As the Inequality Symposium continues on League of Ordinary Gentlemen, guest poster Snarky McSnarksnark puts forth some philosophical questions on society and inequality. I provide them here for everyone with my responses:
What is the purpose of a society?
Biologically, to continue to exist, period. Beyond that, well we’re here with other people and might as well make the most of it, since a truly solitary life sucks.
Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?
This leans a lot on the definitions people plug in for “gross” and “public good”. As people have different talents, skills, abilities, whatever you call it, there’s going to be variance barring some rather draconian restraints on civil society. However, go too far the other direction and you get the livelihood, liberty, and even at the furthest extreme life itself sacrificed in service of a false claim of “public good” that really is only a good for an elite few against the masses. Here this results in absurdities like the Kelo ruling, abroad and in past civilizations it has meant even far worse.
Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?
Assuming by “relatively classless” you’re not referring to primitive society, I’m inclined to say yes, because the latter has no inherent legitimacy. It’s impossible to have a firm class system where no one asks “why is so’n'so on the top, and why are we on the bottom?”, and that question leads inevitably to erosion of the system, open attempts at dismantling, or reactionary oppression of those asking it — which eventually results in the other two options in the long run anyway.
Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?
If you mean a legitimate role: absolutely not. What role governments do play amount to the formal expressions of the ruling class; if consensus actually exists then there’s no reason for an enforcement mechanism.
Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem?
To the extent that the differences arise from structural injustice, yes.
Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?
Problem is, governments have been willing to exacerbate such injustices forever, at best only reaching a point of Break Legs, Then Hand Out Crutches. The interests of the rulers and the ruled never line up because to stop the leg-breaking (that is, dismantle the structural injustice that leads so many to need assistance in the first place) would undermine the point to ruling. So “should they have a (positive) role?” is a brick question: they can’t anyway.
Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)
There are things people generally need, true. Ideally the provision of this type of aid would be disconnected from government as we know it though, as the baggage that comes with introducing 3rd party power isn’t worth the hassle IMO (you want to help the poor, instead government blows it on weapons and increasing surveillance of you, then has the nerve when people question it to say “what would you do without it?”. Umm…actually see that money get to the poor instead of in Boeing’s ledger?).
Barring the rise of mutual aid in a post-state society, the least-bad option for this would be charging the recipients of state privilege an amount sufficient to fund a Citizen’s Dividend: tax land value, profit from natural resource extraction, & finance transactions, then directly give the proceeds back to the general public as compensation for putting up with this system. It’d still be the state, but at least it’d be simple and no one would starve. I’m not holding my breath though.
As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?
Hell no, and hell no.
Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?
Strongly doubtful. I’d rather see conscious efforts at undermining that power and nullifying the gains from it.
Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?
They’re not going to in the ways repeatedly expected by mainstream liberalism. Hell, a regulation is pretty much what stepped between BP and bankruptcy.
If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?
Beyond relative peace & free commerce among political equals, I couldn’t think of anything else. Intricate design of society is for people that want to control others.