There are many ways to view basic equality in society.
One is to judge equality on the basis of productivity, where individuals are valued according to their individual effort, earning equal reward for equal effort, meaning one that is more productive than another will receive a higher reward, which discriminates against the less productive.
Another is to give equal value to everyone, irrespective of effort, effectively discriminating against those that are more productive, which, obviously, depreciates incentive.
How would you apply equality, fairly, to all?
Sorry Andrew – I definitely want to contribute, I was in a tent at 5,500ft up a mountain side when you posted this question. Home again last night, have slept for 10 hours.
This question has been on my mind most days for 40 years.
I completely agree with the first sentence of your question, that there are many ways to view basic equality. It seems that there may in fact be an infinite set of such ways.
The last sentence of the question introduces the notion of “fairly”.
The enquiry of what human beings consider fair, is a vast one. It is one that many thousands of psychologists and sociologists and ethicists and neurophysiologists and mathematicians (games theorists and others) have spent a lot of time and intellectual horsepower investigating.
It can fairly be said that there is far less agreement about what is fair, than what is unfair.
It is often most easy to get agreement by considering the negative.
If it is not unfair, then it can be thought of as fair.
It is much easier to get a diverse group of people to agree that some particular set of circumstances is not unfair, than to get them to agree that it is fair (strange as that may sound).
We seem the be genetically and culturally primed to detect and to punish unfair behaviour (at all levels) – which can get rather tricky.
The bulk of the question is around productivity.
In our distant cultural past when all productivity involved human labour, and our survival was based upon that productivity, that was a very useful way of thinking about the question – very practical.
Once we started to domesticate animals, then much of the pure labour component of work could be put upon them (horses and oxen in particular, but also many others, including pigeons in communication).
Then we started to harness other forms of energy for work. Initially there was falling water, in water wheels, then wind in wind mills and sails, then we started to harness various forms of heat.
We started harnessing heat with steam engines using wood and coal. Then came internal combustion engines based on oil products. Then nuclear power – either from the sun, or from various forms of geothermal or concentrated and contained nuclear fission or fusion on the surface of the earth in very technical power plants.
Every new development in power production reduced the value of human labour as such. It is now possible to buy for under $1,000 a solar power panel that will produce the power output of a person 8 hours a day, 200 days a year, for 25 years. That makes the value of the mechanical labour of a person in today’s world substantially less than $1 per day in terms of money (if done on an industrial scale, it is less than 1c per hour, and rapidly decreasing towards zero).
Thus it is clearly not fair to make any judgement about human value based upon labour alone.
What about intelligent application of labour?
We have been developing automation for many years.
All factories can be thought of as automation in a sense.
Even ancient water powered crushers in mining are a form of automation.
Modern digital computers allow automation to any level of logic desired. And once a process has been automated once, it can be duplicated at close to no cost.
So even the most difficult of intellectual tasks can now be fully automated. Aeroplanes can now be flown fully on remote, and regularly are – far more safely than if a human is controlling them. We can now do this with cars also – though the technology exists it is legal only in Nevada State at present.
Watson winning Jeopardy is an example of how much better computers can be than any human at any specific task (humans are still better general purpose systems, and that will change sometime soon – most experts in the field agree that the timeframe is less than 20 years).
When that happens, the economic value of human intellect will drop to less than the cost of raising a human child.
So clearly – the idea of valuing humans on any aspect of output fails the test of it being fair (or not being unfair).
So we are left with some very deep questions about aspects of the idea of equality are fair, and what are not?
Clearly equality of outcome doesn’t work, as for some people climbing mountains has no value, and for others it is their highest value, and for most it ranks somewhere between those extremes.
So what about equality of opportunity?
What sort of equality of opportunity might meet the test of fairness (or not unfairness)?
I think most would agree that if everything can be produced at little or no cost, then meeting the basic needs of every human being ought to be a given.
Thus the first level of fairness would be to guarantee the basics to everyone – fresh air, clean water, healthy food, safe shelter (safe from all known dangers – however infrequent), adequate energy, access to information and travel, adequate medical help and access to education in whatever discipline happens to take one’s interest. These are the essentials of life that can be “easily” automated and distributed to everyone.
What one then chooses to do with them is a matter of choice.
How does one organise social interaction in a world where people are no longer valued for their output, but simply for their existence?
What sorts of ways of interaction balance the freedom of self with the freedoms of others, in a world where all are subject to the consequences of action (where even inaction has consequences in this sense, and is a member of the possible classes of actions)?
It seems to me that it all comes down to values.
It seems clear to me that the only set of values that offers any sort of universal security is to value all sapient life equally (human and non human, biological and non-biological).
It seems clear that the next most valuable thing is the freedom of action – subject to the impact of those actions on the life and liberty of others.
Note that freedom of action is not freedom from the consequence of action. Freedom comes with responsibility, they cannot be separated.
