equality review

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Here are some notes I took on the book "Equality" by Stuart White. My notes are very thorough and cover all the main points of the book.


Equality review Stuart White Chapter 1: The demand for equality The demand for equality is central to modern politics. Groups demanding equal rights (social, political, economic) have forced society to change tremendously since the 1700s. The American and French Revolutions, Russian Communist Revolution, and the Civil Rights and Womens Rights movements all strove to make their members equal to the others in society. Expanding equality to new groups often causes undesirable changes to the society and can threaten other values. Painful conformity, militarism and totalitarianism are sometimes needed to protect equal societies from unraveling. Liberty is therefore sometimes at odds with equality. This book will not consider human-animal equality or equality between humans across different points of time (multigenerational). Those are valid issues, but time and space constraints prevent their discussion in this book. The demand for equality is almost always a demand for several specific things at once. Forms of equality: -Legal Equality *In large societies, laws must constrain and direct individual actions and relationships to maintain order and to engender cooperation. *The government creates and enforces laws. *If a person is subject to the law, then they are a subject of the state. *Legal equality implies that all people within a politys borders are subjects. The law is not applied differently to any person or group. *Moreover, if legal equality exists, all people enjoy the benefits of the law equally: Police protection and the quality of courts are the same in all areas, regardless of local wealth or race. Legal resources are spread equally. -Political equality *Implies that all subjects have an equal right and ability to influence politics, thereby giving them the same ability to change the laws and their enforcement. *Subjects exercise their political power through the right to vote and to stand for office. *Meaningful participation requires some minimum level of intellect, so children and retarded people can be excluded from these rights. [But who decides what the minimum level is? Couldnt this rule also justify the use of literacy tests at polling stations, which used, and still would, discriminate against blacks?] *Freedom of expression and assembly are required as supporting rights so as to allow people to be informed of problems that need government attention. The media also brings problems to the attention of government itself. [The media is also an important conduit for relatively impartial information on what the government is doing.] [Important concept: The true exercise of rights requires knowledge of all ways in which the rights may be used and all possible consequences of any decision.] *Wealth disparities affect subjects political power. For instance, a rich person could buy a lot of advertising to influence people with skewed information and affect some kind of political change. A poor person might not even be able to take the time off from work to vote. Some


advocates of political freedom therefore want to eliminate wealth disparities directly through government policies, or want specific restrictions like campaign finance reform that would remove moneys influence on politics. Opponents argue that such measures come at the expense of other forms of liberty. -Social equality *Consists of status equality and the absence of domination. *Status equality means that no person is considered to occupy a superior or inferior station in life than another person thanks to occupation, wealth, sex, race, or any other characteristic. Institutions and individual people everywhere respect each other equally, and no one feels the need to be servile to others, or is allowed a privileged position of superiority. Classes dont exist. *The absence of domination means that no person is dependent upon another for survival, money or opportunities. For example, no one needs to keep a miserable job because otherwise they will be living on the street, and no wife must stay married because otherwise she will have no source of income. -Economic equality *The Industrial Revolution created huge and highly visible wealth disparities, which caused a backlash in the form of Socialism. Economic equality consists of four parts that are listed below. *The idea of making society into a meritocracy, where people would be free to move between occupations and classes instead of being fixed in one from birth, was upheld by the American and French Revolutions. While this was an improvement upon the previous, rigid system, it soon became clear that meritocracy was imperfect since people were still born into different circumstances that strongly affected their potentials in life. *Land egalitarianism posits that it is inherently wrong for people to privately own property. This creates a situation in which a small group of people might own every part of the Earth and therefore completely control the lives of everyone else. Land should instead be considered common property and should be state-owned, with landowners in fact leasing their parcels from the government and lease payments going into a common pool that would recompense all of society for the inconvenience of not being able to access all land. *Means of production egalitarianism was originated by Marx and Engels and extended the idea of land egalitarianism to the manmade capital situated on the land. Instead of a rich elite (the bourgeoisie) owning all the capital, it would be held in common ownership for all the working people, who would equally share its profits. *Communism was the final evolution of means of production egalitarianism: All people would accept that different members had different abilities and needs, and as such, workers would be compensated differently. This would not lead to the same problems produced by capitalist inequalities. Marx assumed that people would be naturally drawn to the types of work for which they were best suited, even without any monetary incentives. (Several important questions were left unanswered: Who would determine what skills were most valuablemarkets or central controllers? Would ones claim to needs change if those needs resulted from personal irresponsibility?) -Moral equality *The state and all people should accept that any individuals interests and beliefs are equally valuable as anothers. Policies that hurt one group at the expense of another should therefore always be morally justified in some way. Ruleshowever consistently enforcedshould be sensible and fair. *All lives are equal in value and all people are entitled to a certain quality of life.


*This causes controversy in deciding whether or not to extend equal rights to people living outside the countrys borders. While it is popular to claim that human rights should be universally respected, only a minority of thinkerscalled cosmopolitan egalitariansbelieve that wealth should also be internationally redistributed. Humanitarianism and egalitarianism are not the same thing: The former has limited aims that strive to end problems like hunger and disease. While doing such might require more reallocation of resources from the rich to the poor, this is merely a means to an end whereas egalitarianism holds it as an end in itself. Some human needs can be totally satiated. For example, at some point, a person is no longer malnourished and is no longer dominated by others. The quality can be intensified no farther. But why should we care about equality at all? How is it valuable to society? -Equality has instrumental value, meaning making people more equal in some respect makes them happier or better off in some tangible way. For instance, promoting income equality through taxes helps the poor a lot and hurts the rich a little, so net happiness increases. [People are naturally satisfied once they hit a certain income.] One might also argue that income equality is necessary for status equality, which again infers that the first has instrumental value towards attaining the second. All types of equality empower the others. -Equality has intrinsic value, meaning people are naturally entitled to certain forms of equality, even if this produces no concrete benefits. -Status equality is valuable because it would improve the self-esteem and lifestyles of lower status people and allow them to lead freer and more productive lives once class concerns were removed. [But how much self-esteem, however ill-gotten, would it subtract from the well-off? What would be the net impact?] Status inequality is clearly unjust when people are considered inferior due to race or sex. -Equality is not always beneficial. The process of making society equal in some way might simply drag everyone down to an equally miserable level of existence, a process called leveling down. [For example, assume that half the people in a capitalist country make $100,000 and the other half makes $10,000. Communism is instilled, and the first half of the people lose their will to work since they cant get ahead, and everyone ends up making $10,000. The countrys citizens now have income equality, but no one is making more money than before. In fact, 50% of the people were just badly hurt by the switch. However, if the same scenario led to everyone making $15,000, half the people would be made better off, and it could be argued more convincingly that Communism helped the country.] This shows that equality is not the only societal concern. Efficiency [Pareto optimality] is also a goal. People strongly disagree over weighting these values and hence over what type of world is most desirable. In fact, allowing inequality might actually be more just than forcing everyone to be equal. History has shown that instilling income and status equality often require the severe curtailment of civil liberties, which most people consider more severely unjust than living in an income-unequal society. Pure egalitarianism


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