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Is inequality really that bad? Isn't human history full of examples of inequality?

likefunny
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There is ample evidence (and simple logic) proving that inequality causes social unrest, it drives economic inefficiency, and it reduces the total size of the pie. (Two very clear logical reasons: more equal distribution increases consumption overall as more money to lower income people will translate directly to added consumption, but it does not for high income people, and the lack of opportunity for less privileged groups mean a gross under-participation in the economy and underutilization of talent. Furthermore, it is also well documented by both theory and practice that the free market without strong control and mechanisms for redistribution of wealth will naturally amplify differences, not driven by ability, work ethic or any of the other attributes within own control, but driven by the system design.

It is fascinating to see how much people are willing to close their eyes to protect a convenient view of the world.. I guess you didn’t believe in climate change either until recently…

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OK, here’s an interesting consulting example that illustrates how wealth inequality has changed in the US and impacted not just poor people but all of you.

In 2000 I was a senior manager / principal equivalent at a small consulting firm in Texas. We were hiring fresh undergraduates out of UT Austin at $78K a year. According to the inflation calculator I just used, that’s $123,660 in today’s money. What do the Big 4 pay fresh undergraduate hires in 2021?

As a senior manager / principal my base salary was $185K ($293,296 in today’s money) and I had bonus, profit share, equity, and options on top of that. What do Big 4 senior managers make today?

In real terms, most consultants are making half what they made 20 years ago. How do the incomes of CEOs and top .1% earners today compare to 20 years ago?

There have always been people who make or have more money. What changes is how fair that gap is and how much it reflects the differences in contribution and effort vs. the differences in circumstance of birth.

Sometimes that difference is fair and a good representation of the different contributions made by the individuals. Sometimes it’s unfair and based mostly on circumstance of birth.

America (and consulting firms) have an ideal of being meritocracies. But, really they’re not. We all start from a different points in time, geography, background, and wealth and the returns and rewards we see for our effort and contributions are higher or lower based mostly on those start points rather than what we personally do.

Consultants born 20 years earlier got paid a heck of a lot more for the same or less effort than those who are entering the profession today.

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Inequality. Earning an A because you were smarter or studied harder than someone else who got a C. So, I guess everyone should get a C. Now what. Will people try harder to get the same C? Or will everyone reduce their achievement since you all get the same?

What about the farmer who toils at growing corn. If half is taken and given to the neighbor who didn’t bother to plant how does that game end the next year (that happened at Jamestown for a year or 2. - all communal and basically everyone stopped working hard. They gave people their own plots of land to work and keep what they grew and magically people worked harder and grew more.)

Now if the student was precluded from buying books or the farmer not allowed to buy seeds because someone didn’t like them, of course that is bad. But if everyone could study or work, then I don’t think inequality is bad.

Also recent raises. We’re they differentiated based on performance? Well that is unequal? Can you leave to go to another company or get promoted…unequal.

Capitalism raises all boats. Been proven time and again.

likefunnyuplifting

Imagine being this person’s manager. I bet very time they shift some pixels and change out a prospect’s name on an already-made deck, they think that it’s the spirit of John Galt inspiring them to speak genius into existence

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So human history is the benchmark for what’s OK? Human history is full of examples of slavery, torture, raping and pillaging, etc etc. are those cool too?

likesmartfunny

Yea I took it to an extreme to showcase just how nonsensical it is to use “human history” as a litmus test for what’s OK lmao

likesmart

Human history also filled with rape and murder over thousands of years.

likesmartfunny

Right now, no. It’s funny because inequality is actually much lower in the US than you think if you account for all the government transfer payments and programs. However, the clickbait Twitter analysts will conveniently ignore that fact. Sure, super extreme inequality is bad, but that’s not the reality.

likesmart

BA1 - I know the study you are referring to about economic inequality, the point of which was to point out how some measures of inequality leave out government transfers. Problem is that the same study left out all sorts of valuable benefits on the private side too. They criticized the “left” for cherry picking the benefits that count towards income inequality, and then did their own cherry picking.

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Yeah…isn’t human history also full of examples of death destruction and suffering?

likefunny

Well… we’ve been keeping up with traditions.

likefunny

It’s not that bad. It’s only bad for those who gotta suffered.

~ every privileged humans

likefunny

Not all discrepancies in outcomes are bad. If you think every aspect of society should be 1:1 representation...🤡🤡🤡🤡

likefunny

Like many things, inequality is neither good or bad. It just is and in some settings is necessary for progress — same way inequality in the level of charge / energy is necessary for electricity, flowing rivers, etc. It is the origins of inequality and the results of it that can make it undesirable. This distinction is important and I think is lost on many.

There will always be a distribution of (inequality in) talent, capability, resources — not every child born will be a Michael B Jordan. But an evolved society is one that manages the natural distribution of resources such that the “less fortunate” gets an opportunity at a meaningful life (however they choose to define that meaning)

likesmart

BCG1 - a well put perspective

Ooof, lots of naive belief in a just world in here.

