tends to corrupt and to blind.

  4. S.Wallerstein, I’m not sure of the explanation either, but I think thay sort of blind patriotism is encouraged and positively taught – or was – in a number of countries. I am thinking if some European countries and the States.

  5. I imagine that all countries would like to instill blind patriotism, but “Portugal uber alles”
    or “With God in Portugal’s side” (no offense intended to Portugal) just don’t sell.

    It seems that the uber alles line only sells when people feel that their nation is or could be number one or one of the big ones.

    That is, people like to feel powerful, important, and one way to feel powerful is to identify with something more powerful than one’s self, for instance, a nation where one happens to have been born.

    I recall that Hillary Clinton (perhaps during the election campaign) remarked that “we could wipe Iran off the face of the earth”. (not an exact quote)

    For a lot of people, to feel part of that “we” is very satisfying, satisfying enough that they are willing to sacrifice a few little things like health insurance.

    In addition, for lots of people if we’re powerful, we’re good (ethically): success brings success, God loves a winner. That’s all unconscious and confused, but seems how many people’s minds work.

    So not only can we wipe you off the face of the earth, but God loves us and we can do no wrong, we’re justified in wiping you off the face of the earth.

  6. As a point of clarification, this study purports to compare measures of social justice, not quality of life – though I’m sure these aren’t entirely unrelated.

    There are quality of life studies that give different results. I seem to recall an OECD study wherein Australians were ranked as the happiest – though they are in the bottom 15 here. The US was mid-table in that study as well.

    I wish I could read German (or an English translation were on offer) to see how much of the data depended on people’s subjective evaluations, and whether the poverty rates were based on the individual country’s own measures – which differ across countries. As the study observes, much of this depends on where the country is in an economic cycle, as high unemployment exacerbates poverty. This somewhat explains Spain’s low number (20% unemployment), and perhaps the U.S.’s as well.

  7. Ajkrieder, thanks for bringing up the quality of life issue. I really was just relying on the empirical incompatibility of being the best country without qualification to live in with having this depth of extensive inequality. An alteration in facts might make them compatible, but not as things are, I think.

    If I remember correctly, some theorists think there’s a pretty close connection, given presumably present facts about the world’s resources.. Dan Gilbert, for example.

  8. I agree that social justice and quality of life are related but not necessarily the same analysis.

    A couple of caveats come to mind regarding this study. First, while the data themselves may be empirical, the choice of metrics and the perceived relationship between those metrics and such abstract concepts as “social justice” (or even “quality of life”) are subjective, and I think that there are some differences in the way that that the US approaches this versus a number of OECD countries. Accordingly, one might expect that if the assumptions behind the study reflect, say, a Northern European approach to social welfare, these subjective elements would lead to a result in which Northern Europe fares very well, and the US rather less well, according to those metrics.

    Second, it is an often-overlooked fact that the social expenditures of EU countries (as with many non-US NATO/OECD) countries benefit from a sizable indirect subsidy through what are essentially security guarantees provided by the US. I think that a number of the metrics used in this study are likely impacted by this to some extent. Since the US is, in this sense, subsidizing a nontrivial part of the quality of life / social justice attainments of its allies, and has been for quite some time, it seems a bit stingy to reproach the US for some relative shortfalls in these areas, to whatever extent they exist.

  9. I think Nemo’s last point about the security issues is an important one, but it might be mitigated somewhat by the US’s economic position and its ability to act on the social justice issues. I would imagine an analysis might show that the US budget capabilities with regard to social justice issues are larger than the capabilities of northern Europe, even factoring in the security issues.

  10. Nemo:

    It is true that metrics vary from country to country. The U.S. federal minimum wage,
    7.25 dollars an hour, would be considered a decent lower middle class income in Chile.

    It is also true that some countries on the list, notably South Korea and probably Turkey, depend on the U.S. for military security. I’m not sure which other countries on the list depend on the U.S. for military security since the end of the cold war. But let’s say that some eastern European countries on the list, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, for example, prefer to be “protected” by the U.S. than by Russia. Fine.

