Why Equality Doesn’t Matter and Why Prioritarianism Does

People often think equality matters. That it’s important for me to have close to the same level of welfare as the person next to me. That can’t be right though because in some cases — those of leveling down — there is no reason to move a situation toward greater equality because it makes no one better off and makes some people worse off. It makes no sens to take away something from me merely because it would make me live a life that’s closer to the lives of people on some distant planet that we cannot reach. In these cases, equality says to hurt me to push me closer to others, but that’s not ou reaction. Our reaction is to help those who are worse off. There are some lessons to draw from this. 

1. Why prioritarianism? Why is it important to give the same benefits to those who are worst off than those who who are better off? I think it has something to do with the way that pain relates to dessert and possibly even to rights. The reason I have to give a benefit of x to someone who has had a hard life compared to someone who has had an easy life is the fact that the person has had a hard life. This gets tricky though, should we look at happiness across time or at a moment of time. I think it’s over a life time and that we should give benefits to people have had it tough because they have suffered. So, when you volunteer to take on suffering, say, by running a business, you become entitled to things. But wait, shouldn’t happy people who build a business be entitled to what they’ve built? Maybe, but someone who actually loved their business all along, perhaps they are not entitled to what they did. Maybe there is domain specific desert, but then a general desert. What makes a project special is the way that it causes pain and also the way that it causes pleasure. A project is what allows you build general desert but also specific desert. 

2. Usually people think about there being two types of good. Those that are intrinsically good and then those that are only instrumentally good. The mark of an instrumental good is that it’s only good insofar as it brings something else about. You can usually identify such goods because you can imagine a case where the instrumentally valued good is increased, yet the intrinsically valued good is reduced. These cases usually leave us feeling bad, thus revealing that the intrinsically valued good is what mattered all along. For instance in cases where I could be hurt in the interest of promoting equality, we see that equality must be instrumentally valuable because reducing equality doesn’t seem to matter. We only want to make people better off and it’s just that reducing equality usually goes along with making people better off (or making those who are most worse off better off, which is prioritarianism). But there are some goods then do not vary in this way. Take competition. It is better to have two participants that are closely matched. This will create a better competition. However, one can’t increase the inequality of the skill levels of two participants without reducing the competitive nature of the game or sport. So, in this case, I want to say that equality of skill is instrumental to serve the value of competition, but that it is CONCEPTUALLY or NECESSARILY instrumental to that good. Competition and equality of skill move together. 



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