David R. Henderson  

Male Privilege versus Rawls' Veil of Ignorance

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On Facebook this morning, economics Ph.D. student Garrett Malcolm Petersen, aka The Economics Detective, asked the following:

Has anyone else noticed the contradiction between Rawls' veil of ignorance argument against inequality and the concept of male privilege?

Not only had I not noticed it, but, even after reading his question, I still didn't see it.

Fortunately, I was not alone. Other commenters asked Garrett to explain. He did, and has allowed me to reprint his explanation. Here goes:

Men are the high-variance gender. We see more men at the highest peaks of achievement but also at the lowest points of failure. If the men and women in the same country were actually two different countries, Manistan would have a higher average income than Womania but it would also have more absolute poverty, much more crime and incarceration, a higher suicide rate, etc. By saying that men have male privilege, we're essentially saying that being born in Manistan is inherently advantageous over being born in Womania.

The difference between Manistan and Womania is similar to the difference between the United States and Sweden. The US is richer but more unequal than Sweden. So it's somewhat contradictory to say that, behind a veil of ignorance, you would choose being born male over being female (male privilege) while also saying that, behind that veil, you would choose to live in a less unequal country even if it meant a lower average income (social democracy).


Garrett even has an explanation for why people have come up with the idea of male privilege:
My theory is that people who talk about male privilege are high achievers surrounded by other high achievers, in which case their experience would be with men dominating most areas they have experience in. If a social worker came up with a theory of privilege, they would probably invent a theory of female privilege based on all the poor and homeless men they deal with. But privilege theory was developed by academics, so the privilege they saw around them was male privilege.

Although I don't think he should use the word "privilege" to describe success, I think he's making an excellent point.

By the way, I think Garrett is an excellent interviewer, at least based on his interview with me.


Comments and Sharing


CATEGORIES: Labor Market




COMMENTS (44 to date)
Steve Fritzinger writes:
So it's somewhat contradictory to say that, behind a veil of ignorance, you would choose being born male over being female (male privilege) while also saying that, behind that veil, you would choose to live in a less unequal country even if it meant a lower average income (social democracy).

I thought the point of the Veil of Ignorance was that you got to choose the form of society, but not your position in that society. Talking about choosing to be male or female from behind the Veil takes you beyond Rawls.

The comparison between Manistan and Womania is interesting, but it's got little to do with Rawls.

Brian writes:

"I thought the point of the Veil of Ignorance was that you got to choose the form of society, but not your position in that society."

Steve,

I think Petersen is saying that Manistan and Womania can be treated as two different societies. You have to choose one but don't know where you'll end up in it. People who claim male privilege are saying that everyone would choose Manistan behind the veil. But these same people claim that Sweden is better than the U.S., and so would choose it from behind the veil. Since Sweden is the equivalent of Womania (according to Petersen), these people are claiming that the choices of Manistan and Womania are both superior to the other. Hence the contradiction.

Jacob Thompson writes:

That's a really cool and very original use of statistical concepts. So I want to dispute the argument, but on its own terms.

Casual empiricism tells me that it is true that most people who cry over male privilege would also have rather been born in Sweden than in the United States precisely because Sweden is a much more equal society, albiet appreciably poorer than the United States.

However, the assumption here is that the difference in expected outcomes and the variance of those outcomes between men and women is on a similar to the difference between the United States (Manistan) and Sweden (Womania). The SJ activist can just say that the difference in expected outcomes between manistan and womania is much higher than the difference between the USA and Sweden.

In any preference relation, lower risk does not strictly dominate expected value: we often do accept higher risk in exchange for higher expected value. So while this difference is small enough to make Sweden preferable to the USA (two relatively rich countries, but one with a lower variance), it is not enough to make Womania preferable to Manistan.

Jon Murphy writes:

Wow. I didn't think of it like that.

Joseph K writes:

"I thought the point of the Veil of Ignorance was that you got to choose the form of society, but not your position in that society."

Yes, that is the point of the Veil of Ignorance. The point is that Rawls concluded that the society you would choose, from behind the Veil of Ignorance, would be a modern, redistributionist Western democracy, complete with safety net, progressive taxes, and welfare. Rawls thought this is what any rational person would choose. Since you don't know whether you'll be one of the more fortunate or unfortunate, you reason that it's better to protect yourself if unfortunate, then give yourself every advantage if fortunate. But people have noted that Rawls's rational person is rather risk averse.

Petersen is saying, likewise, that if a rational person is this risk averse, then they would also choose to be female rather than male if given the choice. This suggests that, if a redistributionist democracy is better, then it's better to be a woman. If it's better to be a man, then a more libertarian government would be ideal.

So, he's saying that those who favor a redistributionist democracy and justify it by a Rawlsian argument, they would contradict themselves if they also said that it's better to be born, in our current society, as a man (and if it's better to be a woman, then we should talk of female privilege, not male privilege).

Tom West writes:

Not to put too fine a point on it, for purposes of policy or idle conversation, below average people (no matter what the metric), don't count.

Even when talking about disadvantaged groups, the conversation always centers around helping the average or above of that group.

There is no-one fighting for the below-mediocre (let alone factoring their existence into policy discussions).

(Oddly enough, the taboo about considering their existence is *so* strong, I've been accused of deliberately sabotaging policy I was advocating by mentioning the benefits my policy had for this group.)

BC writes:

Petersen makes an interesting point. However, I think someone asserting that male privilege exists might argue that the privilege(s) that males purportedly enjoy are not the cause of the greater variance, just the higher average. Thus, their argument is not necessarily that it's better overall to be male than female, just that the relative difference between male and female averages is due to privilege. In contrast, the choice between US and Sweden really is Rawlsian because the lower Swedish average incomes really are due to the socialist policies designed to address inequality.

Petersen's point that people don't seem to consider low-achieving males is still a good one though. I guess the male-privilege people just believe that those low-achieving males would be even lower-achieving in a world without male privilege.

It probably *would* be valid to say that we can't measure alleged male privilege in terms of statistical outcomes for exactly the reasons that Petersen points out: male outcomes may be better in terms of average, but not variance. Thus, to determine whether male privilege exists, we need to look for identifiable and overt discrimination, what some people call "procedural" inequality rather than outcome inequality.

BC writes:

Without even invoking Rawls, I guess one fair question is whether one would favor raising top marginal tax rates and lowering bottom rates or raising exemptions for women, but not for men. That would target the presumed benefits of income equality to women by making their tax scale more progressive. If someone opposes that, is it because they don't believe income equality is beneficial or is it because they don't think we should try to improve women's outcomes relative to men's?