    That means that the U.S., spending money on protecting South Korea et al., has less to spend on pre-school education. Fine.

    However, what is scandalous is the U.S. Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality. That is, the distribution of income in the U.S., which, as far as I know, has nothing to do with whether you are protecting Hungary or not.

  11. “However, what is scandalous is the U.S. Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality. That is, the distribution of income in the U.S., which, as far as I know, has nothing to do with whether you are protecting Hungary or not.”

    I must admit I have always found this reasoning to be unconvincing. You seem to be saying that income inequality is necessarily bad; otherwise, there would seem to be no need for the word choice “scandalous.” My question: why is it necessarily bad?

    Bill Gates and I are very income-unequal. I make $25k a year; he probably makes that in less than a day. He can afford to have things I can’t. He can afford to buy things I can’t. He can afford to do things I can’t. All granted. That said, I am unaware what his wealth takes away from me. Perhaps you can explain more clearly, s. wallerstein, why I should be so scandalized?

  12. Demostenes:

    Your lack of envy is admirable.

    Frankly, I see a just society as one in which wealth is shared.

    If your conception of a just society is different, there is not much that I can say to you.

    We can discuss the best or the fairest way in which to share wealth: Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness is a well known model.

    Rawls proposes that any inequalities in wealth and income benefit the poorest members of society. For example, society may reward with higher pay teachers who work with disadvantaged poor children in order to make sure that in the long run goods and wealth are shared.

    To arrive at the principle that any inequalities in wealth and income benefit the poorest members of society Rawls sets up a thought experiment, the veil of ignorance, but I take the idea of sharing the wealth not as something which can be derived rationally from a thought experiment, as does Rawls, but as a basic ethical axiom.

    If you have other basic ethical axioms (what is the plural of “axiom”?), there is nothing to discuss.

  13. SW,

    I would include, within the category of countries that depend to some degree on US capabilities to enhance their military security (in the sense that they would be obliged (or at least well-advised) to make significant additional security expenditures otherwise), just about every country that appears above the US on the table reproduced above. And even if one assumed (contrary to fact, I think) that that were no longer the case at present, the cumulative effects of Cold War allocations of security burdens could be expected to impact the relevant metrics for years to come still.

    Regarding the Gini coefficient, given its limitations as an inequality measure (some of which are covered at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient#Disadvantages_of_Gini_coefficient_as_a_measure_of_inequality), I’m not sure we ought to draw all the conclusions from it that some people have drawn.

  14. It is hardly going to be very meaningful to tahe income inequality apart from anything else at all. In the state of the blind, etc, etc.

    Demosthenes, I suspect you do not have sick children depending on you for care, etc. Who’d want to be Gates if you can do something you like, meet most important needs, and have a relatively unencombered life with a feeble old age at some distance? Not I, and I expect not most of us, for a while. Living like a grad student for a whole life seldom works, though. And the ways in which it can easily go bad would spin one’s head.

  15. Nemo:

    The Gini coefficient is far from perfect, as Wikipedia points out, but it is a standard measure of income inequality.

    However, as you point out, it is wise to be skeptical about such statistics.

    For example, it is hard to measure the “off the books” economy, which in a country like Chile is huge.

    In any case, here is Wikipedia on The Spirit Level, a recent book on the harm done by inequality to society as a whole.


    As all can imagine, the book has its fans and its critics.

  16. I don’t think Demosthenes was saying that he wouldn’t care to *be* Bill Gates, or that he (she? I guess I think of Demosthenes as a man because of the name) wouldn’t be substantially better off if some of Gates’ wealth were redistributed to Demosthenes’ pocket.

    I think he was simply saying that he could not see how he was harmed by Gates’ greater wealth (meant in the sense, I expect, of keeping from Demosthenes something which Demosthenes has earned or to which he is otherwise entitled from Gates, and not merely in the sense of the truism that the same money cannot simultaneously be in the pockets of Gates and Demosthenes).

