Medical Ethics

What Kind of Inequality Matters to You?

2 Mins read

Science and Other News: What Kind of Inequality Matters to You?

Here are 19 kinds of inequality, courtesy of Scott Sumner:

Science and Other News: What Kind of Inequality Matters to You?

Here are 19 kinds of inequality, courtesy of Scott Sumner:

  1. Inequality of disability. Some people are blind, paralyzed, etc.
  2. Inequality of talent. Some people are blessed with the ability of a Michael Jordon, or a Brad Pitt.
  3. Inequality if liberty. I know one Chinese person who used to listen to Russian classical music very quietly, least the neighbors overheard. It was viewed as counter-revolutionary, and she could have gotten in a lot of trouble. Least we think America doesn’t have these problems, think of the many 100,000s of people in prison for using drugs.
  4. Inequality of money (i.e. income/wealth/consumption.)
  5. Inequality of personality. I know one part time instructor who always looks happy. He always whistles while he walks, and greets people with enthusiasm. He’s about 85. And I know lots of grouchy professors making 5 times more money.
  6. Inequality of mental health–actually just a more extreme version of point 5–but a big driver of utility.
  7. Inequality of access to health care. Often assumed to overlap with money inequality, but the Medicaid program suggests it’s more complex.
  8. Inequality of power. My Marxist friends would say I have a blind spot for this one. I think I do.
  9. Inequality of location. Were you born in sad Moldova, or happy Denmark?
  10. Inequality of luck. Of course if there’s no free will, then it’s all luck.
  11. Inequality of family situation. Are you living with an extremely difficult family member (an abusive spouse, an elderly person with Alzheimer’s, or a troubled teen.) This has a big effect on utility.
  12. Inequality of disease. Do you have AIDS, or cancer?
  13. Inequality of preferences. I am cursed with expensive taste. If I walk into a rug store, my eyes are immediately attracted to the most expensive oriental carpet. My daughter just bought a teal shag carpet from Target that she likes. Lucky her.
  14. Inequality of pain. A hugely underrated factor in utility. And let’s not forget the poor hypochondriacs. There is no statement more stupid in the entire English language than “it’s all in your head.” Everything is all in your head, including pain. See the studies of phantom limbs. Pain is pain.
  15. Inequality in social setting. Do you live in a neighborhood terrorized by crime. Again, only partially correlated with income.
  16. Racial/ethnic/gender/sexual preference inequality
  17. Inequality of nerdiness/awkwardness. A huge driver of utility for teenagers. (Would a poor but “cool” and popular teen trade places with a middle class nerdy teen?)
  18. Inequality of job desirability
  19. Inequality of appearance (beauty, obesity, etc.) Michel Houellebecq says this is the greatest source of inequality in rich countries

Of these 19, how many do you think economists ever talk about? How about health policy wonks? Is that because economists and health policy wonks are incredibly narrow? Full Scott Sumner piece is worth reading every word.





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