Economist Robin Hanson (discussed previously
in TiB) stoked a great deal of controversy by asking on his blog
whether we should be as willing to “redistribute” sex as we are income. It’s a short read and the argument is clear quite quickly. The piece immediately attracted fierce criticism
, but was catapulted into the mainstream by the NYT’s Ross Douthat, whose column on the topic
also drew ire (It’s worth reading an essa
Douthat quotes by Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who asks the same question from a left-feminist perspective). Overall, most contributions to the debate have added little beyond outrage and counter-outrage, though Scott Aaronson’s post
is a notable exception.
I don’t have anything to add directly, but I do think it’s a fascinating episode that demonstrates how conflicted our intuitions about inequality are. There is a vast academic literature on what kinds of equality we should care about (This
, by Elizabeth Anderson, who we discussed two weeks ago
, is a classic), but few of us have consistent views.
A lot of our policy debates in the next twenty years are going to be about redistribution - and not just what
gets redistributed, but the geographic scope of redistribution. The nation state may be under increasing pressure (as discussed in TiB multiple times
), but it remains the political unit of redistribution par excellence
. Can anything replace that? There’s a lot of evidence that redistribution is most needed at the international level, but most popular at the local level (one of many fascinating findings in James Fallows’ piece on reinventing America
). That doesn’t, to me, seem a very stable equilibrium.