  17. What, exactly, is the US protecting Europe from with the “security guarantee”? That argument made sense in the Cold War, but it is dubious (at best), now.

    Likewise, social justice is very related to distribution, and distribution has very little to do with security expenditures.

    Very strange comments.

  18. Ian,

    The US has indirectly subsidized the defense budgets of its NATO and non-NATO allies for a long time. If anything, after the Cold War the problem got worse; all NATO countries cut their defense expenditures, but the gap in military capabilities between the US and its allies has widened to the point where there are few allied militaries (the UK would be one example; you could argue that France is another) that maintain the ability to contribute proportionally to joint defense. Now, one might say that the US has brought this problem upon itself to some extent, for example by condoning relatively low levels of defense spending by other NATO countries for so long. However, whatever the apportionment of blame, the problem still exists. Its effects were felt as recently as the Libyan campaign (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/france-wants-nato-to-fight-harder-against-gaddafis-forces/2011/04/12/AFN8pxOD_story.html). As the French military analyst quoted in that article noted, “The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment” – but of course the reason for this is that the Europeans neglected to buy/build the right numbers of planes, or to procure the right equipment. Whether Western security required that the Libyan campaign be carried out at all is a separate question, but the point remains the same – US allies, in formulating military policy and particularly budgeting, have implicitly relied on the notion that if push comes to shove, the US ability to project itself militarily throughout the world will deter and/or defend attacks on allies from whatever quarter. That is a big money-saver for many US allies, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

    Social justice does have something to do with wealth distribution, of course, but exactly how is a matter of considerable debate (e.g. does it have to do with unequal distribution per se, or unequal distribution as a result of things like underlying inequities in opportunity?). However, I don’t think it’s correct to say that distribution (much less quality of life) necessarily has very little to do with security expenditures. For example, popular types of governmental redistribution of wealth include transfers and subsidies, but every euro of general tax revenue that is spend on defense is a euro that is not available to be spent on transfers or subsidies, and vice versa. Accordingly, low security expenditures can mean more money available for governmental programs that result in wealth redistribution.

  19. s. wallerstein:

    First off, I never said I don’t envy Bill Gates. I just don’t understand why any of the dollars in his pocket necessarily mean that there are less in mine.

    “Frankly, I see a just society as one in which wealth is shared.”

    Perhaps you could help me understand what you mean by this statement, which has a vast range of potential meanings. Indeed, on one of those readings, the United States is already a “just society” — it already engages in a certain level of redistribution of wealth, e.g., Social Security. But I suspect you wouldn’t like that interpretation, because it’s quite clear that you think the level of redistribution in America is not nearly high enough. So: who initiates the “sharing,” and who receives it? How much? What level of inequality would you consider acceptable? These all seem like fairly important questions, the answers to which deserve better than to be buried in a vague phrase. Wouldn’t you agree?

    The rest of what you said would lead me to believe you’re a Rawls adherent, yet you don’t actually seem to want to claim that at any point for some reason. Why not? If you think Rawls has the answers, just say so.

    “If you have other basic ethical axioms…there is nothing to discuss.”

    So. There’s no point in people who apparently come from very different ideological backgrounds even having a theoretical discussion about their potential points of disagreement. Well…all right, then. In that case, why visit a website dedicated to philosophy?

  20. Dr. Jacobson:

    “Demosthenes, I suspect you do not have sick children depending on you for care, etc. Who’d want to be Gates if you can do something you like, meet most important needs, and have a relatively unencombered life with a feeble old age at some distance? Not I, and I expect not most of us, for a while.”

    It’s true that I have no one dependent upon me. But I fail to see how that’s really a response to my post, since it’s addressing a quite different issue. I would clarify, but Nemo @ #18 has already quite succinctly summed up my point. (For which I should, and do, offer my thanks.)

    s. wallerstein, to whom that first post was directed, was clearly implying that income inequality was a bad thing. All else being equal, I agree, as I think most people would. But he/she seemed to be saying more than that, as I said before…that income inequality is necessarily bad. And that’s not something I am prepared to admit without a much more rigorous argument behind it. Because all else is simply not equal.