Bob Murphy writes:

Hmm very interesting, thanks for sharing this David.

Weir writes:

You're behind the veil, and you have no characteristics. You just have opinions.

One of your opinions is that you wouldn't want to have the characteristics of a male. You wouldn't choose a vastly increased likelihood of violent death, either at your own hands or the hands of another man. You wouldn't choose all the pathologies packaged into that deal. If you're not already poisoned by testosterone, you wouldn't ask to be.

You wouldn't choose to be reckless, status-obsessed, hungry for power and glory and fame. You wouldn't choose these heavy, cumbersome antlers you're stuck with. "Costly signals" is the biologist's name for the elaborate tail feathers you trail behind you. You'd look at the cost and you'd never pay it. The female of your species chose them for you. You never had any say in it. Until you got behind the veil, you were never asked.

But you'd have to be mentally ill to choose a much higher chance of being mentally ill. You'd have to be nuts to want to be president or to build an empire.

The toxic masculinity of an Ozymandias or a Walter White isn't actually appealing to anyone. I mean, apart from the woman who wrote Fifty Shades Of Grey. And the woman who wrote Twilight. And the woman who wrote Wuthering Heights. If you had a choice, you'd be a free rider on the strenuous efforts of others. You'd take the benefits without paying the costs.

If you had a choice, and you weren't just evolution's puppet, you'd never choose to be anything so undignified and desperate to impress, building up these ridiculous structures out of straw or twigs or little bits of bright blue plastic. You wouldn't choose to go to war against the alpha in your pack. That's a losing game. You wouldn't play it.

The males of most species died without passing on their genes. That's most males throughout all time, failing at the one thing that evolution says they're good for. Their lives weren't just nasty, brutish and short. They were fruitless too. You'd have to be a male in the first place to choose a life like that.

Gwen T writes:

Garrett needs to prove that unlucky women are better than unlucky men before he compares medians to minimums. Let's breakdown his assertion that "Manistan would have a higher average income than Womania but it would also have more absolute poverty, much more crime and incarceration, a higher suicide rate, etc"

Women actually have more absolute poverty than men (google "feminization of poverty").

Women are incarcerated less and sentenced to fewer years, but men are far more likely to be violent than women and probably deserve most of their jail time.

Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. Men are more likely to succeed in suicide than women, but that's probably because men own more guns. (Gun ownership levels explains 71% of a state's male suicide rate, but only 49% of a state's female suicide rate).

It's possible that I'm wrong and bottom decile men are worse off than bottom decile women. But he's got to put more in effort into proving that.

Mark writes:

Gwen T:

"Garrett needs to prove that unlucky women are better than unlucky men before he compares medians to minimums."

Actually, that's not the argument. Rather, it's more that men men take greater risks than women and therefore win the lottery more but also lose their shirts more often; they are both more likely to be lucky and more likely to be unlucky. This is quite easily demonstrated with career choices and investment habits.

"Women actually have more absolute poverty than men."

How exactly do you define "absolute poverty?" Because homelessness is almost exclusively a male problem.

"Women are incarcerated less and sentenced to fewer years, but men are far more likely to be violent than women and probably deserve most of their jail time."

Would you say the same thing about black people? Because the unexplained gender penalty for being male relative to being female is much much higher than the one for being black relative to being white.

"Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. Men are more likely to succeed in suicide than women, but that's probably because men own more guns."

Do you think gun ownership leads to suicide? I would argue (and I think it's pretty intuitive actually) that choice of method reflects level of commitment. Frankly, someone who shoots himself in the head or jumps off a tall building or bridge is more likely to be sincerely intent on killing himself than someone who overdoses on pills. The latter is (possibly more often than not) "suicidal ideation"; that is, a cry for help; hence the choice of a method which is most often unsuccessful, especially when a successful means is pretty easy to find.

JFA writes:

Women, at least in the US, have a higher poverty rate than men: https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/how-does-gender-relate-poverty-status.

Also, I'm pretty sure women are more likely to victims of rape, so chalk one up for Womania.

If you want to show that there is privilege, you generally want to show some sort of disparity given a particular action. If men committed most of the crimes but had a lower incarceration rate than women, that would be a sign of privilege. That's not what we see. Men do, in fact, a higher incarceration rate, but that is driven by them doing most of the crime. (so no contradiction with Rawls).

And while the wage gap is not driven by overt or blatant sex discrimination, there are subtle ways in which women (especially those with kids, even if they only take 3 or 4 months of parental leave) are disadvantaged that probably drive a good portion of the wage gap.

Garrett's case, while a nice thought experiment (I really think it is a clever argument), is far from standing on solid ground.

Todd Kreider writes:

From the comments:

1) "Also, I'm pretty sure women are more likely to victims of rape, so chalk one up for Womania."

I think more men are raped than women - those in jail who are raped count, too. The number may be pretty close overall, though.


2) "Sweden is a much more equal society, albeit appreciably poorer than the United States." (Emphasis added)

The GDP per capita PPP of Sweden is $46,000 compared to $53,000 in the U.S. (2016). Yet Swedish workers put in 92% of hours that Americans do to get the 87% of GDP per capita. (1609 hours versus 1739 hours)


Martin writes:

Capitalism is good for alpha males, not for women, and some minorities who make it a point to remind the alpha male of his privilege as an explanation for inequality.

Socialism is good for women and some minorities, but not for alpha males.

Is that the point?

Mark writes:

JFA

"And while the wage gap is not driven by overt or blatant sex discrimination, there are subtle ways in which women (especially those with kids, even if they only take 3 or 4 months of parental leave) are disadvantaged that probably drive a good portion of the wage gap."

This is routinely asserted but never really proven. The "especially with kids" part is suggestive that it isn't really even subtle discrimination, but having kids. Having kids doesn't stop impacting one's career once one comes back to work.

It still boils down to differences in choices, and may people seem to assume that when men and women tend to make different choices, men must be on by definition on the winning end. But when a man chooses a more dangerous, higher paying job and a woman a lower paying, safer job, the many is trading X expected months or years of his life (or limbs, fingers, etc.) for some amount of money. This is a trade off consistent with women just being more risk averse than women. It shouldn't be taken as self-evident that men are making the more rational decision.

