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Home / Brad Delong, Berkeley / Yes, Societal Well-Being Depends on a Very Strong Distributional Bias Along the Lines of “To Each According to Their Need”. Why Do You Ask?

Yes, Societal Well-Being Depends on a Very Strong Distributional Bias Along the Lines of “To Each According to Their Need”. Why Do You Ask?

Summary:
At least half of our wealth comes from the ideas and investments of those who are now dead. And as we grow richer, that proportion grows as well. None of the living have any just exclusive claim on any portion of this cornucopian storehouse of technologies. The dead have no just claim on it either: respect for their legacy does not entail honoring their wishes as to its use, if that honoring upsets the principle of equal opportunity. Thus the most bedrock moral-philosophical principal is that more than half of our wealth is held in common for the human community to distribute as it decides is good. And, for any economist who believes in the greatest good of the greatest number and does not shut her eyes to the gross fact of the declining marginal utility of wealth, the elementary

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Il Quarto Stato

At least half of our wealth comes from the ideas and investments of those who are now dead. And as we grow richer, that proportion grows as well. None of the living have any just exclusive claim on any portion of this cornucopian storehouse of technologies. The dead have no just claim on it either: respect for their legacy does not entail honoring their wishes as to its use, if that honoring upsets the principle of equal opportunity. Thus the most bedrock moral-philosophical principal is that more than half of our wealth is held in common for the human community to distribute as it decides is good.

And, for any economist who believes in the greatest good of the greatest number and does not shut her eyes to the gross fact of the declining marginal utility of wealth, the elementary moral philosophical conclusion is that this wealth should be distributed on a strongly egalitarian basis.

What about the other half, or more likely third, or even quarter, of our wealth? It should presumably be distributed according to societal utility, with deviations from an egalitarian baseline to the extent that they prove useful in providing incentives and aligning interests. Perhaps we can even extend and allow some role for inheritance to further motivate accumulation.

Excuse me, what are you saying? “Desert” you say? That some people “deserve it more because of the luck making them who they are”?

A principle that ultimately reduces itself to choosing the right parents, or simply happening to be in the right place at the right time, does not seem to me to have any force. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of those who have thought about it and who have not been bought and paid for agree: that is why the past century and a half of increasingly desperate attempts to link it to unconvincing and exploded social Darwinism.


#equitablegrowth #moralphilosophy #highlighted
Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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