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Social Equality

September 23, 2020

Mickey Kaus despairs that our meritocratic tendencies undermine the desired goal of social equality. As I wrote on his site in a comment, I am not as discouraged:

A few alternatives ideas:

— What you are really talking about is status competition between individuals. That is arguably a universal phenomenon, that the meritocracy did not solve, but neither do any of the proposed solutions because status is an ordinal concept. As people become more equal in material ways, they look to other methods of distinction to demonstrate status, e.g. ability to entertain or looks. The the problem of unequal status reasserts itself because its part of human nature. At least the meritocracy keeps us well fed and entertained even if it doesn’t solve all the problems inherent in human nature.

— Material differences in living standards are actually declining despite some of the top people accumulating great wealth. For example, is there really that much functional difference between silestone and formica counters or between a Carolla and a Tesla. No. Likewise much wealth is not consumed but invested where it benefits everyone but the owner, perhaps someday it will be consumed, but likely by many heirs and then it won’t be wealth any more. Similarly, no one actually goes without pretty good healthcare in America if they want it. The material prerequisites for social equality are already there if there was some other way to make people value it.

— Why isn’t there a way to develop an ethos of mutual respect (something like social equality) even independent of one’s wealth or income? The anti-racists have been able to achieve that why not focus on thinking of a way to bring that same sort of power to honoring people no matter their material status. Not suggesting this is easy, but it seems like the crux of the issue and focusing on it might generate some good ideas (some of which might work).

— The Andrew Yang world is one in which people don’t have jobs because robots do all our work. That doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t put it beyond the realm of possibility that with more material abundance one’s material well-being gets largely displaced by other indicia of status, e.g. being good looking, being entertaining, having a lot of social media followers. If that happens all the solutions you suggest become worthless and we’ll regret not focusing more purely on nurturing mutual respect regardless of status.

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