"Men do, in fact, a higher incarceration rate, but that is driven by them doing most of the crime. (so no contradiction with Rawls)."
Again, there's a much stronger case that, even given the amount of crime committed, men are still overconvicted and oversentenced, than the same argument for black people. It is at the very least curious that people are largely so willing to say "it's not a problem because they commit more crime" regarding men, but not for ethnic minorities.

Lastly, regarding the poverty rate, I would assert that income isn't what matters: material standard of living is what matters. More women than men who make little to no money benefit from redistribution programs, etc. Income statistics usually don't account for male-to-female wealth transfers in the form alimony, child support, and women living off of their husbands (which is much more common than the inverse).

Michael Byrnes writes:

I think this argument, while clever, misunderstands both Rawls and "male privilege".

I don't think that Rawls ever made an argument favoring a narrow distribution of ability over a wider distribution. What he favored, as I understand it, was fair equality of opportunity (that is, outcomes should be based on natural ability such that everone with a given level of ability should have the same likelihood of success) and that inequalities are acceptable to the extent to which they benefit the least well off. Whether or not one agrees with Rawls is a separate issue from the distribution of natural ability itself.

"Male privilege" is about advantages that accrue to men solely on the basis of gender rather than on natural ability.

Michael Byrnes writes:

@ Weir:

You're behind the veil, and you have no characteristics. You just have opinions.

One of your opinions is that you wouldn't want to have the characteristics of a male. You wouldn't choose a vastly increased likelihood of violent death, either at your own hands or the hands of another man. You wouldn't choose all the pathologies packaged into that deal. If you're not already poisoned by testosterone, you wouldn't ask to be.

This argument just shouldn't be connected to Rawls, who assumed you do not get to choose what set characteristics you want from behind the veil. Rawls' argument was almost the opposite of that - that from behind the veil you would choose a system that is fair and just for everyone, particularly the least well off, because you could be anyone. It feels like a perversion of Rawls to be thinking about what attributes one would choose if one were free to choose them. The whole point of the veil is that you don't know.

JFA writes:

@Mark: Claudia Goldin has done has done some interesting work on the wage gap, suggesting that there are subtle ways in which work is structured so that those with children are discouraged/disadvantaged in pursuit of promotion. I explicitly said it wasn't due to discrimination, but just because it's not discrimination doesn't mean it's not privilege. Also, as someone involved in labor litigation consulting (and with lots of friends in labor litigation consulting), their is still the case that can easily be made that women are explicitly discriminated against in promotion and hiring decisions because of the fact that they kids (holding education, tenure, etc. constant), whereas men are not.

"Again, there's a much stronger case that, even given the amount of crime committed, men are still overconvicted and oversentenced". Data please.

On the point about differential poverty rates and government benefits (thanks for reminding me to include those): women and men are about equal when adjusting for transfer payments. so the 2012 poverty rates: Men = 15.3, Women = 16.7. "The effect of government transfer and social insurance programs on poverty is slightly larger for women than for men. These programs reduced the 2012 poverty rate by 8.1 percentage points for working-age women compared to 6.4 percentage points for working-age men." See this report: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/erp_2014_chapter_6.pdf

Mark writes:

@Michael Byrnes

Part of the problem with what you're saying (perhaps a problem with the concept of a veil of ignorance?) is that the outcome of a social/political system isn't entirely dependent on the system chosen. People have innate characteristics. And what people want depends on those innate characteristics.

What the best system is depends, for example, on how risk averse you are. A person who is less risk averse may be fine with a system with little to no 'safety net' from the 'veil of ignorance' because the prospect greater success outweighs the benefit of social insurance, while a more risk averse person will see the allure of greater potential success as not worth the security of more social insurance. In short, how risk averse you are largely determines what system you would want from behind the veil of ignorance, and how risk averse human beings are is, at least in significant part, an innate characteristic, not an outcome of which system is chosen (it is also, incidentally, highly correlated with sex/gender).

And there is no 'default' level of risk aversion. No one position is objectively more neutral or rational than another; it's basically entirely subjective.

Michael Byrnes writes:

Mark wrote:

People have innate characteristics. And what people want depends on those innate characteristics.

Sure, but when you go behind the veil of ignorance (at least as Rawls approached the concept), you don't know what your innate characteristics will be. To use an obvious example, when you consider the Antebellum South from behind the veil of ignorance, you must do so not knowing whether, outside the veil, you will be white or black.

Or, I suppose, you could look at it from a societal perspective: does the wealth of the Antebellum South as a whole somehow justify the enslavement of the black population (obviously we all come down in the same place on that one).

I guess one could ask "does greater variance of natural ability lead to a wealthier society overall than one with less variance?" (The author seems to assume that it would, although I don't think it is obviously so - rather would depend on other aspects of the society). But I think the Rawlsian way to view this would be that whichever society is better for the least well off (which may bvery well be the one with greater variance of natural ability) would be the one chosen from behind the veil. I don't think "playing the odds" from behind the veil is a thing, at least not for Rawls.

Tom West writes:

Frankly, society has been constructed more or less to perfectly fit me and my ilk, yet it's been quite a while since we middle-class white men have been sent to die in conflict in large numbers.

I still find Straight white male, the lowest difficulty setting there is is to be the clearest explanation of privilege I've read.

Michael Byrnes writes:

@ Tom West

Bravo for linking that piece! I agree, it is the best take on how privilege works in our society that I have come across.

The Original CC writes:

Mark:

I would argue (and I think it's pretty intuitive actually) that choice of method reflects level of commitment. Frankly, someone who shoots himself in the head or jumps off a tall building or bridge is more likely to be sincerely intent on killing himself than someone who overdoses on pills. The latter is (possibly more often than not) "suicidal ideation"; that is, a cry for help; hence the choice of a method which is most often unsuccessful, especially when a successful means is pretty easy to find.

Agreed. It's tough to find info on how "attempt rates" are computed, but AFAICT it's corrupted by counting the same person multiple times for multiple attempts and mixing up "suicide attempts" and "suicidal gestures", i.e. cries for help.

I've always been surprised that people take stats on attempts seriously.

Richard writes:

I think that trying to decide which gender is more "privileged" is like trying to decide whether children or the elderly are more "privileged." Children and the elderly are physiologically different, and have different kinds of rights and obligations. To say one is oppressing the other is just silly.

You only start talking about "privilege" when you have a biology-denying agenda to push.

