Jonathan Rothwell on Market Egalitarianism

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Have Americans become jaded by unjust inequality?

Two data points are informative.

  1. Few expect the celebrities caught in the college admissions scandal to do jail time for their criminal bribes.
  2. Those associated with Jeffrey Epstein appear to be unlikely to be held accountable any time soon.

Perhaps even more seriously, however, Jonathan Rothwell believes that inequality and the political forces underlying it are actually undermining the public’s faith in our government.

He says that the wave of populist nationalism that swept Trump into office is driven by a deeper discontentment and insecurity resulting from widening income inequality. [Paradoxically, Rothwell argues that many of the same nativist attitudes are also cementing the very policies that are exacerbating unjust inequality.]

Of course, it’s vitally important in this debate to distinguish between inequality that is the result of people’s subjective preferences for work vs. leisure, that which is based on supply and demand, and that which is based on pure political privilege.

In his new book A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society, Rothwell ushers an impressive body of data to show just how much of the current inequality is caused not by free markets, but by the political powers that be. In doing so, he upsets both the right and the left’s narratives around inequality.

We do not live in a perfectly free market based on mutually-beneficial exchange. From education to housing, the current political system further rewards those who have already made it with additional spoils.

As a “market egalitarian,” Rothwell claims that we do not need government to act to redistribute unjustly acquired wealth so much as we need government to set the rules of the game such that incomes more closely align with relatively evenly-distributed abilities in the population. There’s a lot to unpack there.

I spend the full hour this Sunday dissecting the poll numbers in Jonathan’s book to determine whether his thesis is correct.

A Republic of Equals envisions what would happen naturally to equality of outcome if we stopped giving those with political power special access to markets and public services.

We discuss what count as “basic liberties,” and what government must do to ensure equal access to markets and the right to engage in mutually beneficial exchange. Provide universal education? Job training for unemployed workers? Or simply get out of the way?

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