[ExI] Status, Envy, and Economics

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Feb 14 18:22:43 UTC 2008

Damien S. writes

>> Perhaps you should elaborate on the ways that material wealth
>> can be used for social power.
> I listed some.  Bribes.  Buying up monopolies.  Armed goons/private
> soldiers.  (later tech: armed robots)  You talk about absolute respect
> for private property but *how is that enforced*?

Yes, those things are very terrible, etc. But are you *sure* that your
fear of rampant inequality is merely based on "the powerful" getting
out of hand? [Oh, okay----below you admit that it's not.]

I ask since, so far, the rich have been rather well behaved (here
in the west). Yes, there has been corruption---too much, of course.
But the benefits we get from having a lot of rich people around vastly
outweighs their corrupting the system.

I'm not sure what you mean by "*how's that enforced*?".  The same
way all our laws are.  That is, regardless of how rich Bill Gates get,
the actual guns and badges do remain in the hands of the properly
authorized. Private soldiers have not been a threat. You presume
that unless we ramp down the inequality, then private armies will
be inevitable.

Rich people do not own guided missles, tanks, machine guns, and
atom bombs even now, although surely (it would seem) following
your logic they ought to.

> I forget about you,

that's nice.  OTOH I do try to keep you in mind.  :-)

> but some around here are anarcho-capitalists.  No government,
> so what to do if after this magical exponentiation of wealth,
> someone has more material power than everyone else combined?

Yeah, well try harder not to forget about us actual people on this
list, to avoid being charged with attacking straw men. Certainly
I agree with Thomas Jefferson or whoever it was that
said that the worst government was no government at all.

> I mean, apart from the bribes, I'm worried less about corruption
> of gov't officials and basic greed, drive for power, and psychopathy.

I don't know why you care what delusions of grandeur and what
mental deviations the rich may have.  After all, it's what they *do*
that counts. And you haven't made a good case that in the modern
rich here in the west form any threat to due process.

> Eh?  We know damn well it's possible to diminish
> economic inequality, every First World country
> does it to varying degrees, via progressive
> taxes and welfare payments and various labor laws.

Yeah, and the more they do it, the more their economies
suck. To some extent, the great Scandanavian nations
you admire so much are technically being pulled along
by the U.S. and other advanced nations.  I believe that
technical progress would come to a complete stop if
we leveled wealth as much as you seem to want to.

And just how much *do* you want to take from the
rich (damaging their incentives and motivations) and
give to the poor (damaging theirs even more)?  Want
to go back to tax rates of 98%, but this time no loop
holes?  What about just flat out "from each according
to his ability and to each according to his need"? 
The all-wise government need not even be solely involved
---we can just vote on how much money everyone
should get.  Put some limits here, thanks.

>> 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.
> Actually that's not the case.
> http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2007

A mere glance at that map make seems to make exactly the
opposite point. Considering the whole range of corruption that
is possible, the entire west does well.

> The *most* adept countries are largely low-inequality social
> democracies: the Usual Suspects of the Nordics and Netherlands, plus
> Canada and New Zealand... also Singapore and Switzerland.

Don't underestimate the degree also to which the beloved nordic
countries still have their share of rich people despite some successful
leveling. You can't prove that there is a strong relationship between
what may be a little less corruption there and high tax rates,
and I really doubt it: do you really suppose if we diminished by
half the portion of the wealth that the rich possess it would
result in fewer bribes and less buying of votes, etc.?

No, there are *cultural* and historical differences that account for
these (minor) disparities between the separate advanced nations
that you're making hay of.


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