ChrisA writes:

@Tom - I don't really see being a straight white male as the lowest level of difficulty, I think if anything that would be straight white women. It is pretty obvious from my experience that big business is desperate to have women in leadership roles and there are very very few areas where women are discriminated against in a negative sense of not receiving adequate career opportunities if they want them. And then they also have the ability to take time off work, unlike men, to spend time with their children without any negative judgement by society (something I would dearly loved to have done). They even get to live a life of luxury if they marry a rich guy, without much disapproval of society - try that as poor guy marrying a rich women. Plus they live a lot longer and tend to be much healthier.

Of course there are guys who are rude and sexist, and don't like women who can put people off certain career areas, but there are women with equally bad characteristics (or worse), in my experience. I don't put these characteristics on women as a whole, and neither should people ascribe these positions to males.

Weir writes:

Schizophrenia. Autism. Down's Syndrome. Both mental illness and mental retardation too. Successfully killing yourself, as distinct from attempting suicide and then living for another 60 or 70 years. It isn't a huge exaggeration to say that masculinity is a mental illness, which is the attitude that most school-teachers are taking. Boys have to be medicated and punished and put on watch until they act like the girls in their class.

On the up-side, there are the cars to take us over the road. The train to carry the heavy load. Electric light, to take us out of the dark. Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark. (It's a song by James Brown.)

You could stop progress in 1971, when Rawls published A Theory Of Justice. You'd already have the cars, the roads, and the trains. You could stop progress in 1848, in the name of John Stuart Mill's "stationary state." But then you'd miss out on electric light.

I always thought the point of the veil of ignorance was to invent a transcendent foundation for Bismarck's welfare state. The Caesars supplied the bread and circuses. Rawls supplied the philosophy that made their bread and circuses God's own definition of justice. By some curious coincidence, it turned out in 1971 that the Caesars were philosophers, and a Harvard professor had revealed how his correct views on everything, his likes and dislikes, were more than simply his views. They were unquestionably true, like the Ten Commandments and the Book of Mormon.

If justice is simultaneously transcendent and the result of a majority vote, then it's like the Supreme Court. It's about getting to five. Rawls gets there by stripping away everything except the voter's aversion to risk. If the voter has no characteristics except this one characteristic, this fear of the down-side of change and progress and growth, then the up-side doesn't matter. The up-side counts for nothing. You could actually stop progress at any arbitrary date in history, but for Rawls himself it's no earlier than 1971. Another coincidence.

Mancur Olson and John Rawls should be read back-to-back: Olson, for a description of what results from all this, and Rawls for an explanation of why we must celebrate it.

Because there's Rawls in 1971, standing athwart history, yelling stop. And this would be a good description of any society up until 1776, when Smith writes about the pin factory, or even up until 1798, when Malthus writes about the impossibility of ever escaping the Malthusian trap.

The down-side of a growing economy has to include all the coronaries and triple-bypass surgeries. But on the up-side there's the Verrazano Bridge. Think of the stagnant economy in every society before 1776 and the relative stagnation in the wealthy welfare states since 1971, or the poverty of the Antebellum South, a pre-capitalist stationary state, a feudal and aristocratic utopia for the cavaliers who left the south of England. All these rent-seeking societies are miserable, stagnant economies. But what does their poverty and stagnation count against them when progressives, A Theory Of Justice in hand, seize on the difference principle as this up-to-date, Nixon-era excuse to keep poor people from being allowed to get massively richer and better off?

nobody.really writes:
You could stop progress in 1971, when Rawls published A Theory Of Justice.

I missed something: How does Rawls’s Theory of Justice stop progress? Developed nations seem to have social safety nets, yet progress proceeds.

The Caesars supplied the bread and circuses. Rawls supplied the philosophy that made their bread and circuses God's own definition of justice.

Well … yeah, if by “God’s own definition of justice” you mean “seem justified based on persuasive arguments.” Rawls was rebutting libertarianism/meritocracy, which reflected someone else’s view of “God’s own definition of justice.” Different philosophers offer different views. That’s kind of the nature of philosophy, right?

Rawls gets [to his conclusions] by stripping away everything except the voter's aversion to risk. If the voter has no characteristics except this one characteristic, this fear of the down-side of change and progress and growth, then the up-side doesn't matter.

Why would anyone think that Rawls’s views would have people obsess about the down side while ignoring the up side? Rather, Rawls postulated that people would balance these considerations—with the likely consequence of adopting policies to reduce the down-side risk. I guess it’s not impossible to imagine that people would be so risk-averse as to vote to create “rent-seeking societies [with] miserable, stagnant economies.” But wouldn’t it seem more plausible that people would create societies that balanced opportunities for growth with social safety nets?

Mancur Olson and John Rawls should be read back-to-back: Olson, for a description of what results from all this, and Rawls for an explanation of why we must celebrate it.

Quite right.

Mancur Olson, as with most conventional economists, argued that people are motivated by incentives—for example, aggregate after-tax income. And even as tax rates fluctuate, after-tax income for the rich have never been higher. This undermines the idea that social safety nets are incompatible with high after-tax incomes.

Moreover, in his Rise and Decline of Nations, Olson argued that organized interests (e.g., labor unions, bandits) are at their most harmful when they do not internalize significant amounts of the costs they impose on society (e.g., by raising labor costs and reducing employment). But these interests become less harmful as they become sufficiently large to bear the social costs of their own actions. Thus, whereas a union might not have the incentive structure to be concerned about how its actions might increase unemployment, a government would not have this shortcoming.

Rawls favored government-organized safety nets. Thus, these two authors might well reinforce each other’s views.

I know, I know: This is the internet, so any time someone advocates a social safety net, someone else will begin hyperventilating about Harrison Bergeron. But let’s not distort Rawls’s (or Olson’s) work in the process.

Henri Hein writes:

@Weir: Excellent comments, but you forgot poor communication skills.

Weir writes:

Imagine if there had been a vote in 1848 about the proper balance between growth, on the one hand, and the opportunity to redistribute a massive one-off cash payment to the lucky voters in 1848. You don't need to imagine the same scenario taking place in 1971, because this is actually how the baby boomers greeted the publication of A Theory Of Justice, as best as I can see. They understood Rawls to have proved that greed is good, and that their generation is the end of history, and that every subsequent generation just needs to put up with less growth because the greediest generation, the baby boomers, are right to have racked up a ridiculously expensive credit card bill and called it their safety net.