    The United States has a much greater level of income inequality than many European countries, and many First World countries in general. This is a fact, and I can’t and wouldn’t deny it. But what’s the point being made? That these non-US societies are “better” in some clear way? That would depend, I think, on one’s moral and sociopolitical premises. Or is the claim that something about the lives of the working poor is “better” in these countries, because of the lower level of income inequality? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. The answer to that question, again, seems potentially dependent on one’s ideology and values.

    Let me see if I can sum up my basic objection, with reference to my previous example. Bill Gates and I have very unequal slices of a pie. But it’s a very large pie indeed, and it keeps growing. My piece seems big enough for me. Oh, sure, I’d like it to be bigger, but I’m fine. Now someone comes along, and tells me that the way the pie is divided is “scandalous.” I take this to mean that this person believes Bill Gates having a much, much larger piece of the pie than I do is not only unequal (which it clearly is), but somehow unfair — that some of the pie in Bill Gates’s slice is rightfully mine.

    Am I reading the implication wrong? If I am, I would appreciate being shown my error. If I am not, then again, there needs to be more of an argument made from the person being scandalized. I don’t see how any one of Gates’s sixty billion or so dollars has been taken from me. Nor do I see how I am in any way affected negatively by his capability to make everyone ever featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” look like paupers.

  21. I tried, in my responses, to avoid rehashing things that Nemo had already said more succinctly than I had. Unfortunately, as I look back, I see I was unable to do that. So, my apologies.

  22. Demostenes:

    Fair enough. I’ll try to unpack my thoughts.

    First of all, I agree with Rawl’s difference principle: that any inequalities should benefit the poorest.

    All human beings should have access to a certain number of goods and services. Those goods and services are historically and socially determined. That is, today every human being should have access to a computer, a telephone and medication to control, say, hypertension, none of which existed 50 years ago. Those are examples. The list is much longer.

    There are environmental constraints. At the current level of economic activity, we are already destroying the planet through global warming. In order to assure every African child access to a computer we are either going to have to increase production, thus increasing environmental damage or share what we have in a radical form.

    In a world in which we share and in which we care for the environment, Bill Gates will probably no longer be able to heat the 28 bathrooms in his home nor fly a private jet (all of which consume lots of energy), but perhaps everyone will have a heated bathroom and the opportunity to travel by plane from time to time.

    Is what I envision above likely to occur? No.

  23. Interesting discussion. SW, a question: do you think that the information in the table from the opening post is sufficient to permit us to draw firm conclusions about the extent to which the inequalities within each country represented on it satisfy or do not satisfy the Difference Principle?

  24. “…that any inequalities should benefit the poorest.”

    Could you describe for me what this would mean in practice? A few examples of potential inequalities which you would take to benefit the poorest, for example?

    “All human beings should have access to a certain number of goods and services. Those goods and services are historically and socially determined. That is, today every human being should have access to a computer, a telephone and medication to control, say, hypertension…”

    I’m sorry, but this seems an unconvincing setting of assertions. I agree with the first sentence, though I suspect that your meaning of “access” would differ greatly from mine, as would the list of the “certain number of goods and services” to which we should “have access.” But again, what does it mean to say that this list is “historically and socially determined”? Access to such basic necessities for life as food, water, and shelter is one thing. But it’s quite a leap from saying that people should have access to those things — to saying that all people, everywhere around the world, no matter their circumstances, should have access (however we use that word) to advanced technology and its products.

    I take you to be saying that these objects are necessities of some sort; otherwise, it seems hard to make a case that we would be under the moral obligation to ensure their provision. Is that wrong?

