Status/Wealth/Breasts: Absolute vs. Relative

Jane Galt gives Brad DeLong the face-scarring he deserves:

I am quite positive that Mr Delong's enjoyment of his prestigious professorship is substantially augmented by its position high in the academic firmament, twinkling light years above adjunct professors at Missoula Central Community College. Would he describe that emotion as spite for those less fortunate than himself? For after all, the existence of a pyramid for them to be at the top of is what makes him and his colleagues successful academics, rather than cranks with an odd hobby of publishing monographs almost no one reads. Should we punish them for their spiteful indulgence? Or should we recognize that it is normal, even laudable, to desire success?

It is not that I admire the rich for their gloating, or disdain the poor for their envy. I think that both are distasteful, in exactly the same degree, because they are both exactly the same emotion: the rich gloat, and the poor long to be entitled to gloat. The fundamental desire--to Lord it over others--is exactly the same; it is not edified merely because the possessor is unsuccessful at it, any more than the attempted murderer is on a higher spiritual plane than the fellow who actually managed to complete the act.

This is not an argument against redistribution per se, as some of my readers erroneously assumed. I think that there are good reasons to redistribute income (or in some cases, at least reasons that I would be prepared to debate): preventing hunger, cold, and premature death; maximising the opportunities that children have to lead a rich and satisfying life; giving a helping hand to those who have been brought low by fate, or even their own earlier bad decisions. I was not arguing that disfiguring Cindy Crawford was in any way equivalent to these; it is not.

Rather, my metaphor was aimed at a specific kind of redistribution: that which is less interested in making the poor better off, than in making the rich worse off, so that they don't make the rest of us look bad.

Go read the whole thing. I tackled a similar topic (redistribution and purported zero-sum games) in The Absolute Value of Big Breasts - which is, week in and week out, our most popular post from the archives, a demonstration of just how female-anatomy-focused the search query stream is. And of course, Kurt Vonnegut tackled the topic of making everyone equal many decades ago in the classic SF short story Harrison Bergeron.

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