Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Inequality vs. Disutility

Enduring mantras defending or agitating against inequality seldom engage with a careful parsing of egalitarian philosophies. The internet being what it is, even an innocent teensy oversight can spiral into wasted energy and communicational brick walls. Debates surrounding the intrinsic status of equality/inequality are not immune to this, as it turns out. Shocker.

To bypass –– in one fell swoop –– the pratfalls of opportunistic demagoguery and mindless sanctimony, we direct people to the segmentations between numerous schools of egalitarianism:

Numerical Egalitarianism:

Treats all moral patients as indistinguishable, apportioning the same quantity of a good per capita.

Proportional Egalitarianism:

Treats all moral patients in accordance to their distinct needs.

It’s hard to overstate how useful it would be to have interlocutors who actually pay attention to “numerical vs. proportional” parameters instead of carrying on as if everyone holds same idea of what is meant whenever “equality” is cavalierly uttered. During political discussions, it would be doubly useful to qualify one’s views in this way.

Failure to conceptualize and frame the issue along these lines enables this type of irritable backwardness to turn up as the top result for "equity vs. equality" keyword searches:

There is no need for words like "equity" when we have Proportional Egalitarianism covering the same ground going all the way back to Aristotle. It would be a different story if all modes of equality had been conceived to march to the tune of Numerical Egalitarianism, which they weren't. So as things stand, equity = another case of word-abundance. There isn't a single mention of it in the SEP's lengthy article on equality and related concepts.

There's also the problem of equity being used varyingly depending on the region you're in. In the above image, equity corrects for natural disadvantages in ways that equality presumably cannot. But this tends to not capture ordinary people's view of equality, at least in my experience. People tend to think of equality in proportional terms more often than in numerical ones. Whereas when someone says "equity" or "inequity" around me, it's clear that they're referring to a meritocratic value / unmeritocratic disvalue, reserved mainly for the competitive domains of life.

The winner of an athletic contest, for instance, should be the athlete who outperforms all of the competitors, regardless of each competitor's sympathetic backstory, and regardless of who wanted the victory more. Any privileging of the losing athletes based on their having had worse struggles and sobs-stories would qualify as a strike against equity, rendering the contest inequitable on the whole. No one in my neck of the woods uses the word equity to refer to the elimination of natural bads, but it's how the above image would have us use it. 

At the same time, athletic competitions start to seem insignificant when compared to competing political [distributive] theories. And at the same-same time, it's also crucial to acknowledge that our political aims don’t transition seamlessly into our ethical aims. There is a reason for why political philosophy is little more than a synonym for moral philosophy. A relationship between the two should no doubt exist, but this relationship must be a sinuous one. Legality has to do with civilizational strategy, which may ultimately (indirectly) lend a helping hand to ethical know-how. That's the goal, anyway. As such, every policy comes with teleological constraints, provided that politics ought to compliment ethics when all is said and done, which I believe should be the case.

The features of proportional egalitarianism, once actually implemented as a direct set of distributive policies, could plausibly make for political and civilizational disarray. This is gatherable based on the amount of hoop-jumping it takes to strengthen the already wobbly safety-nets in a country as wealthy as America (whose poverty-curbing initiatives are neither 100% numerical nor 100% proportional, but hybrids of the two). Overactive imaginations aren't necessary to predict how dismally a thoroughgoing proportional approach would fare in some of the more bootstrap-obsessed countries.

Drawbacks of full-scale proportional egalitarianism wouldn't be felt in all regions, of course. It'd be a stretch to assume pandemonium-level fallout in states and municipalities and nations where hardline redistributionists outnumber hardline luck-preservationists, or wherever Rawlsians heftily outnumber Nozickians. We’d still see considerable political tensions, but a few notches below civil unrest or 'dismay' levels. Elsewhere –– notably the regions populated by property-clingers –– enforcement of proportionally egalitarian policies would foster mutiny, which is counterproductive.

This is a truism in my book, given the psychological complexion of the human animal. Hell, I'd probably join in on the protests if you caught me on a bad week after having been overworked. Accepting the realities of determinism and incompatibilism does little to alleviate my motivational set in everyday scenarios. And I'm one of the disciplined ones.

Thecarrot/sticktruism has been contested but only through laughably rosy takes on human psychology, none of which will be entertained in this post. To quibble over whether the prevailing motivational set applies to the average human or just to the average 21st century westerner is to imply that erosion in development or innovation is tolerable if it culminates in the discontinuation of economic competition. This alternative will also not be humored in this post.

If proportional egalitarianism is to have its day, it will be in the arena of ethics [indirect or farsighted distributions] rather than politics [direct or nearsighted distributions]. Just so we're on the same page, I hold that a functional farsighted strategy is marked by a political system whose electorate is educated and satisfied enough to not be on the brink of violent overthrows as a means to any end.

Now of course, responsible civilians wouldn’t have to concoct intergenerational allotment schemes had it not been for reproducers foisting needfulness onto the future. We’d also not have to worry about long-range schemes had the parasitism of the ecosystem been a short-term ordeal. Since neither of those ills is going away, making the best of a bad situation entails devising long-term, indirect strategies for the maintenance of human civility.

In apolitical discussions –– mainly on animal ethics –– direct proportional egalitarianism is indeed a suitable template. Animals with minimalistic needs lack the mental intricacy to feel slighted by the distributive inequity of proportional (need-apt) metrics towering over fixed arithmetical ones. Thus humancentric considerations aren't requisites for establishing idealized practice regarding animal welfare. To grant this but still object on the grounds of distributive fairness (need-blindness) is to believe that elephants ought to receive the same quantity of a good that mice ought to receive, per numerical virtue. An elephant and a mouse are both individual organisms, after all. Quite the extreme example, sure, but it does hammer home the inanity of numerical stringency applied in apolitical domains (while preserving the integrity of its political tactfulness; catering to human psychology to be fruitful).

Once the “numerical vs. proportional” delineations are drawn, it can be argued that proportional-to-need distributions are in no intelligible way “egalitarian” and more closely resemble the goals of inegalitarian priority, alien to any vested concern over equality per se. Prioritarianism is objectively inegalitarian, and that's okay. I'll never understand why so many liberals and leftists insist on shying away from this fact, twisting telic inequality into injustice.

