I went to a rationalist meetup this weekend. We spent a long time talking about Robin Hanson’s article on sex redistribution, sex inequality, relationship inequality and potential policies to fix both. I think my greatest problems with comparing income redistribution to sex redistribution are:
- Redistributing Income is less morally abhorrent than redistributing sex/relationships because the latter requires dictating to people what relationships they must, can and cannot have.
- Redistributing relationships seems to require giving the state/society too much power over individuals.
- Marginal utility for relationships/sexual encounters diminishes far faster than for money. Most people can only maintain a set number of relationships at a time whereas our capacity to spend money for anything ranging from shelter to education to life extension to yachts seems to be near limitless. Hence we’d hit a ceiling very quickly. (Although I am conflicted about this. It’s possible that the total supply is lower than demand, in which case this criticism is irrelevant)
(Note: None of these area criticisms of Hanson as his article does not talk about redistribution in the sense of taking from some and giving to others but rather in the sense of changing the a given distribution to make it more equal)
I think my problem with debates about equality is that I don’t see equality as a terminal value. I suspect that most people don’t either. The simplest test for whether we value inequality innately is to see if there are any other innate values we would be willing to trade away for some amount of equality, no matter how small. Let’s say I innately value people being happy (utilitarianism. It’s stupid. I know). If it is the case that equality is something I also value innately, I should be willing to trade off some amount of utility for some amount of equality. Let say there are two possible worlds: Equalistan which has a 100 people with 50 units of utility each and their arch enemy slightly-less-equalistan which has 99 people with 50 units of equality and 1 person with 51. I find the slightly less equal world where people are better off is preferable. If the second world had 99 people with 50 units and 1 person with 99’999’999’999, I’d still prefer it. No matter how big the numbers get or what thing I innately value I substitute for utility, my intuitions are the same. There is no amount “thing I value” that I would give up for an increase in equality, no matter how lopsided the tradeoff. To me that suggests that equality is not something with any value in and of itself. I instinctively think that most people agree with me and those who don’t don’t just aren’t capable of engaging in thought experiments stripping away their instrumental reasons for valuing equality. I don’t have a high degree of confidence in the view. It seems like it could very well be a case of mind projection fallacy and other people may have different axiomatic beliefs/moral intuitions to me. Empirical questions require empirical answers.