08
Jul
09

What kind of equality?

If we decide the equality is at least one thing that we value, it seems that we must decide what is worth equalizing. Should we strive to equalize resources, or something else? Three popular candidates for what egalitarianism should be about are equality of welfare, equality of resources, and equality of basic capabilities.

One argument against equality of resources, is that it makes our egalitarianism pivot on something that is a subordinate good. In circumstances unrelated to equality, we value resources (read, wealth, in a capitalist economic system) only insofar as they advance other goals. Resources allow us to be happy, and to pursue goals that we care about or tend to projects that need attention. However, very few people believe that we should try to attain weatlh as an end in itself. Note the asymmetry here: if we could increase the welfare of people in the world by making the world poorer, we would jump at the opportunity (just wars might be an example here. Total world wealth would decrease due to the destruction caused by the war, but the defeat of an aggresive power would be welfare enhancing). On the other hand, if we could somehow boost the total wealth of the world, but at the cost of living more miserable lives, we would not do it. This is because resources serve the goal of welfare and not the other way around.

It seems that an egalitarian theory should mirror the priority of welfare over resources. Thus, we should not be resource egalitarians.

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