    If not, shouldn’t we get our priorities in order? We can talk about abstract lists of things people should have, but even assuming I granted you without argument that the whole of the longer list you had in mind consisted entirely of things that people should not under any circumstances be forced to do without, aren’t certain of those more basic than others? I have no doubt that an impoverished family in rural Sudan, for example, would be far more in need of access to a steady supply of nourishing food than they would access to the Internet. To even bring up the latter in that context, as you do — even in a discussion of what an ideal distribution of resources would look like on a global scale — seems not just to be putting the cart before the horse; it seems to be saying that everyone should have access to the finest coach-and-four carriage available, and damn the fact that many people couldn’t even lay their hands on a single horse with which to make use of it.

    Leaving aside any discussion of environmental matters at large, I have to comment on this:

    “In a world in which we share and in which we care for the environment…”

    See, this is why I’m finding this discussion to be by turns fascinating and frustrating. We already share in this world — between individuals, between families, between socioeconomic strata, even between countries. What you mean is that you want us to share *more* than we do. Some of us already care a great deal for the environment, and most of us do to one degree or another. But you seem to have in mind this ideal level of caring for the environment, this One True Way to do so. And you continue to use phrases that are gooey vagaries, where the only implication about meaning I can extract amounts to: “We aren’t doing enough of this, we need to do more, but don’t worry, people like me know what the right level is, and we’ll let you know when to stop.” Set out some benchmarks for this sharing and caring. Otherwise, all you have is a pleasing rhetorical phrase, full of soft and furry, signifying nothing — or nothing concrete, at any rate.

  25. Nemo:

    No, there is no way from the data above that I can draw any conclusions whether Rawls’ difference principle is satisfied or not in any of the countries named.

    It may be that the inequalities in Turkey stems from a masterful plan to put Rawls’ principle into practice, although I doubt it.

    Having lived in Santiago de Chile most of my life, I can tell you that the inequalities here have nothing to do with Rawls’ difference principle.

    I have read that in Finland, which ranks high on the list, primary teachers are very highly paid so as to incentivate gifted students to enter the teaching profession and thus, ensure quality education (a good) for all children. That would seem to be an application of Rawls’ difference principle, but I cannot surmise that from the above chart.

  26. Demostenes:

    One of my general rules is never to answer posts which insult me or my posts. Your use of the words like “gooey vagaries” and “soft and furry” are insulting.

    At times I make exceptions to my general rules and have done so in this blog, when the insulting posts seem to come from someone who is both very young and radically to the left of me.

    You just seem very young.

    I sensed above that we don’t have enough in common to have a fruitful conversation and I was right.

    P.S. In my post of 8:45 PM Oct 31 above I gave an example of an inequality which benefits the poorest.

  27. Demosthenes and Nemo, let me try to put the point I was trying to make more clearly. I said

    Demosthenes, I suspect you do not have sick children depending on you for care, etc. Who’d want to be Gates if you can do something you like, meet most important needs, and have a relatively unencombered life with a feeble old age at some distance? Not I, and I expect not most of us…

    You remark

    It’s true that I have no one dependent upon me. But I fail to see how that’s really a response to my post, since it’s addressing a quite different issue. I would clarify, but Nemo @ #18 has already quite succinctly summed up my point. (For which I should, and do, offer my thanks.)

    I don’t think it is a different issue. The people protesting on Wall Street, or Blow and Krugman, think there’s a very serious injustice because so many of the 99% are unlike you in being very negatively impacted by the features of the society that are directly or indirectly due to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the fews. So, unlike you as described by Nemo, they think they are harmed; they have rights to things to which they are denied access..

    I’m not quite sure what to do with Nemo’s generous explanation that you weren’t saying you want to be Bill Gates except perhaps, “of course”.

  28. Anne, regarding your very last point, that paraphrase is missing a needed negative. I was responding to SW’s comment that initially took D to be declaring his non-envy of Gates (as though D had denied that it might be nice to be in Gates’ shoes, or at least to have more of what currently belongs to Gates). That was all.

