We say inequality’s a bad thing, but why? What is bad about it? Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that we have a choice between two states: we are all poor together, or we are all prosperous together. That would be a simple one. Now suppose the latter state requires a huge degree of inequality, so much that the wealthiest regard the least wealthy from such a distance that they appear almost invisible. Why would we not want that? Why do we talk as if that’s an undesirable outcome?
First let’s recall that key attitudes about inequality derive from our memories of Europe centuries ago. In fact, some elements of European social stratification survived right through the end of World War II. People are still alive who were born when some people called themselves nobles. Nobles not only looked down at people they considered beneath them, they looked down their noses at them. They were stuck up. You know the image: head tilted back, so far back that when you look at someone, your nose appears in your field of vision.
That’s their problem, you say. Not only do you get a stiff neck, but people can look right up your nostrils. In fact, you look foolish when you prance around with your head tilted like that. Who wants to talk to a nose?
What is your station in life? Station implies that wherever you are, you will stay there. If you’re a peasant, you’re a peasant. You’ll never be anything else. If you’re a servant, that’s what you’ll be until you’re too old to do the work, and then you die. You want to move up in the world? Go climb that hill over there, then stand on your toes. No one cares.
Barbara Tuchman wrote some great books, but I don’t want to go to sleep so late again. I’m going to have faith that I’ll remember what I want to say about this wise historian. How did the noble class get so much money? They just came to the working people and took it. They used the money for wars the working people had no interest in and did not want to fight. They used the money for all kinds of purposes not related to good government. They just took it. It was theft. To tax people and use their money for illegitimate purposes is more than a breach of trust. Over time, it becomes an institution of thievery.
Enough for tonight! Happy Thanksgiving!