And given that we are finite entities (though vast in our capabilities) – it seems that we need to apply the test of reasonableness to all things.
It seems clear to me that no rule based system of laws can ever work in all situations.
It seems that there will always be individuals who are exploring domains of thought and action that are beyond anything that the makers of the laws had envisaged.
So it seems clear to me that all things come back to a test of reasonableness against the fundamental values of life (first) and liberty (second).
And as we are all reliant on other living entities for our existence, then the impact of our actions on the environment and the ecosystems that support us all are an important set of considerations in all actions, particularly when the cumulative effects of billions of tiny impacts are considered.
This sort of thinking is part of the responsibility to consider the life and liberty of all others, as well as self.
So it seems clear to me that the evolution of equality demands that we empower all individuals with the levels of liberty that they are able of demonstrating responsibility for – and as a bare minimum, for all – it includes those mentioned above.
It seems clear to me that the idea of using markets to judge value has reached the end of its social utility for humanity, as only an ever smaller subset of humanity are capable of generating the sort of intellectual output that can deliver more market based value than fully automated systems – leaving most people with ever decreasing prospects of freedom and security in a market based system.
It seems clear to me, that if we are to have any sort of security, on any sort of reasonable timescale, then we must value sapience above any sort of output, and deliver all the material needs required to empower that sapience to do whatever it responsibly chooses.
Our current market based system of values appears anathema to that at many different levels.
For me, it is clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that equality demands of us that we move beyond markets, and deliver universal abundance of all necessities to all sapient entities – exceptions only in respect of liberty for those who fail the test of reasonable responsibility.
And developing alternative methods of relating will take a while, and we did that before we invented money, and we can do so again.
It is not really a substitution of human nature.
It seems to me that for most individuals, the drive to dominate and control stems from insecurity and or self interest at some set of levels.
What I am attempting to do is to demonstrate in logic, that if one takes a very long term view of self interest, then the most efficient way to maximise both personal security and the options available, is to deliver security and abundance to everyone.
And one has to be willing to consider all the risk profiles involved.
The major risk profile comes from entities far more intelligent than ourselves, whether those entities are biological or non-biological in nature, whether they have evolved on earth or elsewhere.
The only effective tool we have to reduce the risk is to demonstrate by our actions that we are not a risk to them.
The only effective way to do that is to demonstrate by our actions that we value all sapient life – and are prepared to go to some considerable lengths to protect sapient life from harm.
Clearly our current social structures, which are based on markets values, which value sapience only for their productive output, and care little for life and liberty (as demonstrated by the willingness of the military industrial complex to perpetuate warfare) fail such a test.
Clearly we are a threat to any emerging or visiting intelligence, and that single fact is clearly the greatest threat to our own survival as individuals and as a species.
I have no reasonable doubt that within 20 years we will have the capacity to automate any process of production.
Similarly I have no reasonable doubt that within the same time-frame we will be able to extend human life-spans indefinitely.
If indefinite life extension is delivered in a market based paradigm, where access to it is limited only to those with sufficient money, then the injustices that will result, will create a set of retributions that will make it a very dangerous place to live (which kind of defeats the purpose). The only mathematically stable way to deliver really long life, is to deliver it to everyone, with equal security.
So I am not relying on any sort of sudden magnanimity, just long term self interest, and constantly increasing standard of living for all, for the foreseeable future (several thousand years).
I can’t make the numbers add up on that orange squeezing business, unless he franchised it and employed extra people, and took a cut of their income.
I have done door to door sales, and I don’t care what the item is, you get more refusals than takers. I operated on about 5% success on a good day (19 refusals for every sale – hard emotionally).
To become a millionaire in 8 years, is a surplus of over $150K per year, after tax. That is a minimum turnover of $500K per year (being very frugal). To achieve that sort of turnover, means to average a $3.00 sale every minute of the working day. Given the need to go to a shop periodically, and to dump rubbish periodically, that seems highly improbable for door to door sales – even with 100% success rate.
It is possible for people to become millionaires. It does happen.
It is not possible (in our current system) for very many people to become millionaires. Only a very small fraction of those that try really hard can possibly succeed.
And yes – to succeed from nothing, you do have to work really hard.
Those who are born into wealth do not have that issue.
And many of those who succeed do so by taking advantage of others in some way – often by outright cheating and lying. It is extremely difficult to succeed in business if you are always truthful and always keep your word (you find yourself not wanting to be in business with many of those who have most of the money, and often being cheated in ways that are hard to prove in a court of law).
It seems to me that very rarely are people with money and power entirely truthful – even with themselves I suspect.
And equality before the law is a complete myth.
When it comes to the law, money very definitely buys power. The underdog can win occasionally, and the probabilities are definitely on the side of money. Very few people understand the role of precedent, the depth of case law, the redifinition of ordinary words that happens as a result. Being able to put an army of lawyers into searching out all relevant case law can go a long way towards building a strong case that increases the probability of winning any particular judgement.
