Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why focus on the American top 1%, when we could be focusing on the global top 1% or 10%?

Will Wilkinson subjects the "1%" rhetoric to philosophical scrutiny:

[I]t's hard to see why the American 1% should be especially salient. Why not the global 1%, or the global 10 or 20%, which would include pretty much the whole American population[?] If it is morally imperative to confiscate exceptional wealth and use it to meet human needs, then it is imperative to confiscate most of the wealth in all wealthy countries, not just the wealth of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and transfer it to the world's poor, not to the relatively well-to-do poor of the wealthiest countries.

If it's not possible to bring in $600,000 in a year without therefore being guilty of complicity in a exploitative global system, which invalidates one's moral claim to one's income, it's probably not possible to bring in an untainted, secure $60,000 either.

Of course, most complaints about the American 1% are not grounded on the view that the global political economy is a comprehensive web of exploitation. It's based on the supposition that the domestic 1% is guilty of something or other the domestic 10 or 30 or 50% isn't, and therefore deserves to be a target of scorn in a way the 10 or 30 or 50% does not. But, however you slice it, it's going to be true that a lot of people in the top 1% got there in pretty much the same way a lot of people in the top 30 or 50% got there. If there's nothing wrong with a way of making money at the 50th percentile, there's nothing wrong with it at the 99th. And if there's something wrong with it at the 99th, there's something wrong with at the 50th. The unwillingness to identify specific mechanisms of unjust income acquisition, and the insistence on treating income-earners above a[n] arbitrary cut-off point as a unified class deserving special contempt, strike me as symptoms of intellectually laziness and a less than thoroughgoing interest in justice.


rcocean said...

I love it when Will gets all "Philosophical" and ignores reality. The USA is a country and has a government that represents the people of the USA (cf: US Constitution).

The discussion about the 1% vs. 99% takes place in that context. Jabbering the "world" is silly, since there is no "world government" and people from other countries have no obligation to share their wealth with us or we with them. You can pretend countries don't exist, but they do and they always have.

The truth is Will is Canadian citizen paid mucho dinero to push open borders and "free trade". Pay him some more money and he'd be writing "Philosophical" blogs for VDARE.

John Althouse Cohen said...

people from other countries have no obligation to share their wealth with us or we with them

To say we have no obligation because we have no obligation is begging the question.

rcocean said...

No we no obligation and they have no obligation. IOW, no one from another country has any obligation to "share the wealth".

Do you think people in Japan or Israel have an obligation to help poor people in the USA? If not, why do the American people have an obligation to help poor people in Japan or Israel? If so, explain why.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I don't have a definite view on how much people in one country owe to people in other countries. I do think there can be a clear obligation if one country has a national emergency, but aside from that it's not obvious that there are such obligations. On the other hand, national borders are fairly arbitrary, administrative distinctions. (Being in New York, I'm closer to Canada than to Hawaii.) It's not obvious that those distinctions are morally binding.

Also, I don't take Will to be saying that he feels strongly that we owe it to other countries to redistribute our wealth to them. He's not trying to lay out his own ethical framework; he's just questioning other people's views. Those who make an impassioned moral case for redistribution of wealth within a country have some explaining to do as to why that same argument doesn't also apply from one country to another.

rcocean said...

"On the other hand, national borders are fairly arbitrary, administrative distinctions."

Huh? Why don't you TRY to move to Mexico, Israel, or Japan and tell me if that's true. Yep, borders don't mean nothin' man. I'll just move to Mexico without a Visa and they'll just accept me.

Look JAC, you're just asserting the upper-class AMERICAN view on "National borders". People (aka upper-class Americans) pretend to believe this nonsense because it benefits them and people of their class. The WSJ loves "open borders" because it makes them money. 100 years ago, they thought different, and 20 years from now -who knows how they will think.

As an objective statement its Bullshit.