TBIT*: What’s Wrong with Inequality?

*Thinking ‘Bout It Tuesday (not a running post).

Most people run to music, others to books, and some bizarre creatures listen to nothing at all (who are these people?!?). I’m a podcast runner. Since I’m not running for speed and basically just logging miles at this stage in my training plan, podcasts keep my heart rate low and occupy my mind during those middle-of-the week 6-10 mile runs.

The January 25, 2014 Philosophy Bites podcast posed an interesting question: What’s wrong with inequality? Harvard philosopher T.M. Scanlon goes on to discuss with host Nigel Warburton whether inequality is inherently bad or if it’s wrong only because of consequences.

Like any good liberal toting the party line, my immediate reaction was of course inequality is wrong. Liberté, égalité, fraternité! However, on deeper examination, it turns out I’m not as much against inequality as it would seem. For instance, I detest the recent trend of every participant in a grade school competition getting a blue ribbon. What is wrong with some kids being better at certain things? What if one student worked harder than the others? Why should s/he be penalized in the name of equality?

Further, one point Scanlon makes is the case of need. Say there’s a family of four children, with some of the children poorer than others, should the estate of the father be divided equally or according to need?

I found myself wondering “What if everyone had enough (i.e., basics of food, shelter, education, healthcare), then would inequality be okay?” Without negative consequences, it appears that inequality is not necessarily bad.

The podcast pushed me to reexamine what it is that I’m really saying. And what I mean to say is that “equality for all” is more complicated than one would initially believe. As with most philosophical questions, no answers, just more questions.


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