The wealthiest cohort of Americans are somehow also the neediest. That's how the actually-existing safety net operates in real life. Who collects the biggest checks? Wealthy white women. If you're a poor black man, you get no such luck. The euphemism of the safety net leaves the children of the baby boomers and their children's children worse off than they would have been. Less safe, in other words. How much better off would we all be by now if the balance had been set differently? If the boomers hadn't set the balance so decisively in the direction of giving themselves a spending spree?

Every other generation pays the bill so that one generation gets free cash. All the businesses that are never built, all the inventions that never exist, all of this is the unseen result. The western world becomes one giant nursing home, growing less slowly than it could have been. But growth is the key to everything. It is growth, not redistribution, that makes poor people massively richer. Not by $3000 in handouts but by 3000 percent. Productivity is the key to prosperity. As distinct from having people queue up for a handout from Caesar's store of grain.

Here's another analogy. You can redistribute a bit of wealth to unskilled workers by artificially increasing their wages at the expense of society as a whole. Regulations against immigration can redistribute a bit of wealth to the least skilled American workers. But the cost to growth makes all Americans much worse off. Progressives can call a halt to progress, and put redistribution ahead of prosperity, but the cost is a country's decline. An ageing population is already risk-averse. Imagine when the voters are mostly wealthy white women in their 70s. Imagine if they'd had a veto on progress in 1848 or 1776.

Mark writes:

JFA:

“Also, as someone involved in labor litigation consulting (and with lots of friends in labor litigation consulting), their is still the case that can easily be made that women are explicitly discriminated against in promotion and hiring decisions because of the fact that they kids (holding education, tenure, etc. constant), whereas men are not.”

In as much as such discrimination occurs though, isn’t it perfectly rational? Particularly since companies are required or incentivized to provide paternity benefits to women or benefits that women primarily use, women are rendered more costly to employ by government diktat.

I imagine it’s a difficult ethical issue, the discussion of whether discrimination grounded in empirical evidence is justified, but regardless, when the government intercedes in the name of certain groups but in the process makes employing those groups more expensive, they make discrimination more rational, and that deserves a great deal of the blame, rather than some ‘oppressor’ demographic.

In my area (the academic sciences), though I have plenty of anecdotes to support it, I would note that I don’t need to refer to anecdotal evidence to know that males are discriminated against: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/17/5360.abstract

Oh, and here’s a report from Michigan Law school on gender and sentencing:
https://www.law.umich.edu/newsandinfo/features/Pages/starr_gender_disparities.aspx

Mark writes:

Michael Byrnes:

“Sure, but when you go behind the veil of ignorance (at least as Rawls approached the concept), you don't know what your innate characteristics will be.”

I think you’re missing my point. Even what we *want* out of society depends on characteristics independent of what the system is.

If I offer you system 1: 50% chance of having unlimited wealth and a 50% of abject destitution, and system 2: a 10% chance of unlimited wealth and 10% change of abject destitution, and 80% of something in between, which of those two you pick depends on how risk averse you are. Practically speaking, it would likely influence how much of a social safety net one would prefer, whether anti-discrimination laws would exist, and probably many other aspects of the system one would choose. And the choice of this ‘innate characteristic’ is rather absurd. If I asked you, “how risk averse would you like to be”, what would you say? What would you like your favorite flavor of ice cream to be? And I think the original point had to do with the fact that sex correlates (almost certainly for innate reasons, not ‘social/cultural’ ones) with one’s risk averseness and that this influences both the economic behavior of men and women in different ways.

Richard: “You only start talking about "privilege" when you have a biology-denying agenda to push.”

It’s true though that culture definitely plays a big role, but not really the way people like to talk about. 99% of ‘privilege’ is basically having two good parents and a stable upbringing in a safe community, rather than one’s race or gender (though the concept of male privilege is due more to selectively looking at the top of society and ignoring the bottom in one’s assessment).

Personally, keeping everything else the same, I’d gladly change race and sex. If I were a middle class black female instead of a middle class white male with the same parents from the same neighborhood, I would’ve gotten into a much better college, better grad school, and I’d have a much easier time finding a job in my field.

Michael Byrnes writes:

Mark wrote:

I think you’re missing my point. Even what we *want* out of society depends on characteristics independent of what the system is.

I'm not missing your point at all, I just think that the "playing the lottery" aspect of your argument has little if anything to do with Rawls. I think a person who makes an argument about "the contradiction between Rawls' veil of ignorance and the concept of male privilege" betrays a lack of understanding of both concepts.

Merits of the argument aside, it isn't a contradiction between Rawls and anything. Rawls argument would be "inequality should be accepted to the extent that it is fair [based on differences in natural ability] and works to the benefit of the least well off".


nobody.really writes:

Well, this is going far afield, but here we go:

Imagine if there had been a vote in 1848 about the proper balance between growth, on the one hand, and the opportunity to redistribute a massive one-off cash payment to the lucky voters in 1848. You don't need to imagine the same scenario taking place in 1971, because this is actually how the baby boomers greeted the publication of A Theory Of Justice, as best as I can see. They understood Rawls to have proved that greed is good, and that their generation is the end of history, and that every subsequent generation just needs to put up with less growth because the greediest generation, the baby boomers, are right to have racked up a ridiculously expensive credit card bill and called it their safety net.

1. If we’re discussing A Theory of Justice, the premise is that people living behind the veil can see various possible worlds, and pick the world they (collectively) find most appealing. If, in fact, the most appealing world would be a world without social spending, presumably they would pick that. It appears that you imagine that people behind the veil suffer from false consciousness—picking a world they will disfavor out of some misguided sense of risk-aversion. I don’t understand the reason for believing this.

2. Rather, it appears we’re now discussing how the Theory of Justice might be (mis?)used to justify some sub-optimal social arrangement.

So, imagine that the public chose to divvy up some big pile of wealth among commoners. The US did precisely that when it settled the West via homesteading.

And it did that when it adopted a system of public education, including land-grant colleges.

Or consider bigamy laws. Polygamy—the practice of the wealthy stockpiling the supply of females--has been a common feature of cultures throughout the world. But some places abolished the practice, and instead adopted practices permitting the redistribution of females throughout the poorer ranks of males. Which policies correlate with economic growth?

