The Economist's Apprentice

In which a little girl confronts the world and battles the anti-humans.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why Academics Favor Redistribution - One Reason

Many academics are inclined to favor redistribution of income. Some economists like Krugman argue forcefully that people care more about relative position than their absolute status. I have been reluctant to accept this position as being very important, perhaps because envy is so foreign to me. I do not resent Bill Gate's billions; I wish I had them. I would be happier if Bill Gates gave them to me, but I certainly wouldn't be happier if Bill Gates lost them. In fact, I think that resenting the wellbeing of others is a pretty strong character flaw. However, at some point, one must accept the fact that many people like Paul Krugman are deeply concerned with status.

Within the confines of the academic world, Paul Krugman stands near the top rung in terms of status. To the extent that status is defined by contributing to human knowledge, he has a lot to be proud about. Within the larger public, his intellectual achievements bring him status to the extent that it has brought him fame and money. He is very high up, perhaps at the same rung as Maureen Dowd, but certainly no where near as high as Bill Gates or thousands of people in business. I think academics are inclined to attack the privileges of wealth, because the existence of wealth lowers the relative status attributed to intellectual achievements. If the very pursuit of wealth can be reduced to a zero-sum struggle for status, then wealth loses some of its status. Academics gain status at the expense of businessmen and other high income professions.

Academics of all levels would see their relative status rise, if wealth is besmirched. A professor at a local community typically has a high level of educational attainment but only modest social status given their average level of income.

I think that it is no accident that many of those who are most fervent about redistributing income spend so much time bemoaning the chase for status. This chase is very real for them. As Jane Galt has observed, academics are probably more status obsessed than the typical person. The attack on wealth is one dimension of their chase for status.


At 8:56 AM, Blogger TKC said...

I would say it is actually a little worse than that.
If Bill Gates loses his billions he will not be the only one that suffers. Would Microsoft survive? Probably not? So how many people would lose their jobs at Microsoft? How about all the people who use and support Microsoft products? How many of them would find themselves in the ranks of the unemployed if Mr. Gates lost his billions?

This is far worse than petty envy. Such short sightedness about how the wealth of others benefits society is not a sign of intellectualism. It is a sign of gross adherance to the failed ideology of wealth redistribution.


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