Mapping inequality and world order

The thing about writing both on inequality and on world order is that I get to see how, on the first set of issues, many people in an audience solemnly intone, “Something must be done to reduce inequality”; while on the second, they go, “Why should Great Powers such as the US or China care about any nation but themselves? Great Powers only do whatever serves their self interests; that’s how it has always been. Smaller nations should just learn to look out for themselves.”

That is, people in the street say:

Disparity across individuals: “Man, that’s cold. Just ain’t right.”

Disparity across nations: “Oh, yeah, OK, I’m cool with that.”

[Sadly, I’m often one of those people in the street.]

An obvious point is that within a given polity, public policy might mitigate inequality across citizens, but no global government exists to enforce a level playing field across sovereign nations. But we should distinguish two things: first, whether there is a problem, and what the scale is of that problem; and second, whether a mechanism exists that might address the challenge. These are logically distinct. A problem isn’t lessened in seriousness simply because we have no instrument to fix it.

Or, put it another way: Does humanity have an aversion to inequality? The answer to that question is either yes or no; it can’t depend on whether tools exist to change the inequality we see around us.

No matter the size of your opponent... always give it your all

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