i’m pretty cool with the fact that very few* women get prostate cancer (talking about inequality, in advance of #SOTU)

lots of people have commented recently on even-more-famous people (president obama, the pope) commenting on inequality. this incidental economist post is particularly clear and helpful. 

the main, brief point i want to make here is about precision of language. ‘inequality’ is a word that should rarely be used alone. it is much more helpful to specify inequality of what  before stating any particular opinion about whether that inequality is un/just, should/not exist and so on (i have similar views on empowerment and capabilities… to do (or be) what?).

this is one of the three *big questions* and points of specificity bill gardner kindly lays out for us so that we can speak more usefully. to do so, we should be specific about: inequality (1) among whom and (2) of what – as well as (3) why do I care about points (1) and (2)? these seem like good questions to consider when listening to #SOTU or generally before making a sweeping statement about inequality.

he also briefly brings up parfit and prioritarianism. part of parfit’s argument here is that even people who say they are egalitarians aren’t usually strictly so, they are rather prioritiarians. while such a person might believe that priority should be given to the worst-off among us (among X group in distributing Y unequal resource/ opportunity/ social primary good), that person likely does not endorse achieving equality by ‘leveling down.’ for example, if some people are blind, generating inequality in sightedness, the preferred solution is generally not blinding everyone to achieve equality.

gardner raises a few other good points and offers some interesting links. he then closes quite well, so i’ll steal it:

“Make egalitarianism a way of life rather than a mode of rhetoric. Be careful about accusing others of not caring about equality. It’s likely that your adversary believes in equality but construes it differently than you. Look past partisan labels. See who is truly committed to living with her neighbor as an equal.”

*i was going to initially entitle this “…women don’t get prostate cancer” but did a quick google check and it seems that, in fact, they can. in any case, usually, women and prostate cancer is my go-to stark/snarky example in helping teach a class on ‘justice and resource allocation (in health)’ of the fact that some inequality is generally acceptable: men have far more prostate cancer than women and while we would all prefer that no one had cancer, this is not a particularly alarming inequality. and it certainly doesn’t qualify as an inequity.


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