Archive | September 22, 2010

How Inequality Shapes Our Lives, Part 2

My friend Bryan Caplan has a response to my recent post about inequality. I’m preparing to leave town for the Alabama Philosophical Society and so probably won’t have a chance to reply in detail until I get back. (This also applies to the comments section of my previous post, which I haven’t had a chance to look at.) But three short points just for now:

Organize and Take the Big Bag

a) Bryan’s response focuses on the ways in which free markets would solve the problems I point to if they were really problems. But the whole point of my position is that we don’t have a free market! Left-libertarians have pointed out in detail the ways in which the housing and labour markets, for example, are skewed in ologopolistic and oligopsonistic directions respectively. By ignoring these analyses rather than refuting them, Bryan in effect assumes the problems out of existence; he might just as well say “taxes can’t really be too high, because if they were, consumers would just switch to a rival protection agency with lower fees.”

b) The fact that workers can shirk, that tenants can be delinquent, etc., is beside the point. We already know upfront that each party to a contract can potentially screw over the other. The point is that, given that context, the contracts are then skewed to favour one side. That skewing isn’t counterbalanced by the other side’s capacity for delinquency, because each side has that capacity, and one side has the favourable contract in addition.

c) Yes, there are various regulations that purport to help the weaker party to the contract; but left-libertarians have argued in detail that those regulations in practice actually tend to help the stronger party instead. Maybe we’re right about that and maybe we’re wrong, but as far as I know, Bryan hasn’t addressed those arguments, and we can hardly be expected to pretend we haven’t made them.

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