Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, rev.
January Since the s, economic inequality in the US has increased dramatically. And in particular, the rich have gotten a lot richer. Nearly everyone who writes about economic inequality says that it should be decreased.
I'm interested in this question because I was one of the founders of a company called Y Combinator that helps people start startups. Almost by definition, if a startup succeeds, its founders become rich.
Which means by helping startup founders I've been helping to increase economic inequality.
If economic inequality should be decreased, I shouldn't be helping founders. No one should be. But that doesn't sound right. So have we just shown, by reductio ad absurdum, that it's false that economic inequality should be decreased?
That doesn't sound right either. Surely it's bad that some people are born practically locked into poverty, while at the other extreme fund managers exploit loopholes to cut their income taxes in half.
The solution to this puzzle is to realize that economic inequality is not just one thing. It consists of some things that are bad, like kids with no chance of reaching their potential, and others that are good, like Larry Page and Sergey Brin starting the company you use to find things online.
If you want to understand economic inequality — and more importantly, if you actually want to fix the bad aspects of it — you have to tease apart the components.
And yet the trend in nearly everything written about the subject is to do the opposite: Sometimes this is done for ideological reasons. Sometimes it's because the writer only has very high-level data and so draws conclusions from that, like the proverbial drunk who looks for his keys under the lamppost, instead of where he dropped them, because the light is better there.
Sometimes it's because the writer doesn't understand critical aspects of inequality, like the role of technology in wealth creation. Much of the time, perhaps most of the time, writing about economic inequality combines all three. The most naive version of which is the one based on the pie fallacy: Usually this is an assumption people start from rather than a conclusion they arrive at by examining the evidence.
Sometimes the pie fallacy is stated explicitly: But the unconscious form is very widespread. I think because we grow up in a world where the pie fallacy is actually true.
To kids, wealth is a fixed pie that's shared out, and if one person gets more it's at the expense of another. It takes a conscious effort to remind oneself that the real world doesn't work that way. In the real world you can create wealth as well as taking it from others.
A woodworker creates wealth. He makes a chair, and you willingly give him money in return for it. A high-frequency trader does not. He makes a dollar only when someone on the other end of a trade loses a dollar.
If the rich people in a society got that way by taking wealth from the poor, then you have the degenerate case of economic inequality, where the cause of poverty is the same as the cause of wealth.Aug 31, · How to End an Essay. The final paragraph of an essay is what ties the piece together into a single, cohesive whole.
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