Neil Reynolds on Inequality
Another over the top tirade in today’sÂ Globe from Neil Reynolds for whom “equality is the stuff of gulags and guillotines.” (Dion Gets it Wrong on Real Freedom. Globe and Mail. December 15.)Â
Â Mr Reynolds appears to be entirely unfamiliar with the best comparative empirical resarch on the topic, generally available fromÂ from the Luxemburg Income Survey (ww.lis.org) Â which specializes in comparative studies of income distribution and poverty.
Entirely contrary t0 his argument, relative income equality is neitherÂ mathematically contradictory nor unattainable, Relative child povery rates in the Nordic countries (household income less than half of median) are half or less than the comparableÂ Canadian /US/ UK rates. There is absolutely no “mathematical” reason why relative poverty rates in Canada could not be cut substantially.
Â Moreover,Â Reynolds is simply empirically wrong to suggest thst the poor in rich countries are absolutely better off than the poor in more equal advanced industrial countries – a point detailed at empirical length in the LIS research papers by Lee Rainwater and others . The bottom 20% or so in Sweden are well ahead of the bottom 20% in the US,Â in absolute as well as in relative terms (and even more so if we adjust for access to public and social services.) The social situation of the bottomÂ 20% in the US is an affront to the values of a civilized society, rather than a salutary lesson that a rising tide lifts all boats. As Amartya Sen has detailed, mortality and morbidity rates in high equality developing world societies such as Kerala are superior to those of the US under-class.
Reynolds is empirically wrong to argue that there is no connection between equality of condition and equality of opportunity. Inter-generational income mobility – the key empirical indicator of realÂ equalityof opportunity – is higher in Canada than in the US, and higher in most parts of social democratic Europe than in Canada. (See Corak’s studies for StatsCan.) Real opportunity of life-chances for children demands some degree of substantive equality between parents, and high inequality societies are also low opportunity societies.
Last but not least, Reynolds is at odd with his ideologicsal mentor, Adam Smith, who consistently argued for a relative rather than absolute definition of poverty. To be poor, he argued, was to be without the means of self-respect in a particular mular communityb at a particular point in time.