Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy by William Letwin

By William Letwin

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Sample text

Instead we must now admit the possibility that a redistribution away from equality - say toward £2000 and £14,000 - would bring about the highest total utility. And all warrant has disappeared for the view that the community's utility would be maximised at just the point where both persons had exactly equal incomes. Depending on the relative utilities of the persons in question, equality of income might be less rewarding than extreme degrees of inequality. Fourth, even if we accepted for the sake of the argument that equality of income maximises the total utility which a given total income yields to the whole community, this would provide no moral justification for redistribution by coercion.

Worse still, from the egalitarian's point of view, the differential effects of coercion applied to some persons and of non-pecuniary rewards conferred on others would create new forms of inequality as the price of equalising consumption. 10. 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs' is often advanced as a socialist or Marxist formula for equality. Presumably Mr Callaghan was expressing something of the same sort when he said in 1979 that the Labour Party ought to go forward under the motto, 'Need, not greed' .

On such reasoning, an assailant who wounded but refrained from killing his victim ought to be lauded as a benefactor. Halfway to an undesirable goal is too far by half. 12. In short, the aim of equalising income, whether in terms of earnings or consumption, is typically advanced in statements so vague as to conceal the contradictions and intolerable implications which lie just below the surface. Equalisation, along any coherent line, would inevitably bring with it unintended consequences - oppression, inequity and poverty - which would repel many advocates of equality, if they recognised those consequences, and which would reveal the dream of equality as a nightmare.

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