Once again I stress direct vs. indirect methods, noting that proportional egalitarianism bills itself as 'direct'. On the surface it seems a straightforwardly need-apt policy would be conducive to the aims of priority, as different humans have dissimilar magnitudes of need, all the way down to the most vulnerable. A steady look into defunct attempts suggests that proportional-heavy legislation would be misguided if adopted across the board. Robustly undermining equitable (or even meritocratic) standards can prove disastrous for the attainment of priority or utility in the long haul. Meanwhile, in systems where inborn talent isn’t robustly undermined, competent or employable humans will fare much better than incompetent or unemployable humans. This is not a morally condemnable fact.

In that sense, we can thread egalitarianisms further:

Moral Egalitarianism: Favors equality of wellbeing. Filed under: Moral theory.

Political Egalitarianism: Favors equality under the law. Filed under: Moral strategy.

From there we get:

Intrinsic Egalitarianism: Favors equality as a monistic or first-level value.

Constitutive Egalitarianism: Favors equality as a pluralistic or second-level value.

There’s also:

Telic Egalitarianism: Favors equality of outcomes.

Quasi-Egalitarianism: Favors equality of opportunity.

A less charitable line in the sand, per my own conclusions:

Actual Egalitarianism: Favors equality of wellbeing and outcomes.

Pseudo Egalitarianism: Favors equality of opportunity and equality under the law. 

This post will take aim at the intrinsic / telic / moral / actual dimensions of egalitarianism, such that relationally minded evaluations are what I’ll be pouncing on. Fail to keep this in mind and my input will not register with you. Everything I’m targeting is also framed as pure egalitarianism in uppity circles. Some pure egalitarians distance themselves from their reformist (or armchair activist) brethren by further identifying as Substantive Egalitarian or Radical Egalitarian. This strikes me as being influenced by the modern progressive's condemnatory attitude regarding liberal unwillingness to embrace the same robust understanding of equality. For clarity’s sake, I’ll refer to all such folk as robust egalitarians.

One way of conveying the unreasonableness of robustness is to swap the word equality with evenness and the word inequality with unevenness. Evenness/unevenness make for decent replacements as neither carries the psychological clout that equality/inequality continue to have. I fear that historical connotations around “equality” or “inequality” will always be embroiled with slavery, nobility, gulags, apartheid, and other forms of structural maleficence. The equity-minded critic of non-constitutive egalitarianism needn’t tiptoe around these past wrongdoings to dish out biting counterpunches and invalidate evenness/unevenness as ethical criteria in all cases.

Under consequentialism, robust egalitarianism identifies intrinsic or first-level value as that which rests on the range of evenness in wellbeing, with intrinsic disvalue as that which rests on the range of unevenness in wellbeing. Using materialistic measures as an example, this is understood as; the greater the opulence-to-poverty ratio in a given society, the more objectionable the state of affairs in that society. The inegalitarian understands that, for an informed verdict, ethical criteria must be more comprehensive and multifaceted.

Counterintuitive as it may be to political junkies, apolitical moral benchmarks cannot rely on equality-to-inequality ratios first and foremost (or, perhaps, at all). I’m presently agnostic as to just how many telic egalitarians operate under multi-dimensional consequentialism (equality plus other criteria) in place of one-dimensional consequentialism (equality only). I've yet to come across a scholarly work which delves into the raw numbers on this, and my anecdotal summaries differ based on online versus offline conversations. Whatever the percentages turn out to be, they aren’t germane to the substance of this post, as even multi-dimensional egalitarians treat equality as at least quasi-intrinsic. I'm of the view that criteria should never hinge on equality-to-inequality ratios, as those ratios in and of themselves cannot tell us anything of interest. Every now and again I'd briefly consider detailing why, but would always decide against it as it seemed too obvious to necessitate a separate post. This changed a few months ago once it dawned on me that my views are still controversial in the gamut of left-leaning and far-left edifices.

Should inegalitarian conclusions still be controversial, apolitically speaking?

If one out of every ten individuals is born handicapped, does the disvalue emanate from the individual's physical disadvantages relative to the other nine individuals' absence of physical disadvantages, or the fact that one disadvantaged person is stuck in a handicapped state and would prefer not to be? The answer should be clear, once we control for the rancorous element of envy. Hopefully the reader can grant that envy should be dismissed. In no uncertain terms, envy isn't an undesirable consequence weighing negatively on fortuitous citizens; often the objects of it. Construing the predicament under a comparative lens leaves open the possibility of a last-resort measure that sees the nine fortunate individuals deliberately disadvantaged to attain physical equality, should the task of advantaging the one unfortunate paraplegic prove impossible.

Pure egalitarians’ denial of this as a realistic last-resort solution only sheds light on how the procurement of telic equality cannot intelligibly be an intrinsic goal, even for them. Flip the advantaged-to-disadvantaged nine-to-one ratio into the opposite one-to-nine ratio, and the equality-minded verdict is correspondingly preposterous. Just as it would do no good to disadvantage a fortunate majority of nine whenever an unfortunate minority of one cannot be benefited, it would be as unavailing to disadvantage one fortunate able-bodied person in order to achieve physical equality with nine handicapped persons. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who’d object to either verdict within these two ratios, yet otherwise rational people continue to portray inequality as an intrinsic disvalue in other areas of life. In fairness, substantial differences between physical and non-physical inequalities can make these inconsistencies understandable. One such difference is the possibility of transferability. On this angle, the analogy to physical inequalities might appear all too uncharitable. Still, does it discredit my underlying point?

Transferability is doable in economic affairs, but how often is it desirable? The answer according to robust egalitarianism is whenever inequalities persist. As mentioned near the top, rewarding efforts and accomplishments violates proportional aptness, but this is no departure from consequentialism in the sense that teleological-friendly policies uncontroversially levy punishments for wrongdoings, and are a mirror-image of teleological-friendly policies rewarding dessert. There is no categorical difference between imprisoning murderers above jaywalkers and rewarding producers above non-producers. Both policies are need-blind; seeking to incentivize productiveness along with socially beneficial behavior, and to disincentivize the converse.

