Wealth and polity

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It’s not quite true that you can make statistics say anything, but it’s close enough. A standard argument from the economism contingent in response to complaints of rising inequality is to claim that that actually, inequality is decreasing. This claim is made by selecting a measurement that is pregnant with (intentionally) unexamined ideological assumptions, that measure involving a comparison among all humans on Earth. The assumption behind this is that every human lives at an equal “distance” from every other human, so that my neighbour has as much effect on my life as someone thousands of km away.

I found and wanted to bookmark a critique of this idea:

The curse of inequality falls upon people at the national level. Inequality results in the degeneration of dictatorships into fascism, and democracies into oligarchies with politics derivative from wealth, not the consent of the governed. It the United States we find clear evidence of this degeneration in the notorious Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, which formalized the principle of one dollar, one vote. Growing inequality everywhere enhances the power of those opposed to social protection, equal access to health care and education, and eliminating discrimination. When you put these together — the economic power to control a political system, held by those opposed to public provision of social services — rising household income brings very limited benefit to the poor of the earth, in whatever country they may live.

There isn’t a neutral way to measure the well-being of the people who make up the “economy”. In the worst case scenario, we will devolve into feudal fiefdoms, if we haven’t already, with near-immortal super-techno-baron √úbermenschen lording it over short-lived serfs. It is that “relationally-relevant” inequality that matters most, the one in which some people have power over others due to their wealth. It’s very nice that Chinese peasants are a little closer in quality of life to working-class Englishmen, if they are, but it doesn’t make the development class of unaccountable super-rich Randroids more excusable. If you’re interested in avoiding that sort of dystopia, one which has existed before, then you can’t leave political relations and boundaries out of your measurement.

But modern economism mostly doesn’t seem to care.

(h/t Naked Capitalism)

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on July 26, 2014 12:44 PM.

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