This is a 1604 painting – Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato imagines a group of people who have lived all their lives chained to the wall of a cave facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a light behind them. The shadows are the only reality the prisoners can see. He then explains how a philosopher is like a prisoner freed from the cave and now understands that the shadows are not reality. The true form of reality is in philosophy rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. Let’s see if philosophy can enlighten our dumbasses chained in the dark on economic justice.
Michael Marmot’s book The Health Gap (2015) looks to philosophy for an answer on whether Government should redistribute wealth to improve public health. He turns to Michael Sandel, a Harvard philosophy professor, for guidance. Sandel believes there are three approaches to social justice:
- Maximizing overall welfare (Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism)
- Rewarding virtue
- Promoting freedom
Marmot dispenses pretty quickly with (1) maximizing overall welfare, because it requires placing a dollar value on a person’s life to calculate overall benefit (is one person really “worth” more than another?). He gets rid of (2) rewarding virtue, because he doesn’t think markets accurately or fully reflect human value. (3) promoting freedom – then becomes his basis for arguing that Government should redistribute wealth so health and life expectancy will improve for the poor.
Empowerment, freedom to choose a life you have reason to value is an admirable goal for society. John Rawls, Theory of Justice (1971), argued for social equality of opportunity. But Marmot and Sandel don’t think equality of opportunity goes far enough. They, along with some other political thinkers, argue for equality of outcomes.
Sandel’s underlying basis for this position is that societies exist to promote virtue – to make us better people. His conception of justice is based on purpose and he uses an example from Aristotle. Imagine a city that only has a certain number of flutes. Who should get them? They should not go the richest, or the best looking, or randomly – they should go to the best flute players. The purpose of Government is to make society better. Sounds good theoretically but in the real world the corruption and inefficiency of Government is enormous.
Using Aristotle’s example, the Government appoints a Flute Czar to allocate flutes, who would then establish a bureaucracy to determine who the best flute players are. Of course, all those appointed would be relatives and people who donated campaign money. Flute judges would be assigned after paying a huge consulting fee to an “expert” and those who are deemed the best flute players would be mostly friends and families connected to the judges. After all, flute playing ability is subjective.
The point is that when Government tries to solve “the problem” of wealth inequality, it spells big trouble for those of us who have stocked our war chests with awareness, preparedness and wealth (even if we were able to do so out of luck – ….we didn’t build that). Political/economic attacks on the elite wealthy will be diverted down onto you – my shrewd, noble Mass Affluent clients. Next week, we’ll conclude the Wealth & Death series with a look to the future.