Monetary transferability is a worthwhile difference-maker inasmuch that, to borrow from the ideal example above, it stands to be mildly disadvantageous to a minority of one while being immensely advantageous to a majority of nine. In those beneficent cases, equality-to-inequality ratios can be indicative of tactful redistribution, provided no transfer ends up hindering other ethical criteria. Robust egalitarians beg to differ with the emboldened bit. Their verdict misguidedly justifies interference with societal augmentation wherein everyone would’ve benefited but disproportionately; some far more than others based on standards of equity, or even those of tepid meritocracy. Nevertheless, if innovation and development are truly optimal, and a reliable political system is in place, everyone is guaranteed to benefit at least marginally.

Scopal benefits are the important part. They must never be sacrificed for the securement of egality per se. For the ideal egalitarian, this is highly disputable. For the constitutive egalitarian, prioritizing equality-to-inequality ratios above scopal benefits is ethically incautious, at best. For the ideal inegalitarian, it’s downright irresponsible in all cases. And yet, once its relational features are revoked, the notion that telic egalitarianism has anything unique to contribute to moral discourse becomes glaringly dubious. Without comparative injunctions guiding it, it ceases to actually strive for equality and collapses into a distinctly contrastive consequentialism.

Think along the lines of demographical population axiology with the Ideal Observer on stand-by; If the only information available about a set of global outcomes is –– in financial terms –– the evenness or unevenness of those outcomes, robust egalitarianism holds that the unbiased spectator is supplied with enough informational input to rank one of those as inexorably more desirable. So if global Outcome_A contains 25% inequality stemming from the top marginal income earners gaining more, with everyone below earning the same (i.e. the rich are 25% richer than everyone else combined), whereas global Outcome_B contains 35% inequality at the top while everyone below earns the same (the rich are 35% richer than everyone else combined), robust egalitarians will unequivocally favor Outcome_A over Outcome_B irrespective of the remaining sets of (unknown) data –– information that might turn out to be non-trivial form a non-relational sentiocentric overview.

As robust egalitarianism would have it, the inequality-generating status of 25% in A is a lesser-evil when weighed against the inequality-generating status of 35% in B, end of. An ethicist who champions the political, constitutive, quasi or impure iterations of egalitarianism is not vulnerable to the absurdity of this verdict, but this doesn’t let the ethicist off the hook entirely. Even here, relational measures tend to raise daunting questions; If the remaining sets of unknown data can matter –– inasmuch as they have the potential to overhaul the aims of non-instrumental equality –– wouldn’t identifying as an ‘egalitarian’ of any sort just needlessly complicate things? If we grant all instrumental equality or parity is maintainable by invoking utility or priority or sufficiency into the fold, keeping an ‘equality’ label on one’s sleeve is pure redundancy.

On the odd chance that instrumental equality (i.e. equality under the law) might in outlier cases be as counterproductive to other consequentialisms as telic egalitarianism is, how many political, constitutive, quasi or impure egalitarians would cling to their so-called egalitarian convictions at the expense of seeing other aims torn asunder? I’d venture not many, going by my offline conversations. To borrow from a hot-button issue on airport security; if devoting extra attention to anyone who looks Arabic actually prevented an additional hijacking, ceteris paribus, it would be indefensible to prioritize one non-hijacked plane averting disaster below equality under the law as pertains to national security.

I’ve yet to encounter a political, constitutive, quasi or impure egalitarian who remained unswayed by the non-relational/inegalitarian benefits I’ve presented (applied to profiling in actuality if the items cited here or here turn out to be rock-solid beyond methodological doubt). That’s just my offline social circle though. Online, persuading discussants that unevenness shouldn’t be thought of as an intrinsic a terminal negative is increasingly difficult. What non-egalitarians consider a healthily passive take on inequality of wellbeing is reflexively met with skepticism. That's putting it mildly. Many socialists, social democrats, populists and nonspecific exponents of welfarism now employ a (knee-jerk?) vilification approach to inegalitarianism, going beyond skepticism and ascribing ulterior motives to the inegalitarian. So Harris’ arguments in defense of profiling (or anti-profiling, whatever) brand him a mean ole bigot out to disenfranchise anyone who looks Arabic, as opposed to someone who prioritizes Equality Under The Law below taking every preventative measure to foil terrorist plots and stonewall airplane hijackings in all cases.

Here egalitarians misfire much in the way natural rights theorists habitually do; failing to see how a society filled with citizens whose rights are haphazardly violated day to day, yet no citizen suffers for it nor sees her interests thwarted by it, is intrinsically terminally better compared to a state of affairs that sees no one's rights get violated while everyone endures a hellish existence due to the natural flow of things. Once you acknowledge the "fortunate former > unfortunate latter" desirability-setup, you'll glean how rights (or equality) are decidedly instrumental.

Given that many of the larger gaps in material gains are marked by inherited legacy wealth, hostility in the face of monetary inequality is hitherto warranted. A random inequality spike can definitely be an indicator that something is off. This is demonstrably the case in America where, on top of being born to wealth and the accompanying head-starts, the ultra-rich have obscene influence over gov’t representatives compared to the average constituent. The “system is rigged” spiel is a cliché that happens to hit the mark. Even so, fixating on comparative evaluations of wellbeing or income is a mistake because the ethicist just comes away viewing disparity in gains as the prima facie marker of unethicality. We can grant the heinous, propagandous nature of conservative or voluntarist arguments rationalizing the current inequality in America, and still take zero issue with massively disproportionate gains when they’re actually earned (non-inherited) in an equitable environment fostering psychological carrots/sticks. Colossally uneven gains by inheritance are provisional concerns stemming from structural flaws in the here and now, not necessarily flawed ethical codes.

So while political and structural considerations play a role in the weariness surrounding inegalitarianism, the politically involved shouldn’t let these inequities becloud reasoned priorities in the apolitical arena of ethics. Too often the overriding motive of any inegalitarian is suspected to be vulgar selfishness, ego, or the hilariously over-diagnosed “hate”. But can any of these apply if the inegalitarian is a negative consequentialist of some sort? The motives make sense should the inegalitarian be an out-and-out ethical egoist, but I’ve ruled this out by default as I don’t regard ethical egoism to be a form of consequentialism. I’m swimming upstream with this ruling, and frankly I don’t care. Ethical egoism is really just Randian Objectivism before Rand was around to christen it “Randian Objectivism”. Remove the property norms and the two are largely interchangeable; vulgar and contradictory to boot. If ethical egoism is a form of consequentialism, so is Randian Objectivism.