Or, instead of considering 1848, what if we considered … oh, 2017? Today we have social safety nets, and wealth has never been greater. True, the cost of those programs has obviously crowded out investment in other things, which explains our high interest rates—NOT. To the contrary, the world is awash in so much wealth, people were willing to invest trillions in virtually mythical mortgage-backed securities and Credit-Default Swaps. If you want to raise capital, there are dozens of sources, from issuing securities to venture capitalist to putting up a GoFundMe page. So please forgive my skepticism about the lack of capital for productive uses.

To the contrary, the biggest shortcoming business has complained about is not lack of capital, but lack of … consumers! That is, demand. So how do we go about stimulating demand? Gosh, I can think of a way. Can you?
What’s the distinction between consumption and investment? If I buy a washing machine, is that an act of consumption, or an investment in avoiding the need and expense of visiting a laundromat? If I go on a vacation, is that an act of consumption, or an investment in a future stream of happy memories? I suspect the great consumption/investment divide is grounded in mercantilism—the premise that selling is to be prized above all other activities. Once you conclude that we accrue wealth for purposes of consumption, this rationale collapse.

Moreover, every dollar spent on consumption is a dollar received by someone else. If there are enough dollars flowing into those categories, people will invest in them. Oh, the humanity….

What else was happening in the 1970s, besides Rawls’s book? The US was investing in space technology—while the small-minded, greedy Japanese squandered their engineering talents on petty consumer goods such as cars. And we can all see where paying attention to petty consumption got them.

(Ok, admittedly, Japan is a tricky analogy just now. If you can make the argument that focusing on consumer goods caused their recession, I’ll concede the point.)

nobody.really writes:

Well, this is going far afield, but here we go:

Imagine if there had been a vote in 1848 about the proper balance between growth, on the one hand, and the opportunity to redistribute a massive one-off cash payment to the lucky voters in 1848. You don't need to imagine the same scenario taking place in 1971, because this is actually how the baby boomers greeted the publication of A Theory Of Justice, as best as I can see. They understood Rawls to have proved that greed is good, and that their generation is the end of history, and that every subsequent generation just needs to put up with less growth because the greediest generation, the baby boomers, are right to have racked up a ridiculously expensive credit card bill and called it their safety net.

1. If we’re discussing A Theory of Justice, the premise is that people living behind the veil can see various possible worlds, and pick the world they (collectively) find most appealing. If, in fact, the most appealing world would be a world without social spending, presumably they would pick that. It appears that you imagine that people behind the veil suffer from false consciousness—picking a world they will disfavor out of some misguided sense of risk-aversion. I don’t understand the reason for believing this.

2. Rather, it appears we’re now discussing how the Theory of Justice might be (mis?)used to justify some sub-optimal social arrangement.

So, imagine that the public chose to divvy up some big pile of wealth among commoners. The US did precisely that when it settled the West via homesteading.

And it did that when it adopted a system of public education, including land-grant colleges.

Or consider bigamy laws. Polygamy—the practice of the wealthy stockpiling the supply of females--has been a common feature of cultures throughout the world. But some places abolished the practice, and instead adopted practices permitting the redistribution of females throughout the poorer ranks of males. Which policies correlate with economic growth?

Or, instead of considering 1848, what if we considered … oh, 2017? Today we have social safety nets, and wealth has never been greater. True, the cost of those programs has obviously crowded out investment in other things, which explains our high interest rates—NOT. To the contrary, the world is awash in so much wealth, people were willing to invest trillions in virtually mythical mortgage-backed securities and Credit-Default Swaps. If you want to raise capital, there are dozens of sources, from issuing securities to venture capitalist to putting up a GoFundMe page. So please forgive my skepticism about the lack of capital for productive uses.

To the contrary, the biggest shortcoming business has complained about is not lack of capital, but lack of … consumers! That is, demand. So how do we go about stimulating demand? Gosh, I can think of a way. Can you?

What’s the distinction between consumption and investment? If I buy a washing machine, is that an act of consumption, or an investment in avoiding the need and expense of visiting a laundromat? If I go on a vacation, is that an act of consumption, or an investment in a future stream of happy memories? I suspect the great consumption/investment divide is grounded in mercantilism—the premise that selling is to be prized above all other activities. Once you conclude that we accrue wealth for purposes of consumption, this rationale collapse.

Moreover, every dollar spent on consumption is a dollar received by someone else. If there are enough dollars flowing into those categories, people will invest in them. Oh, the humanity….

What else was happening in the 1970s, besides Rawls’s book? The US was investing in space technology—while the small-minded, greedy Japanese squandered their engineering talents on petty consumer goods such as cars. And we can all see where paying attention to petty consumption got them.

(Ok, admittedly, Japan is a tricky analogy just now. If you can make the argument that focusing on consumer goods caused their recession, I’ll concede the point.)

3. Finally, the major question in all of this:

What is the possessive form of "Rawls"?

The guy's name ends in an S, but it's not a plural. So shouldn't we say Rawls's, not Rawls' ?

Mark writes:

Michael Byrnes:

"Merits of the argument aside, it isn't a contradiction between Rawls and anything. Rawls argument would be "inequality should be accepted to the extent that it is fair [based on differences in natural ability] and works to the benefit of the least well off".

The argument Garrett made wasn't that the veil of ignorance was inherently inconsistent with the concept of male privilege; rather, it was that the superiority of Swedish society based on its being preferable from the position of the veil of ignorance (being 'more equal' and such) is inconsistent with the belief that men are privileged (where male 'privilege' is attributable to greater variability in assorted traits in men)

In other words, such a position characterizes the traits men 'enjoy' relative to women as superior (in the sense of getting a better deal) while decrying those very traits as inferior/worse off in the US relative to Sweden. The aforementioned traits being higher variance in intelligence and other relevant characteristics.

The central premise (which I think is essentially correct) being that what is called 'privilege' is simply the product of men being more 'variable' in relevant traits like innate intelligence.

To put it as simply as I can, if the premise is true, then one would hold the position that less variance is desirable in Sweden and Swedes are better off, but then somehow undesirable in women, who are presumed to be worse off for having a lower variance (or lower variances).

That, I think, is the contention, and I think it does indeed follow from its premise if one does believe the Swedish system is preferable to the US for 'Rawlsian reasons.'

J Mann writes:
Well, this is going far afield, but here we go:
Imagine if there had been a vote in 1848 about the proper balance between growth, on the one hand, and the opportunity to redistribute a massive one-off cash payment to the lucky voters in 1848. You don't need to imagine the same scenario taking place in 1971, because this is actually how the baby boomers greeted the publication of A Theory Of Justice, as best as I can see. They understood Rawls to have proved that greed is good, and that their generation is the end of history, and that every subsequent generation just needs to put up with less growth because the greediest generation, the baby boomers, are right to have racked up a ridiculously expensive credit card bill and called it their safety net.

