[ExI] Status, Envy, and Economics

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Wed Feb 13 20:54:28 UTC 2008

Damien S. writes

> On Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:16:09PM -0800, Lee Corbin wrote:
>> 1)  it is good that people want to be richer
>> 2)  it is unfortunate, and needs to be worked against
>>      that people are so interested in relative differences 
> Hypothetical rephrase:
> 1) it is good that people want to have more power over each other

No, no!  Not the same thing at all!  If I only go up to making 250K
per year and everyone else gets to go up to making 500K, that does
not necessarily in any way cause them to have power over me.
Now if you want to define power as the ability to build some new
artifact, then yes, they can do that.  But that is not what I mean by
"power", especially in this context of "power over others".

(N.B.  See below---I have come to agree with you about part of this.)

> 2) it's unfortunate, and needs to be worked against that people are so
> interested in relative differences in power.

But I think that we *all* are interested in relative differences in power
of the kind you are speaking of, and I think that we all agree that is
is a very *good* thing to be so interested.  Nothing is more important
that equal protection of the laws (rule of law) and total respect for
private property.  So I can spend my 250K and keep the results,
regardless of what the others do.

> Material wealth gives us comfort and security, and needn't be zero-sum.
> But it can also be used for social power, which is zero-sum.

Perhaps you should elaborate on the ways that material wealth
can be used for social power.  I will of course respond that when
it can be so used, we merely have uncovered a defect in the law
or in goverment abuse of power or something, and that *that* is
what needs correcting.  You may perhaps respond that it seems
inevitable in human societies that material wealth can be so misused...

(Perhaps you don't need to respond at all since I am doing such 
a swell job of holding up both sides of the conversation   :-)

Ah, WAIT!  I see that you have addressed some of this just now
in a reply to Rafal, from which I now quote:

> If everyone is a perfectly moral libertarian, well, fine!
> But if not, more money can mean more bribes to
> politicians, more hired soldiers, more hunter-killer
> robots built.  If I have 10 dollars and you have 20,
> it's not that easy for you to shove me around.
> If I have (2^D) 1000 dollars and you have a million,
> you can blot me out. 

Here I will concede:  if it proves impossible to stop such
unlawful processes, then you are right and we cannot 
afford to allow very much inequality to develop. But we
don't know that we will be ineffective in stamping out
corruption, just as we don't know if it's even possible
at all to diminish inequality. There are many unknowns
here, and many risks.

It does seem interesting that some of the countries that
have been most adept at snuffing out corruption have
also permitted inequality to rise to its "natural", i.e.,
free market levels. More transparency (e.g. The 
Transparent Society) should help, and that's perhaps
the way we should risk going forward.


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