Wednesday, March 05, 2008


I just received this message from Dan: For reasons entirely out the control of the speaker, this week's scheduled talk at the GPTW has been cancelled. Instead - as as it seems a shame to cancel the 8th Week meeting - I will be leading a discussion on the nature of property rights and personal responsibility in non-ideal contexts. The discussion is entitled, "If you're an egalitarian, how much should you pay for a Radiohead album?"

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At 7:32 pm, Anonymous Sortition said...

"If you're an egalitarian, how much should you pay for a Radiohead album?"

That's easy: nothing. All the people who will be profiting from my payment are richer than me, thus a transfer of money from me to them would be anti-egalitarian.

At 8:07 pm, Blogger Ben said...

The talk wasn't really focused on egalitarianism, the title was really just a reference to G A Cohen's book - although it was pointed out that, if you're above average, then on some measures of equality the transfer to a bunch of millionaires may reduce inequality.

At 8:55 pm, Anonymous Sortition said...

I was aware of the reference. I have not read the book but had a listen to the philosophy bite with Cohen.

How would transferring money from someone at the, say, 75th percentile to someone at the 99th percentile reduce inequality?

At 9:59 pm, Blogger Ben said...

I don't know enough about measures of (in)equality to really answer that, but I do know things aren't straightforward. Temkin's done work on this.

Imagine a ten person world with people at the following levels:
This could be seen as quite close to equality, since there's just one person with more. Suppose we can give each person an extra eight units, one by one, so we pass through various stages, such as:
Until we get to:

Again, this last stage seems close to equality - now almost everyone at 9. Of course, we might prefer the last all things considered, since there's a higher level of utility or whatever. Thinking only about equality, however, is it true that equality decreases and then increases?


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