There have certainly been times in history when inequality was pretty bad, but the current divide between rich and poor, particularly on a global scale, is about the worst its been. Because the floor hasn't risen - the poorest are still dying of starvation, exposure, dirty water and easily preventable diseases, being trafficked and exploited and kept in indentured servitude. Meanwhile the ceiling has skyrocketed - leisure trips to space, and more hoarded wealth than could reasonably be spent in multiple lifetimes.

Even just within the US - the gap between median lifestyle and the top has widened significantly in the last couple decades, and by a number of different metrics, comparative middle class quality of life and financial stability has declined.

Interestingly, studies show that when inequality rises, mental health and life satisfaction gets worse for *everyone* - not just the disadvantaged, but the wealthy as well.

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I'm unfortunately completely flattened after a long day or I'd be all over bringing in the detailed references - because yes, there are definitely some interesting counter currents in specific areas. It's important to put it into context though - the vast increase in global productivity and efficiency in distribution of resources enabled by technology. In some of the cases, it's not that inequality has fallen drastically, it's that the total pool of available resources has risen significantly, so there's a greater spread of outcomes possible - ie if you only have $20 to go around, and you split it amongst 4 ppl $9-$5-$4-$2, vs you have $100 split $70-$20-$8-$2*, the standard of living of the middle group has gone up in absolute terms, even though the inequality is signficantly worse.

*asterisk for the obviously more complicated economic math of resources vs population growth vs amenities, etc

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Unequal (and relatedly, not socially mobile) societies are not that pleasant or stable to live in. The top calcifies in place, only serving itself. Incompetence abounds and eventually the bottom rises up. That can go a couple of ways, violent revolution or just general lawlessness where the rich has to provide their own security.

I think we're on track for the latter; look at Brazil for a glimpse. I wouldn't want to be rich if it had to be in Brazil.

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Being rich in Brazil is actually good. The society is pretty divided and you can live pretty well, surrounded by other affluent individuals.
It is just hard to keep a clear conscious knowing that 90%+ of the country cannot afford the same lifestyle

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This post gives off "I got a BMW for my 16th birthday" energy.

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Is inequality at any level bad? Not necessarily.
Is massive inequality that is a small group capturing the majority and a large group saving less than earning and growing earning less than COL an issue? Absolutely.

Just because there are past examples, doesn’t mean it works.

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Some level of inequality is ok. People have different levels of ambition.
What is not ok is over half of the population living in extremely poor conditions, being denied access to basic things like water, food, shelter and education.

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Yes. It’s that bad. Historically it’s been even worse (though in some cases also better)

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Those that fight to end inequality are usually those who suffer under it.
To argue that inequality "isn't that bad" because it has always existed in some form is pretty daft.

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Lots of comments here with no common definition of what constitutes inequality. I hope the OP wasn’t asking about inequalities due to ability (physical/mental/emotional) but rather inequalities due to race, ethnicity, age, religion, etc.
One area of inequality that is more difficult to quantify and discern is economic inequality. IMHO the issue is the increasing challenge of wealth distribution - ultra-wealthy keep getting more, lower income workers get less, and the middle class is shrinking. The issue is that it isn’t a level playing field; a few powerful people at the top set the rules for their benefit. Economic inequalities based on ability are natural; inequalities based on a rigged system are not.
Human history is full of inequality - and full of examples of the ramifications of same with revolution, death and destruction coming from those feeling the unjust impact of inequality.
Generally the only people asking questions like this are those who enjoy privilege, those not the target of such inequality.

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Unequal intellect and inequitable access to education are two different things. One is a fact, the other is a construct of society.

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So long as their income/wealth was not acquired through theft, fraud, or corruption, I don’t see why it’s a bad thing that some people have more than others, even if it means massive inequality. How does that harm people?

likesmart

This zero-sum thinking is the problem. No one is taking from anyone by acknowledging that extreme inequality is undesirable or that not everyone starts at the same (or even remotely similar) places. Many of the policy solutions for these also don’t take anything from anyone.

You also probably don’t believe that taking from others is always morally wrong. We take from everyone to fund a common defense, borders, etc. I’m guessing that there’s some level of those you support. Your issue is about the degree of the taking and its purpose, not the act itself. So it’s about taking being morally wrong, it’s that you don’t want people to take your money for this or that you don’t think these are moral reason to take from people.

Is the real issue inequality or quality of life for lowest "ranks"?


Give a Chimp a cucumber and he's happy.

Give Chimp X a cucumber and give his peer Chimp Y a grape and Chimp X tosses his cucumber and gets mad he didn't get a grape.

Perception of quality vs actual quality are 2 different things.


To me, solving "inequality" may be off target; rather it should be solving for improvements of quality of life. They seem one in the same but what are we really after?

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The problem with this analogy is that the chimps are being “given” fruits. That in itself is unequal — for why does chimp x get one thing the other may desire as well but can’t get? And why should a chimps opportunity to eat grapes be determined by another?

An equitable society is one where the chimps get equal opportunity to pluck a grape or a cucumber depending on taste / preference / ability, etc

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