Re: [OPE-L] status equality

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Feb 16 2005 - 02:50:49 EST

At 11:41 PM -0800 2/12/05, Ian Wright wrote:
>Hi Rakesh
>>  They are equal in having those causal powers but they do not have
>>those causal powers in equal measure.
>That's a better way of putting it.
>>  There will always be individual variation in that ability to move
>>[ in the division of labour]. And there is no reason why a
>>socialist society should not be willing to treat people unequally,
>>i.e. give extra training to those who need it. But this might not
>>be justifiable if we are to treat people in the same abstract
>>terms, as abstract equals.  People would also still be unequal in
>>terms of their needs. I may have children, you do not. But if we
>>were to be paid equally, treated as formal equals, then this would
>>mean inequality.
>I don't think objective equality of causal powers implies that
>everyone should get paid exactly the same. Some parts of the division
>of labour may be particularly unpleasant or dangerous, for instance.

But this still implies equal pay for equal work, with some kind of
premium for unpleasant or dangerous work. Where does that principle
derive from?

>>  I think there are enormous ideological pressures to reify people as
>>  abstract equals of others. How else could the labor contract appear
>>  just and free?
>No, I don't think this is quite right. Isn't the ideology that we have
>equal formal status in the marketplace,

OK so in the marketplace all commodity owners and all labor  enjoy
equal formal status. Or at least there are strong ideological and
practical pressures in that direction.

>  but we are highly unequal in
>our abilities?  So the story goes that we all have equal
>opportunities, and hence the extraordinary wealth of the capitalist
>class is due to merit, not exploitation. Top CEOs happen to be highly
>skilled, intelligent kinds of workers, and their incomes are a
>reflection of that.

Who believes that?

>This set of ideas is saying that it is the inequality of the causal
>powers of humans that is properly reflected in huge income
>inequalities, because the economic game is fair, providing equal
>opportunities for all.

OK so we do have the idea that everyone should not be deprived on
account of their status (or inherited group identity) of the freedom
to attempt to obtain equal value for whatever commodities that they
own. The owner of the product of any kind of labor--leather working,
gold mining, journalism writing--can get equal value for the
expenditure of that labor, considered however not concretely but
abstractly as any other kind of labor.  The commodity is a born
leveller. It gives rise to a well entrenched ideology of equality and
cult of the abstract individual.

I think you want to represent these ideological-legal effects of
bourgeois society as progress. I am not quite sure. For example,
should we give up any kind of qualitative judgements just because the
marketplace does? Should we elevate all labor to the same status just
because the market equally rewards arms building and food production
as expenditures of so much abstract labor? Aren't there problems with
the idea that everyone should be equal and thus receive the value of
whatever commodity it is that they alienate? Could not positive
inequality be a social good? And so on with the ABC's of ethical

>  It appears as a kind of meritocracy. Witness
>Schumpeter's gyrations to try and define a rare, psychological type,
>with causal powers distinct from his fellow man, that heroically risks
>the loan to try out new combinations and get the just reward. Here the
>mismatch is between a fair society but an unfair nature. This is what
>I meant by the huge ideological pressures to view each other as
>But the reality is the opposite: there is equality of causal powers of
>humans but they participate in an economic game that is unfair, which
>only provides unequal opportunities, and this is the cause of huge
>income inequalities. The cause of economic inequality is structural,
>and is not explained by the unequal causal powers of humans.

But this seems to be a non sequitar. Just because almost of all
income inequality in this society is not explained by interindividual
variance in causal powers does not mean that there is not such
variance and that a socialist society would have to "deal" with it.

Yours, Rakesh

>The real
>mismatch is between a fair nature but an unfair society.
>It is a very low probability event that a single individual could
>contribute to the firm product such that their meritorious income is,
>say, 300 times that of the average worker, which is what many CEOs
>receive. A worker contributing 300 times more than the average is a
>bit like H20 behaving like N2O, a laughable occurrence.
>Presumably in a more democratically organised economy the income
>distribution would have a single regime with a lower dispersion than
>that found in capitalism, with its two regimes and high dispersion.

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