Had normative ethics been as entrenched in the broader culture as politics, I’m confident we’d see the same “ulterior motive” claptrap ascribed in comment sections where far-left amicable consequentialist theories (like Moral Egalitarianism) clash with far-right amicable non-consequentialist theories (like Deontological Propertarianism). With online political debates, things are bound to turn inflammatory sooner or later. Egalitarians would accuse Propertarians of running on sociopathy and Propertarians would accuse Egalitarians of running on envy. I don't know, nor do I care, whether there's any truth to either charge. Barring reasonable doubt, we should try our best to refrain from ascribing ulterior motives to anyone. It’s conversationally beneficial to stray from it, keeping in mind that messengers' identities aren't wed to their ideas.

What's needed is for negative consequentialists duke it out amongst themselves over attempts to identify the outcomes most worthy of avoidance. By doing away with all positive consequentialisms, the debate can center on ultimatums urging theorists to decide between minimizing negative consequences versus satisficing alternatives. Prioritarianism and Sufficientarianism are examples of satisficing consequentialisms, and they suit one another well.

On that note, let’s revisit Outcome_A vs. Outcome_B and counter in the component of disutility, in addition to the established equality-to-inequality ratios. We already know that A has a bit more going for it in terms of overall equality, with everyone sans the top margin of income earners enjoying total evenness. We also know that B lags A by having fewer individuals enjoying the same evenness as a result of 10% more unevenness stemming from the top. I’ll be charitable and credit that 10% differential to inequity, not just inequality. A bonus point against inegalitarianism.

Now suppose that A is found to contain 50% more disutility than B. By this I mean, there is twice as much overall destitution, harms and dispreference actualizations in A than in B. Would it make sense to side with A, following this revelation? Perhaps it would, as the 50% differential still leaves us wondering how the two outcomes line up with sufficientarian concerns (i.e. whether no one falls below a minimally acceptable standard of wellbeing).

The 50% boost B has on A gives us a rough indication that B is more likely than A to meet the criterion of sufficiency. If A carries 50% more disutility than B, it's highly unlikely that A stands to have more individuals who fall short of the threshold (i.e. those who fall victim to non-trivial harm or live well below the poverty line). Even so, once we consider the possibility of the populations in A and B being highly disproportionate in size, it would be wise for egalitarians sympathetic to sufficientarianism to worry that B could end up with a worse-case-scenario for a tiny minority of individuals despite the 50% boost in the society those individuals inhabit. I share this concern, and maintain that my staunch inegalitarianism isn't a hindrance to it.

The pressing question to pose is; in what meaningful way do the established equality-to-inequality ratios in A or B enhance our insight as it relates to a minimally acceptable threshold? The sufficiency view is non-utilitarian in some cases, very well, but is it therefore egalitarian by default? Or is it even egalitarian-friendly in many cases? It's arguably utility-friendly more often than not, because utility never draws upon relational evaluations in the same way that sufficiency doesn't. Equality is the odd man out in that regard.

I see no way of fusing pure egalitarianism with sufficiency, because equality is equality is equality regardless of whether the society enjoying total evenness happens to be above or below the minimally acceptable threshold. To gather information regarding a minority potentially falling below minimalism for the purposes of the 50% boost for a supermajority, we'd instead look to prioritarianism, which is more discordant with egalitarianism than it is with utilitarianism.

Prioritarianism resembles Negative Average Utilitarianism since it's more negative (minimization minded) than positive (maximization minded) in character and more average (per capita minded) than total (net minded) in measurement. But prioritarianism differs from all flavours of utilitarianism in that it eventually attributes more moral weight (overriding maximization or minimization) to a single moral patient the worse off that patient happens to be. So even if the priority formula revealed that the 50% boost in B had been accompanied by a hellish state for a tiny minority –– without which the supermajority’s 50% boost must be vacated –– one can still object to B’s state of affairs on inegalitarian grounds and non-utilitarian grounds, citing prioritarianism in conjunction with sufficientarianism. Any way you slice it, the relational metrics of egalitarianism contribute minimally (if at all) by comparison.

For me to be mistaken, the critic would have to show how it follows that disutility –– or inequity, or insufficiency –– are necessarily inequality’s accompaniers. There’s potential for overlap, but until it can be shown that disutility or insufficiency unavoidably follow form inequality, robust redistributionists have no leg to stand on.

Inequality itself –– whether determined by per capita income or by earned (non-inherited) social status –– simply doesn’t surpass instrumental levels of concern without abandoning reason. Passivity or hostility to the idea of evenness as an intrinsic terminal goal is perfectly warranted.


The farsighted calculus sees highly competent humans who need encouragement and highly incompetent humans who require the bare minimums. Concerns over equity go by the wayside the moment distribution of essential goods is adjusted to particular individualistic needs in lieu of static units. Exceptions in favour of proportionality should be made in areas of healthcare, nourishment and basic shelter. Other than that, a system incorporating standards of equity –– perhaps even lukewarm meritocracy –– allows for a strategy more attuned to the psychological needs of the average worker. This doesn’t bode well for strict egalitarianism, regardless of the type of economic system one finds oneself in. Underscoring equality-to-inequality ratios fudges equity and can only distract ethicists, statisticians and political analysts from factors shedding light on non-instrumental moral weight. No institution (ethical, political, economic) should be designed with comparative metrics as a component, much less as the barometer.

If you’re an egalitarian who accepts a tightly equitable system’s ensuing inequality as not being superglued to insufficiency or disutility, where’s the conceivable fuss? Even cutthroat capitalism can control against insufficiency by having the minimally acceptable threshold met through UBI. Nordic Capitalism is the closest thing to this right now, and it's been a resounding success compared to any alternatives. It's also not contradictory, unless you're of the nonsensical belief that Keynesianism is anti-capitalistic.

This brand of capitalism, rough as it may be on those who actually enjoy the grinding challenge of a hierarchical work structure (as they are competitive by nature and, perhaps, masochistic) would still be preferable to meritocratic market socialism which wouldn't offer its incompetent citizens anything in the way of UBI (2015-06-03: Or EBT). North Americans who think shows like 'Real Time' qualify as "thinking outside the box" may be nonplussed by the mere mention of a socialism that's inattentive to the needs of the unemployable. Maher's idea of socialism (or his writers' idea, whichever) basically boils down to hooray for nifty social programs. This is aggravating, because socialism as an economic model rejects (1) the subjective theory of value, (2) overly possessive entitlement theories on private property, (3) hierarchical work environments. That’s it.

