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

By William Letwin

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It might be said, for one thing, that a larger income is not really better for the recipient than a smaller income. Such an assertion would rest, presumably, on some variant of the primitive idea that 'money isn't everything'. Yet giving full credit to this notion, issue could still be joined by positing a hypothetical measure of 'satisfaction' or 'happiness', and asking whether a community in which half of its members enjoyed 5000 units of happiness per year and the other half 10,000 units of happiness ought to be rationally preferred to a community in which every member enjoyed only 5000 units of 26 THE CASE AGAINST EQUALITY LETWIN happiness.

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.

From which it follows that Rawls's argument, if it held at all, would hold only for that fraction of men who are averse to risk. How widespread is aversion to risk? Not sufficiently widespread to be a reliable clue to what is natural in men. Human nature may be reflected at least as well by the admiration which men willingly pay to heroes and others who thrive on riskiness. Apart from heroes and outright gamblers, every investor who knowingly buys risky shares instead of blue-chips, every entrepreneur who sinks his capital in a new enterprise, every writer who labours to produce a book which mayor may not sell, every student who spends years of time training for a profession which will yield to him financial rewards that are quite unpredictable - all these and many more deliberately court risk.

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