Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Return of the Big Monkey Reverse Difference Principle.

It is time to invoke what I have called in other contexts "The Big Monkey Reverse Difference Principle."

The plutocrats are motivated in part by a desire for wealth, and in part by a desire for inequality. They want to be sure to have more wealth than others. The Reverse Difference Principle is a rule for balancing these two goals. It says that equality is to be tolerated only to the extent that it benefits the best off.

Imagine two societies. One has a great deal of inequality, but the richest 1% are relatively poor. Another society has less inequality but the richest 1% are much better than the people in the first society. Now which society to you want to be a plutocrat in?

I believe it is now the job of political philosophy to convince the plutocrats of the US this truth.


jo(e) said...

That makes sense.

Julian said...

Interesting. Historically, most hierarchical views of social justice have been justified in terms of the corporate whole of society (with very concrete "body" imagery in, e.g., the Laws of Manu, Plato's Republic, along the lines of "the Golden Race/Brahmins/First Estate are the head, the Vaisyas/Bronze race/Third Estate are the stomach, etc."). With those justifications, I'm not sure appealing to elite self-interest would be so effective, but our current hierarchical elite is individualist and anti-corporatist (At least nominally: I'm not sure how much that's a reality). Maybe it would work.

(Hobbes' Leviathan is notable, IMHO, for trying to reconstruct hierarchical corporatism (which is very evident from the frontispiece) from individual self interest, rather than viewing a certain set of hierarchical arrangements as constituting social justice on their own merits like Plato, Laws of Manu, etc)

I'm not quite sure how the inequality maximizing function would work, though. My first thought was leximax: maximize richest person's income, then subject to that constraint, maximize second-richest person's income, etc, all the way down. Then I realized that for the poorest person, minimizing rather than maximizing income would increase inequality without reducing the welfare of the best off (since the poorest person cannot possibly be best off). That also surely applies to the second poorest person. So I'm not sure what the best approach: I guess you have two sorting mechanisms, one minimizing welfare for the worst off, then the second worst off, etc, and one maximizing welfare for the best off, then the second best off, etc. This creates a family of function different by the "division point." If you're maximizing for the best off individual, then minimizing for everyone but, you kind of have more of a Pharaonic God-Plutocrat model, while if you're minimizing for the worst off individual, then maximizing for everyone but, you have more of an Omelas model (although the second worst off person, while still subject to maximization rather than minimization, will still probably be very poor).

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I don't think the Reverse Difference Principle can be quantified as strictly as the Regular Difference Principle has been, but then again, I don't think the influence of the Regular Difference Principle owes much to its precision. I'm more interested creating a loose way to codify what I think could be an effective argument.

And I do think plutocrats in the US have thoroughly absorbed individualism of the Hobbsian sort. You don't see inequality being justified by anything like the Laws of Manu or Plato's Republic. Its all Hobbes and Nietzsche as filtered through Rand (the "sixth rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls.")