Nothing in the blueprints of socialism leads to a discarding of desertitarianism, because “just desserts” are not a placeholder for capitalism. The desertitarian can shoehorn her agenda into any economic model, since rewarding deservingness hones in on normative (not economic) concerns. One could even argue that socialism is more dessert-oriented than capitalism due to its disallowance of inheritance/legacy wealth.

Who would deny the superiority of an inegalitarian capitalist model with sufficientarian underpinnings compared to a socialist model enamored with desertitarianism? Aside from pure egalitarians and LTV diehards, I'd imagine just about no one.

Granted, the ultimatum is more captivating once capitalism with sufficientarian underpinnings is squared against socialism with sufficientarian underpinnings. If anything, whatever dissimilarities remain would be felt by the employable, not the unemployable. If both systems put a leash on "just desserts" to a grounded degree –– securing minimalist livelihoods –– the gripes over pecking-orders at the workplace would be trivial.

Whenever inequality thwarts disutility or insufficiency on a teleological basis, it's worth the price of admission.


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  2. AntonioBullshittioManApril 21, 2015 at 6:28 AM


  3. "Who would deny the superiority of an inegalitarian capitalist model with sufficientarian underpinnings compared to a socialist model enamored with desertitarianism? Aside from pure egalitarians and LTV diehards, I'd imagine just about no one."

    I'm a pure egalitarian AND an LTV diehard, so... yea :) However, I'm not much for desert argument. I definitely agree with Rawls that the disparity in inborn faculties provide a fatal counter-argument against desert in general. I would say it also provides a strong counter-argument against inequality in general, too.

    1. Francois,

      Firstly, to reiterate the driving force of the post; the equality-to-inequality ratios in the two global outcomes (A & B) tell us nothing about which hypothetical world comes closer to meeting the criterion of sufficiency. It's technically possible to have a 100% equal society where everyone is below the sufficiency threshold. Clearly equality per se cannot be intrinsically valuable, or else you'd choose the 100% equal society over an inegalitarian one where everyone is above sufficiency. No?

      I qualified the desert argument right off the bat as a strictly tactical one, in keeping with the carrot/stick motivational set (hyperlinked near the top). And yes, the disparity in inborn faculties disqualifies the notion of meritocracy as something more than a sound long-term strategy, but it does so for telic equality as well. Desert, rights, equality under the law... these make for decent civilizational strategy, but they're not intrinsically valuable. From the post:

      "Here egalitarians are confused much in the way natural rights theorists often are; failing to see how a world where everyone's rights are violated but no one suffers for it is intrinsically better compared to a world where no one's rights are violated but everyone endures a hellish existence due to the natural flow of things. Once you acknowledge the former as superior to the latter, you'll understand why rights (or equality) are strictly instrumental"

      By acknowledging the 'Just World Fallacy' we actually end up with the priority view (unequal treatment) in giving preferential treatment to the worst off, or to those plagued by the most dire need. In the post I explain the inegalitarian nature of prioritarianism, considering that Numerical Equality is incompatible with the priority view. What Aristotle called Proportional Equality isn't equality in any sense of the word, as it calls for unequal distributions tailored to dissimilar needs. It'd be like saying that in any sporting event, the less talented team gets to bend the rules because it's not their fault they're less talented. It's not their fault, of course, but there's still no getting around the fact that equal treatment means both teams abide by the exact same set of rules.

      More importantly, since you identify as a pure egalitarian, how do you handle this bit:

      "If one out of every ten individuals is born handicapped, does the disvalue emanate from the individual's physical disadvantages *relative to* the other nine individuals' absence of physical disadvantages, or the fact that one disadvantaged person is stuck in a handicapped state and would prefer not to be? The answer should be clear, once we control for the rancorous element of envy."

      The only intelligible value would be in assisting the one disabled person in some way. Surely you'd see no value in attaining equality by disabling the other nine.

      Why does this leveling down objection suddenly stop making sense once we turn to monetary inequality? There's a time & place for transferability (i.e. UBI) but pure egalitarians don't stop there. My argument is, the leveling down objection doesn't stop making sense. In fact, it makes even more sense whenever transferability comes with additional baggage (keeping in mind that rewarding desert is instrumentally beneficial as it has a tendency to drive innovation & development). Then there's procreation, which would undoubtedly be incentivised in a pure egalitarian society that does away with rewarding merit in all cases.

    2. "It's technically possible to have a 100% equal society where everyone is below the sufficiency threshold. Clearly equality per se cannot be intrinsically valuable, or else you'd choose the 100% equal society over an inegalitarian one where everyone is above sufficiency. No?"

      In this hypothetical, yes, I would choose the inegalitarian society. But the objective is to be the rising tide that lifts all boats equally. Starting with the inegalitarian society, it should be possible to take a series of steps which bring more equality while raising (or at least not lowering) the average standard of living, until we obtain a roughly equal society where everyone is still above sufficiency.

      So the inegalitarian society would hopefully be a temporary step. Unfortunately, inequality brings with it other evils, such as hierarchies and concentrations of power, which make it near-impossible to effect that kind of change.

      "If one out of every ten individuals is born handicapped, does the disvalue emanate from the individual's physical disadvantages *relative to* the other nine individuals' absence of physical disadvantages, or the fact that one disadvantaged person is stuck in a handicapped state and would prefer not to be? The answer should be clear, once we control for the rancorous element of envy."

      Both, I would say. It's a disadvantage to the handicapped person because the society is set up for "normal" physical attributes, and it's a disadvantage because it lowers that person's physical abilities in themselves.

      I agree with you that leveling down makes no sense, though. Equality is a primary value, but so is freedom (that is to say, possibilities). They are two sides of the same coin. If you have a leveling down system, then there must be people with the power to implement that system. While the kind of equality I'm talking about is very much about dispersing power (or eliminating it, whenever possible), so there is not that issue of hierarchies sneaking in.