    Anyhow, it is undeniably true that, as you noted to D, there are people who think they are negatively impacted by the features of the society (in this case, let’s say US society) that are directly or indirectly due to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. However, it’s worth acknowledging that there exists widespread disagreement even among the good and wise over whether and to what extent (WATWE, for brevity) those people are correct: WATWE they are being impacted by the particular phenomena they surmise, WATWE those phenomena arise (other than in the incidental/tautological sense to which I alluded earlier) from wealth concentration, WATWE wealth disparity is unjust per se or only potentially as a function of underlying or antecedent injustice, WATWE such underlying or antecedent injustice is present in a given case, WATWE (and how) this state of affairs can be remedied without engendering other injustices or other negative consequences, and so forth… which disagreements are an unfortunate function of limitations on (among other things) our knowledge. Having sick dependent children might well alter someone’s perspective on such questions, but unfortunately not in a way that necessarily supplies the correct answers.

  29. s. wallerstein:

    Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. Neither phrase was intended to be insulting. Whether you choose to take them that way is your affair.

    The phrases I used were admittedly cooked up partly for rhetorical effect. But I stand behind the ideas contained within them. You were being vague; mouthing a general principle which has a wide potential range of meanings means that any of them could be imported into the argument. And yes, I thought that some of your sentences veered too close to generalities and rhetorical flourishes of the type so often substituted for rigorous argument (“in which we share and in which we care…”).

    I didn’t speculate on your reasons for framing your remarks in that way. I commented on your vagueness once in an earlier post, and then when I saw it again, I decided to comment again in a more playful way. If I struck a nerve, again, I’m sorry. But please keep in mind that you’re the one speculating about my level of maturity, and you’re the one closing off any possibility of further conversation based on it. After which you sneak in a reference to an earlier comment as a (very partial) rebuttal, which is rather a low blow, seeing as how it immediately followed your effective declaration that I was unworthy of your time — was having the last word really that important to you?

    I have good cause to feel as insulted by your remarks as you claim you are by mine. The fact that you were insulted, and I am merely a little saddened, is an important contrast between the pair of us, I think. Oh, well.

  30. Dr. Jacobson:

    Again, Nemo has anticipated the response I would like to give.

    If I may, however, I do have one thing to add. You imply in your response to me above that I would feel differently if my experiences were different. At least, that’s the implication I take to be there — that if I were more “negatively impacted by the features of [my] society,” I might also think, as the OWSers do, that I “have rights to things to which [I am] denied access.” Of course I have to admit the possibility, perhaps even the probability, of the truth of your implication; to not do so would be intellectually dishonest.

    But again, how is that an answer to my initial question? What you effectively said in your initial reply, and what you have now extrapolated on — at least I think this is true, and please correct me if it isn’t — is something akin to “You don’t know how it feels, so…” What remains unclear to me is what should follow the “so.” So…I’m wrong? So…my opinion isn’t as valuable? I feel as though there’s a further implication here that I’m missing.

  31. Demo:

    Ok, I accept your apologies.

    I cannot answer your many and worthy questions one by one, so I outlined above (10:57 AM) how I envision a just global society.

    It is no more nor no less vague than any utopian proposal. At the end of my post, I made it clear that I don’t expect it to become reality. It’s an ideal.

    As for the list of what goods and services each human being should have access to, that list should be the subject of an open discussion between the have’s and the have-not’s. Once again, that’s an ideal, a utopia.

    The have’s rarely listen to the have-not’s. There is no dialogue between them at present.

    One reason that there is no dialogue between the have’s and the have-not’s is that in a world of relative scarcity, the have’s fear the have-not’s. In political terms, the interests of the have’s and the have-not’s often conflict: your average Swiss citizen has no interest in dialoguing with your average Somali citizen about how to share the wealth of the Swiss citizen.

    There are other lists. Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach is a good one, but it too is “vague” and general; and its implementation depends, once again, on the currently non-existent good will of those who have more goods, services and power.

    What I specifically propose in the actual political situation is obviously not a computer and a telephone for each African child. I am well aware, as you point out above, that many lack clean drinking water and sufficient calories.