1. If we’re discussing A Theory of Justice, the premise is that people living behind the veil can see various possible worlds, and pick the world they (collectively) find most appealing. If, in fact, the most appealing world would be a world without social spending, presumably they would pick that. It appears that you imagine that people behind the veil suffer from false consciousness—picking a world they will disfavor out of some misguided sense of risk-aversion. I don’t understand the reason for believing this.



I guess the question is whether our hypothetical society-choosers are also unaware of what generation they will be born into. This is challenging - we don't have good information on the future, and really almost any rate of compounded growth makes them unimaginably wealthy compared to us, assuming they're not slaves to a cruel AI master or something, so maybe we should be worrying less about social spending and more about AI and extinction risk.
nobody.really writes:
I guess the question is whether our hypothetical society-choosers are also unaware of what generation they will be born into. This is challenging - we don't have good information on the future, and really almost any rate of compounded growth makes them unimaginably wealthy compared to us, assuming they're not slaves to a cruel AI master or something, so maybe we should be worrying less about social spending and more about AI and extinction risk.

AH! This is a fair point. And this puts Weir’s comments in a new light.

1. As a preliminary matter, I’ve understood Rawls’s hypothetical society-choosers to have pretty much perfect knowledge about everything EXCEPT their particular role in the society that they’re creating. But to the extent that that we might rely on this theory of justice in fashioning our own society, we obviously do NOT have perfect knowledge, so that’s a relevant caveat for relying on the theory. (Much like any social contract theory is imperfect, in that people do not ACTUALLY engage in dickering about the terms of the society into which they are born.)

But moving on to your main point….

2. I don’t embrace Weir’s thesis that a social safety net inevitably impedes future growth. Indeed, as we enter into an economy in which intellectual capital can have broader applications than ever before (compare J.S. Bach’s income to Justin Bieber’s), the benefits of saving even a single new Einstein from poverty and obscurity may pay the cost of social safety programs many times over.

But even if Weir’s specific thesis is unpersuasive, it’s a narrow example of your more general thesis: Different social strategies may produce payouts on different schedules, with no one strategy dominating the others at all points in time. Thus, Rawls’s hypothetical society-choosers must state a preference not merely about how much risk to bear regarding wealth distribution in the present, but also at regarding wealth generation and distribution over time.

Even with perfect foreknowledge, people might not adopt the same strategies because they might not favor the same trade-offs. These are the trade-offs we see in time-travel/what-if-you-alter-history stories—such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” episode—except looking at consequences over eternity. Thus, my social safety net programs might save the life of a new Einstein who contributes ideas that generate enormous wealth that pay for the programs 1000 times over. And his ideas might also create a new weapon that kills most of the world’s population. (This hypothetical might apply to the old Einstein, too….) That is, Weir’s thesis could be wrong, yet his strategy to shun social safety nets might prove to be optimal—at least during some periods.

J Mann writes:

I love this discussion, thanks for engaging.

Disclosure: I learned about Rawls' veil of ignorance as a possible ethical basis while studying undergrad philosophy, but never actually studied or even read Rawls. I find the idea intuitively appealing, and have always favored a somewhat more pro-growth/supply side strategy than the status quo for Rawlsian reasons.

It's interesting philosophically because it creates so many interesting problems. If Weir's criticism is correct that naive Rawlsian analysis ignores the interest of future generations by only looking at the interest of lives currently in being, that seems like a pretty good criticism. On the other hand, if we grant that there's a reasonable possibility that there will be, say, 1000 times as many people existing in the entire future of the human race as there are now, the inter generational analysis almost has to sacrifice any identified generation in favor of all the others. (You can get around it various ways, but all the ones I can think of smack of sophistry, or at least reasoning from a conclusion instead of to one.)

FWIW, I'm strongly suspicious of "maybe food stamps today will actually increase growth." Maybe they will, but that's not what the policy is designed for, and calling social spending "investment" strikes me as the same kind of wishful justification for what someone already wanted that Laffer curve proponents are criticized for. It strikes me as more likely that redistributing income makes the recipients better off but probably slows down growth somewhat.

nobody.really writes:
On the other hand, if we grant that there's a reasonable possibility that there will be, say, 1000 times as many people existing in the entire future of the human race as there are now, the inter-generational analysis almost has to sacrifice any identified generation in favor of all the others.

Depends on what you value. Some people object to sacrificing the welfare of the relatively poor, even if few, even to promote the welfare of the relatively rich, even if many; see The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas or The Lottery. Of course, much depends upon the degree of sacrifice and the degree of gain.

Moreover, what if we combine Rawls’s assumption—that people will want to minimize their chance of relative poverty—with the following assumption:

[W]e don't have good information on the future, and really almost any rate of compounded growth makes them unimaginably wealthy compared to us….

Under these assumptions, it makes little sense for early generations to sacrifice for later ones, because this means the (relatively) poor sacrificing for the benefit of the (relatively) rich.

It strikes me as more likely that redistributing income makes the recipients better off but probably slows down growth somewhat.

Maybe; maybe not.

You previously expressed concern that future generations might be “slaves to a cruel AI master or something.” I’d guess that a cruel AI master might be really good for growth. And if growth is the goal, then what harm?

I’m guessing that you don’t really value growth: you value utility, and you see growth as a means to greater utility. A cruel AI master might enhance growth, but if the master hogged all the resulting resources, and lacked the capacity to experience utility, then increased growth would NOT result in increased utility.

But let’s assume that outside the world of cruel AI masters, having more wealth correlates with greater utility. But maybe that’s not the only way to get greater utility. Maybe some ways of translating wealth into utility are more efficient than others.

Classical economics postulates diminishing marginal returns for neigh unto everything. Why not diminishing marginal returns to consumption? That is, as people get richer, they expend each incremental dollar on the thing that will generate the most utility. This suggests that the return on each incremental dollar will diminish as the dollars accumulate.

In these circumstances, the way to increase utility is to funnel funds to the people who have not yet depleted their supply of needs with high-utility returns—that is, poor people.

Tom West writes:

ChrisA writes:

I don't really see being a straight white male as the lowest level of difficulty, I think if anything that would be straight white women.