    3. AntoniobullshitmanApril 24, 2015 at 9:46 AM

      Hey everyone! I just found out that Antibullshitman has depression as evidenced by him liking a YouTube video entitled, "The Mindful Way Through Depression AudioBook Full". Spread the word everyone!

    4. Francois,

      By endorsing TLD objection, you open the door to countless cases where equality shouldn't be actualized, meaning you're more of an instrumental egalitarian who doesn't view relational metrics as having primary value. Equal misery is rejected out of hand because even the purest egalitarian latently values others' welfare or preferences above telic equality. Other ethical systems are better suited to this impulse, but if liberals & leftists continue beating the equality drum in lieu sufficiency, rightists will continue getting away with their "the left wants everyone to be equally poor" cognitive shortcuts. It's what helped Thatcher become a darling of theirs. To show how mislead they are, everyone sympathetic to sufficiency needs to drop the 'egalitarian' label. It accomplishes nothing, as evidenced further by your not challenging the "numerical vs. proportional" bit where I explained how proportional distributions are anything but equal.

      "the objective is to be the rising tide that lifts all boats equally"

      But again, it would take an incredibly rare type of tide to accomplish this free of baggage, considering how conducive the "carrot/stick" set has been to peak-rising. Any mandate calling for specifically equal-risings is bound to conflict with peak-risings. In such cases, a tide lifting all boats unequally but significantly should be understood as trumping any tide lifting all boats equally but minimally (or even suboptimally). If you're put off by the hypothetical ultimatums in the post, consider China & India. Both are far from egalitarian, but China is considerably more inegalitarian than India, politically & economically. India is somewhat more equal politically per its longstanding democratic elections. Despite this, China has done more in combating per capita destitution compared to India. That's one example off the top of my head where unevenness has worked out better. I know it's not an ideal example (both countries are still deeply flawed).

      "hierarchies and concentrations of power"

      That's a conditional evil though (the underlying malfeasance isn't hierarchy anyway, it's assholery). There's a world of difference between working for an understanding, rational boss vs. a power-tripping Machiavellian boss. The substantial difference shows that hierarchy isn't the root of the issue. Consider a concentration of power with MLK at the helm, ruling over individuals like Jeffrey Dahmer, Gacy, Bundy, Albert Fish, etc. Compare this to having MLK on equal footing with them. We should opt for the hierarchy whenever the right person is in charge with the menaces disempowered. Power doesn't corrupt. Being corruptible does. People who aren't lacking in character exist, & can be elected.

      A less extreme example: An umpire has decision-making power over all competitors in a game. This is only a problem if the *particular* umpire is incompetent, on a power-trip, or has a personal gripe with a competitor. In sports, this is rarely (if ever) the case, thus baseball without umpires would be a horrible idea. With legislators vs. ordinary citizens, the corruption is frequent because most elected parties are bought or incompetent at governing. They keep getting elected due to (1) Easily misled voters (2) Archaic voting systems forcing voters to choose between voting strategically vs. ideologically. All easily solvable.

      Society has come a long way in accommodating the disabled btw.

    5. Francois's comment from April 22nd, 9:19 PM:

      "I'm a pure egalitarian AND an LTV diehard, so... yea :)"

      Francois's comment from April 23rd, 4:39 PM:

      "In this hypothetical, yes, I would choose the inegalitarian society."


  4. DepressedBullshitmanApril 24, 2015 at 2:10 PM

    Please tell us what caused your depression?

    1. Unfunny trolls who grasp at straws in order to continue being unfunny.

    2. I'm not grasping at straws ya ass. You favorited a video about how to cure depression. Now why would you do that unless you yourself were depressed?

    3. I didn't fav that video. I 'liked' it for the same reason I like any video; it offered great insights on a subject I find interesting.

      But maybe you're right. Maybe I'm subconsciously drawn to the video because of personal interest. You could be onto something here trolly. See, in the past I've also liked dozens of videos that offer insights on how to combat misogyny, racial bigotry, homophobia, etc... Perhaps I'm not really a straight white male after all.

      Now that you been fed, can you go be unfunny, uninteresting and borderline retarded somewhere else? Failure to comply will result in subsequent comments being deleted, unless they're of some substance.

    4. FuckAntibullshitmanApril 25, 2015 at 6:30 PM

      >Now that you been fed, can you go be unfunny, uninteresting and borderline retarded somewhere else?

      That doesn't mean much coming from someone who is depressed.

      ANYHOO. I will not be coming back to this blog ever again (fingers crossed). People who openly advocate censorship are not cool in my books.

  5. I don't really want to repeat myself, so I'll let most of this stand, but I had to comment on your ill-informed position on hierarchies. Hierarchies are NOT conditionally evil, the concept of hierarchies itself is evil. You seem to have fallen for the "if we put angels in charge, everything will change" fallacy. Within an organization, people are moved by the incentives provided by the structure of the organization. It doesn't matter what their character is. You can have a mafia filled with angels, or an animal shelter filled with demons, and the end result will be what a mafia and an animal shelter produce, not what angels or demons produce.

    Structure trumps "agency." Structure trumps personality. If anything, structure molds personality (cults are an extreme example of this, but all organizations have some cultist aspect to them).

    Hierarchy is very much the root of the issue. If you don't get that, then there's no point in discussing ethics further with you, because that's pretty much one of the root ethical principles you need to understand. No wonder you're a utilitarian. I mean, it's all conceptual mishy-mush. You should be better than that.

    You say an umpire is a good hierarchy. What are you talking about? The umpire is not exerting any control over the players. All he does is make calls about the action. He's not the boss of anyone on the field. He doesn't dictate who plays at what position, how much they make, what their working conditions are.

    The definition of a hierarchy that I use is: any social system where control is used in a way that is both systemic and directed. Yes, any sports league is a hierarchy, but not because of the umpire. The umpire is just an agent for the league, and their role is to pretend that the game is played "fairly."

    Your explanation of why the political hierarchy is corrupt is ridiculous. Blaming it on the victims? Are you really that stupid? God damn, people really will do anything to evade systemic analysis.

