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By William Letwin

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Additional info for Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy

Sample text

To pay £1 for one chance in a hundred of winning £ 100 is totally in keeping with the dictates of reason and with the tastes of millions. Consider, in this light, the design of societies, each of which is a lottery as far as Rawls's designer is concerned, since pure chance will dictate which of the possible incomes he himself gets. Let us restrict our examination to the following four AGAINST EQUALITY: READINGS 23 societies, identical except for differing distributions of income: (1) (2) (3) (4) All get £7500 each.

Now from the standpoint of disembodied reason, perfect rationality unembellished by any irrational preferences, all these four - and also an indefinitely large number of other are perfectly equivalent. They are equivalent because their 'expected values'* are equal, namely £7500 in each instance; and the rational gambler, shorn of all other human attributes, pays attention to nothing but expected value. So it follows that the rational gambler, far from designing an egalitarian society, would regard it as no better or worse than an intensely unequal society.

But is this an inevitable tendency of democracy? Here there is much room for doubt. Modern non-democratic governments also engage in redistribution, sometimes fiercer than that practised by democracies. It would seem therefore that redistribution results from the widespread belief that equality, especially equality of income and wealth, is the paramount element of justice, rather than that it results inevitably from any particular form of government. There is no conclusive reason to believe that the majority within a democracy will always aim to level income and wealth down to their level.

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