    So if you are really and not just rhetorically asking what I propose to do about global poverty in concrete terms, I suggest reading Peter Singer. His books are full of useful ways that people in rich countries can help those in poor nations.

    As to what to do about inequalities in developed societies, once again, in concrete terms, I suggest voting for those political parties and candidates, which and who propose extending more goods, services and power to those members of developed societies with fewer goods and services and less power. In my opinion, that would mean voting for the Democrats in the U.S., for the Socialists in France, Spain and Chile, and for the Labor Party in the U.K.

    I don’t have a particularly high opinion of the parties which I mention, but they do seem more committed to reducing inequalities than their political opponents.

    I still feel that the differences in access to goods, services and power in this global society are scandalous. You obviously don’t feel the same, and I doubt that I could convince you even if I had more rhetorical and polemical skills.

  32. SW, that is a pretty depressing assessment, by which I do not mean to say it is unfounded. I hope, though, that good will among those with the most goods, services and power (like our favorite example, Bill G.) Is not non-existent.

    With regard to relations between rich and poor countries, I recall that Rawls proposed that the Difference Principle should not apply in quite the same way as within single societies. What’s your take on that?

  33. Much of the discussion of my small contributions seem to me quite odd. I have been wondering why it strikes me in this way. Perhaps for this reason: I set the chart in a particular context, by mentioning Blow, Krugman and considerations of empirical facts about living a good life. In that context certain assumptions are operating: we are assuming that a society has some obligations to look after its least advantage, and that the evil of the income distribution on the chart for theUS is that nothing is satisfactorily taking care of the least among us, and even a few rows ‘above them.’

    I don’t quite get D’s initial point. There were a number of places at which I wanted to say that the effects matter, and I don’t think he was actually arguing the theoretical position that they don’t. But perhaps he was mentioning that position and illustrating it by his own case. In this case, my response is really the same: the effects make the distribution in the real world bad, given of course the assumptions in the post.

    I’m perfectly happy for people to debate the positions that inequality is bad regardless of its effects. Equally, people are of course free to debate whether society has any obligations to the poor and suffering, whether one has a right to be able to find a job with a living wage and decent health care, etc.

    However, given I set up a context in which such ideas are assumed, I shouldn’t be faulted for ignoring opposite opinions just because some people have held them. I certainly could be faulted if I ignored substantive challenges to those assumptions. That is, rebuttals. I haven’t seen any. But perhaps some have been given. If so, please write them up and become famous.

    Finally, apologies if this all seems very bad tempered. In fact, I am in a very bad mood, for reasons that have nothing to do with this blog, and everything to do with yet another behind-my-back attack on an academica structure that I built and cherish.

  34. Pogge has tried to extend Rawls’ scheme to global justice.

    I’ve read a few of his articles, but not his book.

    Rawls intends his whole system for a single society, as you say.

    Since it’s a highly abstract and utopian scheme, I don’t see why it could not be extended to all of humanity.

    Limiting the difference principle, justice as fairness and the rest of Rawls to the United States or to other highly developed advanced liberal democratic societies is like limiting Kant’s categorial imperative to property holding whites with university degrees.

    Kant’s categorial imperative is an ideal, not a practical guide for everyday ethics in a tough neighborhood and most of us live in tough neighborhoods or work in tough environments.

    However, the ideals, be they those of Kant, those of Rawls, those of Buddha, those of Socrates, those of Carol Gilligan (I was just listening to an interesting talk by her about overcoming gender roles) can be an inspiration and/or guide to people everywhere and can be applied in limited form, adapting them to the differing tough neighborhoods most of us inhabit, everywhere too.

    What’s your view on Rawls limiting his system to certain societies?

  35. Anne:

    That’s unfortunate about your problems in academic life.

    As I said to Nemo above, most of us live in tough neighborhoods or work in tough environments. It seems that yours is quite tough.

  36. SW, the short answer is I haven’t read Rawls in too long and don’t have a well-formed opinion on his ideas about international distributive justice.

    Anne, hang in there.

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