    1. There's nothing ill-informed in recognizing that working under levelheaded & equitable superiors is better than working under Machiavellian superiors, despite the identically hierarchical structure of the firm in both cases. If you see the difference, you must abandon the absolutism with which you condemn hierarchy itself. There's no way around this. The carrot/stick motivational set calls for supervision, which is ineffective unless it comes with a rank-order. Not everyone is fit to supervise, & not everyone needs to be supervised. I know this, because I see it on a daily basis in my coworkers & hear similar things from other people who've been employed far longer than I have. If we don't have that as elementary common ground, it's your blind spot, not mine.

      Now, can you cite some systemic wrongdoings of, say, Senator Bernie Sanders? What exactly has he done to abuse his senatorial power? More importantly, would a guy like Sanders have been more productive in a system where Senators & ordinary citizens yield the same legislative power? (i.e. a system without congress)

      "You seem to have fallen for the "if we put angels in charge, everything will change" fallacy"

      What does this "fallacy" go by officially? I need its name so I read up on it. I'm sure it's an actual fallacy, & you're not just playing fast & loose with the word fallacy.

      Also, recognizing that some people aren't corruptible means they're now angels?! Drop that hyperbole, it makes you look desperate.

      "people really will do anything to evade systemic analysis"

      Accepting the benefits of hierarchies on a situational basis (by observing its positive consequences first hand, or statistically: doesn't spell the end of systemic analysis, because there's rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to systemic issues. Solutions vary based on the configuration of features in a given scenario. Proponents of decentralization usually understand this. It's why they're so community oriented.

      "Blaming it on the victims? Are you really that stupid?"

      Quasi-insults don't help your argument. I'm not blaming-for-the-sake-of-blaming, I'm explaining why candidates generally suck; the electorate doesn't demand better, because the average person sucks just as much as the average politician. Elizabeth Warren isn't running for a reason; she knows she has no chance at winning. This is because (1) most Americans don't even know who she is (2) Those who know of her & endorse her still can't vote for her while voting strategically, because there's no ranked choice voting in the US. (3) She can't run for congressional seats because of the restrictive winner-take-all nature of geographic voting.

      Working on these specific issues = striving for actual solutions.

      Trying to dismantle hierarchies = feel-good approach.

      Re umpire: It's an analogy, not an attempt at equivalence. The analogy holds as umpires make vital decisions impacting the game, without the input of anyone else involved in the game. That's power; something you have an issue with.

      "No wonder you're a utilitarian"

      You already commented on a post where I discuss why I'm a Moral Particularist first & foremost, so don't give me this blank-slate 'utilitarianism' derailment again. Consequentialist verdicts (from negative utilitarian ones to the ones we *just discussed* in this very thread!) are suitable in far more cases than non-consequentialist ones. Minimizing disutility trumps non-consequentialist imperatives telling us that keeping our hands clean is more important than making the world less shitty. Denying this is just self-idolatry.

    2. Gloating and nay-saying is not a response. You haven't explained how Senator Bernie Sanders proves shit about the nature of political hierarchies. Has he single-handedly derailed the purpose of government? No, you imbecile. Can any human being be a part of a structure, and accept his role in that structure, and go against the incentive system of that structure? The only person who'd answer yes is a person like you, who clearly has no life experience, no understanding of human psychology, who hasn't even read any books on political systems or social revolutions or anything relevant to the subject. And you call me the one with the blind spot!

      "Consequentialist verdicts (from negative utilitarian ones to the ones we *just discussed* in this very thread!) are suitable in far more cases than non-consequentialist ones. Minimizing disutility trumps non-consequentialist imperatives telling us that keeping our hands clean is more important than making the world less shitty. Denying this is just self-idolatry."

      You are so arrogant for so little reason. "suitable"? Do you even know what that word means? How do "non-consequentialist imperatives," a category so vast that neither of us can mentally encompass it, necessarily be "less suitable"? Your reasoning is about as logical as a presuppositionalist's.

      I can't believe I thought addressing you would lead anywhere. I have to agree with the troll, you truly are a bullshit man.

    3. Why am I not surprised that, rather than engaging with the linked article's statistics, you convert my comment into 'gloating' & 'nay-saying', like a proper ideologue.

      ''Has he single-handedly derailed the purpose of government?''

      This question is cognitively disabled. You ascribe to the 'government' an overarching purpose not because you have evidence for it, but because you enjoy parroting stuff you've read from sophisticated-sounding radicals who can turn a phrase but whose diagnosis misses the mark. The government, having not functioned as a monolithic entity for centuries, functions under a vast number of purposes that don't fit into a neat little package, no matter how much reductionists & simpletons want it to. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling ideology. Catch a glimpse of any parliamentary broadcast & you'll know governmental agendas are in direct conflict with each other for perfectly sensible reasons (here a truly creative radical might convince herself that everyone partaking in those debates is just a really good actor & I've been duped!). In fact, they'd *have to* be putting on a show if we go by single-agenda style anti-gov't narratives, because lasting governmental conflicts are unintelligible in a world where TPTB have zero use for them. And yet it is precisely those conflicts (boiling down to contrastive values from each constituency) that occupy most of what of the legislative branch spends time on. Changes in policies have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary citizens, despite the fact that those changes, for better or worse, always occur within the system. This is why pointing to a nebulously identified 'system' (in lieu of specific beliefs upon which tangible policies sprout) as the irreparable flaw puts the cart before the horse.

      None of these awful, awful systems poof into existence on their lonesome. They're human ideas in action. An idea can be good or bad, & you've yet to detail why it's impossible for the good ones to compete & prevail *within* the present system, just as bad ones can precede the system. It really just boils down to you personally disliking even the sound values (sufficiency, utility, UBI,) should they come with inegalitarian strings attached. Back to square one.

      So no, Sanders hasn't derailed 'the purpose' of gov't. What he does derail, along with Leahy, are the specific republican agendas in Vermont. You discount the benefit of this because you dislike dems' agendas too. Fine, but I dislike reps' agendas far more than I dislike dems' ones, & this has weight. Some rep agendas are tailored to the ultra-wealthy, others are there because they genuinely mirror the values of the average conservative voter; individuals whose minds you're not going to change by overthrowing the awful, awful system. If rightists outnumber you following the overthrow, what exactly do you think is going to follow? A pure egalitarian society?

