Bryan Caplan  

Grow the Respect Pie

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I second David's praise for Noah's piece on respect.  But why talk about "redistributing respect" rather than "showing more respect"?  In econ jargon, why not increase the size of the respect pie instead of squabbling over the size of the slices?

Respect really is close to a free lunch.  If you want to show more respect to workers at McDonald's, you don't have to compensate by snubbing bankers.  Noah's praise of Japanese respect bears this out.  Japan doesn't just have more equal respect; it has higher respect per-capita.

And while we're ratcheting up respect, why not push for more friendliness - and less misanthropy - as well?



COMMENTS (8 to date)
Philo writes:

What would it be like to increase the supply of *respect*? Surely it is not enough merely to increase the (sincere) use of respectful forms of address—‘sir’, ‘ma’am’, ‘Professor’, ‘Doctor’, ‘Officer’, ‘Your Highness’,’milord’,etc.? Perhaps *respect* for someone means having a high opinion of him, considering him especially important; but it is far from clear that there is currently too little ‘respect’ in this sense. My best suggestion is that *respect* is simply a matter of non-interference, of granting the other person the right to make his own decisions and to act on them. If more respect turns out to be just more freedom, your libertarian readers will, of course, agree that there should be more respect.

Foobarista writes:

Gee, all this talk about "redistribution" and other slice & dice logic could only come from an economist :)

One mistake he's making is he's confusing dignity with respect. I don't "respect" people I meet randomly on the street, but I will treat them with courtesy and dignity.

And if I get to know them, I may (or may not) respect them.

BLM4L writes:

Noah talks a good game about respect but does not show respect. Did anyone see the recent twitter conversation between him and Russ Roberts where Noah literally accused Russ of hating poor people?

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Respect, or "show" of respect?

Do you mean to "gain respect" for others?

And, of course, there is the question of reciprocity. Is reciprocity expected?

There is no doubt that manners and mannerisms can seriously affect the results of human interactions. But, honest, realistic, individual, "moral sentiments" are the determining characteristics of the cultures within any social order and of the social orders within any civilization.

MingoV writes:

I'm not convinced that Japan has higher respect per capita. Japan has higher politeness per capita, which isn't the same.

What I saw in Japan was superficial respect (eg: polite behavior) toward rank-and-file workers. I don't believe that many managers and administrators truly respected those workers. The workers participate in quality circle meetings, but the few suggestions that reach upper management almost always are ignored, and no explanations are given to the workers. That's an indicator of disrespect.

Faze writes:

A young Colombian of my acquaintance described the use of the honorific "doctor" in his country, saying that anyone in a intellectual profession might be addressed as "doctor" there, regardless of his or her academic credentials. He said it was a signal of respect, but from the examples he gave I gathered there that there was little socially equalizing mockery mixed in, such as when the valet parker at my hospital addresses me as "young man".

chipotle writes:


Isn't genuine respect at least partially positional AKA zero-sum?

To get concrete, think of your own children: as a parent, you must encourage them to pursue certain jobs/careers and discourage others, unless you are truly indifferent about whether they end up as a street pharmacist or Democratic campaign consultant.

Dave Tufte writes:

Bryan, with all due respect, folks aren't interested in growing or redistributing respect because they aren't that interested in addressing inequality at all.

This is the big dodge in the debate about income "inequality" and wealth "inequality".

There are many things distributed unequally, like respect, that most people could care less about. The reason is that what they're really interested in is fungibility of valuable stuff.

If it isn't both fungible and valuable, no one worries about its inequality. If it's both fungible and valuable, they do.

So, we don't care about inequality of respect ... not because it isn't valuable, but because it isn't fungible. For example, someone could (in the spirit of the TV season) transfer their major award to you, but you wouldn't really feel like it's yours. Or, as a professor, I get more respect than many other professionals, but no one would be interested in me transferring some of that respect to them; it would be silly, and we all know it.

More to the point, many jobs are paid with in-kind benefits (like the employee of the rock/gem shop I was in on Christmas Eve who can buy the earrings at cost rather than the retail price). The distribution of semi-precious stones is seriously unequal, but no one worries about that because some people just don't find them that valuable. Alternatively, employees of restaurants can often buy entrees at cost, so again there's an unequal distribution of Big Macs and shrimp scampi. But we don't worry about that inequality because those items, while fungible, depreciate quickly enough that the fungibility doesn't matter much.

So no, we worry about cash income inequality: because the cash is valuable, and it's fungible. Once it's out of their hands, and into ours, we're richer and no one can tell why.

I'd go further and argue that this is why we're more concerned about income inequality than wealth inequality too (in spite of the fact that wealth is distributed far more unequally). Income is almost always in money. Wealth is often converted to not so liquid stuff ... that no one is interested in transferring.

In my case, as I approach 50, I have some of my wealth stored in phones-that-worked-the-last-time-I-used-them, open spice containers, polaroids, opened cans of paint, pens I've picked up somewhere, and so on. No one who's young, and most people who are poor, has such things. But they don't want them either. Instead, they want the portion of my wealth that retains value, and that if put in their hands, would give them value with no strings attached: mostly, that's money.

And while I agree that a society that pays more respect, and perhaps distributes it better, would be beneficial ... I don't cloud my thinking about inequality with that notion.

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