I think that only applies if you are essentially a straight white male who happens to be female. If you are actually biologically or culturally female, you're faced with a million bits of sand in your wheels courtesy of a system that wasn't designed around you.

Even if you happened to be culturally male, you face family pressure, social pressure and cultural pressure to understand that of course you need to succeed, as long as you never forget your most important job is to be a mother.

It's not the isolated incidents of unbridled misogyny or sexual threat, it's the death of a thousands cultural paper cuts that I think make being female a "harder difficulty setting".

And then they also have the ability to take time off work, unlike men, to spend time with their children without any negative judgement by society (something I would dearly loved to have done).

That's an interesting example. I'd say you are *sort* of right. Exaggerating slightly, what it comes down to is that if you are a women, you are somewhat monstrous if you don't put family ahead of work, but that prioritization is exactly the same reason that promotion should go to your male colleague. Catch-22.

They even get to live a life of luxury if they marry a rich guy, without much disapproval of society

Really? This is like saying I'm advantaged because I can become a sports star and earn millions...

Weir writes:

Poor people are massively richer because of growth and trade and change. It's the vast, volatile, interconnected, globe-spanning market that's going to lift your single new Einstein out of poverty and obscurity. Not your safety net. Not security and stability. Your safety net pays for oxycontin. Your safety net keeps people poor and disengaged and mired in obscurity. And how much cash is actually spent on the poor? Feeding the sparrows by feeding the horses? By sending out these colonial administrators called social workers who live in much better school districts and go to Whole Foods for kale? The veil of ignorance stretches pretty far. Rawls could have learned a little something from Daniel Patrick Moynihan. What's our excuse for not reading Robert Putnam or Charles Murray? For not educating ourselves on the reality of what George Gilder calls "a welfare state for women and children and a police state for the boys." What the safety net means in practice is that poor children make do with half as many parents as rich kids. Having a dad is a privilege that poor children are missing out on.

Poor children and rich children have this much in common: they're born with the same massive debt to pay off. Every newborn has already accrued, somehow, tens of thousands of dollars in government debt. That's money spent by people who are already dead, or people in their 70s who can't seem to feel any solidarity with these little babies. A newborn baby is a resource to be mined for funds. And not just by some historical accident. Rawls has explained that this is what the word justice means. The definition of justice entails that infants are born in debt. Call it original sin.

But if your definition of justice entails the suffering of children, your definition is wrong. The children of the boomers must, by necessity, put up with less growth. In any rent-seeking society the pharaohs or the pirates or the landed gentry are electing to set the balance in the direction of making themselves better off at the expense of everyone else. But that wasn't a good definition of justice either. When government employees in Weimar Germany negotiated generous pay rises for themselves, that was another bit of history that Rawls blocked out of view. Shouldn't the characteristics of existing politicians and existing government employees count for something when we're discussing possible scenarios, and how they might play out in real life? That much knowledge would be useful.

We know that redistribution has an effect on production. There was a great deal of redistribution in the ten thousand years prior to 1776 or 1798, and it put sand in the gears in those societies, too. China in the Song dynasty was, briefly, allowed to experience prosperity and progress and growth. But it was only in the United Kingdom and the United Provinces and the United States that people were finally allowed to escape the Malthusian trap forever. And what else do we know from the historical record? A vastly more productive economy is vastly more charitable too. Whereas government spending is destructive. Redistribution is a side-show at best. But in fact it keeps people poor. That's not justice. That's merely how history has played itself out, ever since the invention of agriculture and the store of grain.

nobody.really writes:
Poor children and rich children have this much in common: they're born with the same massive debt to pay off. Every newborn has already accrued, somehow, tens of thousands of dollars in government debt. That's money spent by people who are already dead, or people in their 70s who can't seem to feel any solidarity with these little babies. A newborn baby is a resource to be mined for funds. And not just by some historical accident. Rawls has explained that this is what the word justice means. The definition of justice entails that infants are born in debt. Call it original sin.

Right. In contrast to US babies, Liberian babies are born with a per capita share of their nation’s debt of only $27. Which explains why people have been fleeing the United States in order to move to Liberia.

Oh, wait—we don’t observe such flight. Quite the opposite.

Indeed, we observe that people are fleeing TO the social-safety-net-loving, debt-heavy developed nations of the world. Indeed, physicians will pay smugglers handsome sums in order to get into the US where they will spend the remaining fraction of their lives working as cab drivers and ducking immigration authorities. What is wrong with these people?

Maybe they know something that Weir doesn’t: Not only do you get a share of the debt, but you also get the rich inheritance of a national culture. No, maybe we can’t measure that inheritance in terms of dollars. But people struggled, suffered, and died to create these societies. This rich social endowment is highly valued by would-be immigrants from round the world—if perhaps undervalued by the citizens of those societies.

Indeed, quaint folk used to talk about the debt we owed to earlier generations for all the blessings they’ve left to us. But, of course, not a debt denominated in dollars—and thus, valueless in some people’s eyes. But, as I say, not in everyone’s.

But if your definition of justice entails the suffering of children, your definition is wrong.

Suffice it to say, there may be more than one opinion on this matter.

We know that redistribution has an effect on production.

Is there a data set comparing total real national growth to total real social spending, per capita? I rather expect that throughout the developed world, we’d find that the contemporary era ranks pretty high in both measures.

There was a great deal of redistribution in the ten thousand years prior to 1776 or 1798, and it put sand in the gears in those societies, too.

So, there was a boom in productivity after 1776 or 1798, and you associate it with a decline in social spending? Again, I’d be delighted to see some data on that.

As a contrary thesis, I’ve been developing a notion that the growth may have had something to do with the Industrial Revolution. Bear with me; I know this may sound preposterous at first, but the idea gains plausibility upon inspection.

Weir writes:

Pharaohs. Pirates. The landed gentry. There was a great deal of redistribution in the ten thousand years prior to 1776 or 1798. The cavaliers. The Guilds. The Corn Laws. When government employees in Weimar Germany negotiated generous pay rises for themselves, this is also an example of redistribution. You could easily call it plunder, but "redistribution" is a perfectly accurate name for what I'm talking about. And it's as old as agriculture. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. Would you amend the land use restrictions in San Francisco? The mortgage interest deduction? Section 529 of the tax code? What was the purpose, historically, of all the bread and circuses? Was it justice? And what was the result? Are you going to call it justice? When 70-year-olds elect to redistribute cash to themselves from newborn babies, I admit defeat. I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is.

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