      Sorry, that takes effective argumentation, not overthrows. At this point these amounting ''it's the system'' derailments are the leftist equivalent to ''the liberal media'' & how it tricks people into abandoning conservative values! My, my, everyone's so easy to manipulate! Funny how the forces pulling this off are polar opposites depending on who you ask.

      Or could it be that people just have different values because brains develop differently?

      ''Can any human being be a part of a structure, and accept his role in that structure, and go against the incentive system of that structure?''

      Name one negative incentive Sanders succumbs to & explain how this harms the downtrodden in Vermont. If he & others like him step aside, a republican fills the void. Ditto for any post-overthrow paradigm. What about this don't you get?

    4. Maybe, ala French Revolution, radicals will just do away with conservative thinkers & their supporters should any of them refuse to defer to egalitarian values post overthrow. If not, your new-and-improved paradigm still has to contend with those same individuals' values which currently shape detrimental policies in a country like America. All these ''the root is systemic, structural, institutional'' mantras amount to is kicking the can down the road. I so wish that you & your fellow pure egalitarians had the task of reshaping a centrist society following the collapse of its government. Swap the word 'state' for 'anarchism' all you want, if at the end of the day the vast number of people in this society object to your policies & you implement them anyway, your paradigm will suffer the same collapse.

      ''no life experience''

      Gotta love this passive-aggressive dismissal of what I said in my comment yesterday; the extent to which my own life experience & work environment continue to reinforce my views, & cast doubt on pie-in-the-sky conjectures. I've been steadily employed for over a decade, so please, fill me in on your superior life experience.

      And considering how often you post, I'd wager that I have more reading under my belt too. Not that appeals to literature are any better than appeals to authority when inserted as substitutes for pointed arguments.

      The other stabs at my intelligence are adorable. If intellect had something to do with political belief, you'd think the correlations would be there for all to see. Maybe you agree & are just trying to get to me. Save yourself the trouble. Nothing online gets to me. Especially not coming from those who know nothing about me.

      ''Do you even know what that word means?''

      Suitable = fitting. What, you have some radical, non-structural definition?

      Still waiting to hear the official name of the right-people-in-charge 'fallacy'. Or you can fess up about it not being an actual fallacy.

      The post you linked is light on specifics, predictably. I can cover if you'd like. Much of what I've said here applies.

      ''a category so vast''

      Give me one that outshines the vastness of consequentialist theories when we turn our attention to animal welfare. How are intents or character worthwhile concerns when it comes to the overwhelming majority of moral patients; non-human animals.

  6. Here's something I wrote that may provide some illumination in your thick skull, but probably not:

    1. He's not thick. He's infinitely smarter than you and has proven it here over and over. Your ego and insults don't work because he has answered every single one of your points to the point that you really should admit defeat graciously.

      ... but of course you won't do that, will you?

  7. antibullshitwomanApril 25, 2015 at 3:02 PM

    LMAO, the bull shit man is RAGINGGGGGGGG like a BEAST with a thorn in his ASSSSSSS!

  8. Do you think it is ethical to hunt animals, like deer, for the purposes of population control?

    1. Who hunts out of a concern for population control? If you can point to someone who does, you'll hear no complaints from me, provided the killings are always swift & the offspring aren't left to fend for themselves.

      But way to ask a question that's totally unrelated to the post.

    2. Sawry antibullshitdude, I don't know where else to ask a question. But yeah, after reading your answer, all I can say is that you're more disgusting than I thought.

  9. Hi waffle man. What a waffler u r. R u trying to impress with your use of obscure words? And what is the point at the end of the day with all your waffling. Do something constructive with that brain of yours. Us big waffling windbag

  10. You waffle like a lady and you look like one too! Sorry I don't normally troll but theres just something about you that brings out my inner troll. Try not to to get your feelings hurt. Looking like a lady is OK. :)

  11. Not going to feed me? Oh well I do need to get out more.

    1. It's cuz you're not even minimally funny or amusing. You're just "there".

      It's gotten to the point where I look back fondly on the days of the halfway witty troll. What happened?

    2. ahh yesss the good old days... when u wuz suckin on inmendam's dingaling

    3. You must find me magnetically interesting to have lurked around my online activities for so many years. Maybe one day you'll produce something other than hackneyed insults & find ways to be interesting yourself.

    4. You really have a shitty personality. At least back in the day, the trolled had something funny to say in return. Now everyone takes themselves to seriously. It's such a shame.

    5. Alright, that's it! I'm done with this blog! I'd rather press my face against a hippopotamus's butt while it muck-spreads! That's when a hippo takes a shit, but rather than allowing the shit to drop from its anus, it presses its tail against its ass crack, waving it back and forth, shredding the shit all over the place! That's as much fun as this blog is, like, putting a turd in a fan or a band saw. You just don't do it!

  12. You claim that egoism is "contradictory" but offer zero arguments as to why this is so. Do you have any?

    1. I'm only now seeing this, so apologies for the lateness of this reply:

      "Do you have any?"

      For one, spreading egoism is counterproductive to the egoist's own interests insofar as other-regarding ethics usually draw from impartial-concern.

      So if I'm other-regarding in my normative disposition, and you're self-regarding in your normative disposition, but the two of us are temporarily trapped in the same ditch & are equally hungry, and only I have some food on me... my having rejected egoism will make it difficult for me not to split that food 50/50 with you. In such a case, your attempt to get me to come around to your ethical worldview would, by itself, result in immoral behavior on your part. It would be in your interest to pretend that ethical egoism is immoral & that morality is inherently an other-regarding project.

      Then there's this:

  13. Also, you say "socialism is more desert-oriented than capitalism due to its disallowance of inheritance/legacy wealth" but just like your "nifty social programs" example, inheritance restriction laws are also not an inherent part of any economic model. I don't see how you can set social programs aside but continue to think inheritance laws/lack thereof are woven into the economics.

    1. Competition is a mainstay of economics. When you allow for unfettered inheritance, you unthinkingly permit head-starts in what is supposed to be a race where the fastest sprinter's victory benefits society as a whole. Most competitors start at or near the start line (i.e. inherit nothing or very little), while others start a few yards away from the finish line (i.e. legacy wealth as a birth right).

      If you can't see how this distorts competitive authenticity, which is supposed to be a cornerstone of economic activity rather than politics tout court, then you're far too removed from any hope of non-ideological assessments.

      But that's egoism for ya.