American Serfdom?

Over at Slate, Timothy Noah is putting together an homage-a-Krugman; that is, a lengthy description of the growing inequality of America.

I’m reading it with interest. So far, I am initially perturbed by the number of Krugman cites he has thrown in and the way he has quickly mentioned and disregarded important factors like income mobility. But perhaps he will return to the point, so I will withhold judgment.

I’m interested in whether he’ll have any novel conclusions to offer as to why the supposed income inequality increase is a problem. I understand that possibilities of class warfare may be a cause for practical concern, but is it a cause of moral concern? That is, if zero-sum theories of wealth are not true (and they aren’t), and the rich aren’t causing the poverty of the poor, then what is immoral about income inequality?

I understand that I am asking fundamental questions of political philosophy. Many egalitarian-minded thinkers may think I’m crazy for even asking the question. Fairness is the problem, they say. Inequalities are unfair.

What strikes me as fascinating, however, is whether moral descriptions of broad-brush categories can be meaningfully transcribed into moral imperatives about individual members of the class. Incomes are not earned by classes, after all, they are earned by individuals. For example, is saying that it is unfair for certain classes to become rich while others become (or stay) poor the same as saying that a given poor person X deserves more income in tandem with a given rich person Y earning more money?

It is hard to imagine how it these statements could not be the same. It is the individual instantiation of egalitarian policies (among other things) that I disagree with.

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