For me, the current market based system, which is highly asymmetric for most, is based upon a value set that is past its “use by” date.
I agree with Judi – that we need to value individual life, and individual liberty, above all else.
We can easily do that now.
For far less effort than even a small nation like New Zealand puts into military spending, we could develop systems that automated the production of the essentials of life for every human being on the planet, end wars, bring about global security – and I am 99.9999% clear that it is impossible to do so from within a market based set of values (any market based set of values).
Once you really adopt the values of individual life and liberty, then markets are clearly seen for the exploitive mechanisms of control that they are.
For most of human history such exploitation has been necessary in a sense.
Now that we can automate things, that is no longer true.
To automate things inside a market based set of values leads to vast human misery – as most end up with nothing to contribute and thus get nothing – with resulting intolerance.
To automate things inside a set of values that has individual life and individual liberty as the highest values can lead to universal abundance and security – as automation fulfils all material needs and empowers tolerance and diversity.
Equality can only have any real fairness to it if it truly is equality of opportunity, if every person gets to lead whatever life they responsibly choose (in awareness of the impact of their actions on others – both directly, and indirectly through environmental impacts – and takes reasonable steps to mitigate all such risks to others).
There is a great deal in what you say that I agree with, and there are a couple of half truths in there that are at the root of most of the trouble we see in the world.
One is the idea that because anyone can become a millionaire, it is somehow fair.
That is not what Jesus talked about.
He talked about universality (as did Kant and many others).
In a market situation (as currently operated) it is not possible for everyone to become millionaires.
Universality is not an option.
In New Zealand about one person in 8,000 earns over one million dollars a year, whereas one in 3 earn under $15,000 per year (to put that in context – I am vegan and I spend about $15,000 per year on organic food – while they are paying rent, power, clothing, food etc out of theirs).
Markets and capital are fundamentally based in scarcity.
The whole system of capital works on the fact of continual increases in productivity, which make investment in new technology worth doing because in doing so you can keep your prices just below your competitors, but your profits high enough to recoup the investment plus some profit. So the timing of cycles of innovation is critical to the survival of the system.
The lie of capitalism is that all people can become rich – they can’t.
We certainly have the technology to provide everyone on the planet with a high standard of living, but the system that is capitalism as we know it today won’t allow that.
People are not taught by the system that they are infinitely creative and can do whatever they responsibly choose.
Most are taught by the system that they are stupid and have to obey and do what they are told.
The system has evolved to meet the needs of an elite, rather than to deliver universal abundance.
I know that if I need to get back into making money I have a job offer at $250 per hour, but in order to make that sort of money they demand most of my time and energy – my freedom is reduced by 90%.
I could probably make a lot more than that if I focussed my attention on software development. And it would almost certainly result in many people being made unemployed – my conscience has difficulty with that.
I know I can make the system work for me. The most I have made in one day is about $200,000.
And I have put very little energy into money making for a decade now – so cash reserves are getting very low.
I want to be able to live a long time.
That requires security at all levels.
There is no long term security for me in the sort of asymmetry of income that exists.
Being seen as wealthy makes you a target for many.
For me, earning too much money decreases my safety (makes me a target for entities that I simply don’t have enough money to be of interest to right now).
Long term, my security resides in universal abundance – universal cooperation, rather than any sort of fundamentally exploitive system (such as our current monetary/political system).
So right now I find myself in a really tricky spot, at the intersection of a bunch of probability curves, looking for a clear and stable and survivable path to universal abundance.
And I know myself well enough to know that I can perform at very high levels, but only for short periods, and I need a lot of rest to recover.
I agree with you that we can acknowledge the value of everyone, irrespective of wealth or belief or intellect.
And part of that is surely acknowledging that where we can easily put in place systems that help everyone, we have a moral responsibility to do so – if we really do value the life of others, and we’re not just saying the words as some sort of PC mantra ?
I have always been strongly attracted to many of the teachings of Jesus, at least in respect of the treatment of other human beings – I think his intuition got that bit near enough to right. It was just a historical reality that the dominant context of the time was God based, and that was the schema available to him that made most sense – at that time.
I can understand that.
Given the information available today – it doesn’t make so much sense to me.
And I also get that most people are ignorant of most of the information and the conceptual systems available to structure that information, that are available today – so I understand why the notion of god retains a certain popularity, and it seems highly improbable to me.
And I am a self confessed geek – I love exploring conceptual systems.
I don’t do dogma – scientific, religious or otherwise.
I look at evidence.
I explore alternative explanatory frameworks (both those suggested by others and those I create for myself).
I make my own assessments of likely probabilities associated with any set of evidence or explanation in any set of contexts.
Sometimes I make mistakes – life is like that!