Last year I was at the California Republicans' Convention. Most of the people there were very attractive and well dressed.

A few weeks later I went to the California Democrats' Convention. There, most of the people were markedly unattractive. A lot of the younger crowd were actively unattractive. One guy stands out in my memory; long greasy hair, facial piercings, dirty clothes.

(Libertarians are still the most attractive!)

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Isn't the lack of any real support for all types of inequality the best refutation of John Rawls' Theory of Justice, which supposedly motivates egalitarianism?

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I think that we feel differently about categories like beauty, intelligence, talent, etc. because those are, by nature, measures of quality or capability. Beauty, by definition, is the degree to which people take pleasure in looking at you. Intelligence, by definition, is skill at cognitive tasks. Fast-twitch muscles make you a better sprinter. These traits may not be virtues in the sense that they're willed -- they may be products of chance -- but they are capabilities. It is also something of a superiority to be non-disabled, in that a disability by its nature makes it difficult or impossible for you to do at least one thing that able-bodied people can do.

Race and gender, on the other hand, are not by definition measures of quality or capability. Yes, women can make babies and men can't, and men are generally stronger, so sex can correlate with certain abilities, but "female" and "male" are not themselves measures of ability. It cannot be unequivocably and by definition better to be white than black, in the same way that it is by definition better to be strong than weak, beautiful than ugly, or intelligent than stupid.

Wealth is a different story. Someone with a high income is by definition better at earning money. (As with beauty, this is independent of effort or desert.) And, in itself, more wealth is better than less wealth. I would say that it is better to be rich than poor in the same way that it is better to be beautiful than ugly.

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It would be very easy to give special subsidies to people who are short or to institute affirmative action in sports teams in favor of the weaker, smaller, or less talented. We could impose special taxes on industries rewarding the beautiful -- such as modeling or fashion. We could severely limit anything resembling intelligence testing in college admissions. There are many kinds of policies that are extensions of existing policies in place. For example, companies are now afraid to give IQ tests to applicants because of Duke v. Griggs thus forcing college signaling as an alternative. Stricter extensions of those cases would penalize the clever even more. We could make it tax all professional sports more heavily, thus penalizing those whose many assets are athletic. We could force equal funding of basketball and basket weaving programs at all high schools. We could severely restrict social clubs like frats and sororities.

None of these policies would be good, but all are not that far removed from things that have been routinely done already.

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Simples explanation I can think of: We only intervene in the expressly economic realm.

Welfare and taxation are our main redistributive schemes, and they deal exclusively with money. Laws meant to prohibit discrimination deal principally with economic concerns. They prohibit discrimination in hiring, housing, and during employment. There are no laws that prevent me from making lewd catcalls or refusing to associate with Asian people, so long as I do it on my own time. We don't have any laws that explicitly tax one race and compensate another with the revenue. All, or nearly all, of our laws seek to ensure equal access to pursue economic interest, rather than explicitly compensating people for inequality. All the redistributive schemes those papers mention are completely unlike anything that currently exists.

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Lets get on with this plan.... I am going to be rich.

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No one seeks to address another widely perceived form of looks discrimination -- that pretty people are dumb or ditzy. Just imagine how many beautiful people have been kept out of good jobs because the ugly and plain people in HR thought to themselves, "God, look at how much time she spent on her hair and make-up -- clearly just another dumb cheerleader type." Or perhaps, "This guy spends too much time at the gym."

I hereby call for affirmative action to drive more good-looking people into academic departments, IT divisions, and other sectors where the "pretty = dumb" mindset reigns.

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Beauty is a far more subjective attribute than wealth, gender and ethnicity.

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You might be amused to learn that the District of Columbia's antidiscrimination statute includes "personal appearance" as a protected category.

From the relevant law:

“Personal appearance” means the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to, hair style and beards. It shall not relate, however, to the requirement of cleanliness, uniforms, or prescribed standards, when uniformly applied for admittance to a public accommodation, or when uniformly applied to a class of employees for a reasonable business purpose; or when such bodily conditions or characteristics, style or manner of dress or personal grooming presents a danger to the health, welfare or safety of any individual.

Additionally, Michigan forbids discrimination based on height.

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Closer to the point is Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, where the titular protagonist, a genuine ubermensch, is required to handicap himself in extreme fashion in a society that permits no natural advantages.

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Robin, I think that the desire to redistribute material wealth is part of our behavioral heritage that enabled (some) people to survive through difficult times in the past, before the era of states and governments. Nations today are viewed, on the emotional level, as the equivalent of pre-historic tribes, and the same desire to redistribute comes into play.

I view the dichotomy between redistributionist and libertarian worldviews as one rooted in basic values. Both modes of social organization worked to some degree in the past: the latter one enabling faster progress and higher average material wealth, the former one leading to higher survival in difficult times. Thus both of these modes have their adherents today, and they cannot be reconciled through logical arguments alone.

Needless to say, there were never any benefits from forms of social organization in which other sources of disadvantage were systematically moderated (height, beauty, etc.).

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Yes, but perhaps my last line isn't clear.

Money is produced by the state, and private property is defined and defended by the state. So it makes sense for the state to be involved in the distribution of income (or not -- but still that's a state decision).

Social esteem, sex, etc., are not tied to organized public activity. While the state could involve itself in these matters, it would dramatically expand the realm of the state. Involvement in economic matters is not so because the state is necessarily involved by maintaining currency, defining property rights, and by providing public services.

So, it seems to me there is valid rationale to separate the economic domain from the social domain. We accept the social injustice of ugliness as something not worth the "cost" (in expanded purview of the state) to fix, but consider economic injustice as worth it, since the state is already involved. Indeed, one might view gross income inequality as a consequence of the state (which protects for instance "intellectual" property), in which case one might consider it the obligation of the state to correct its injustice.

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We all share in the boon of having beautiful people around in a way that you don't from having other minority groups. We don't want minimum quotas for ugly people in movies not because we're not concerned about inequality, but because we appreciate beauty.

Another point, though the extent is often exaggerated, judgments of beauty (or ugliness) are much more subjective than the other inequalities listed and therefore much harder to address through distribution.

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Remember Marxism: from each according to ability, to each according to need. Even this formulation incorporates philosophically the concept of difference. Why? I've often thought about this because, to me, this revealed how the philosophy was cobbled together; it proclaimed change while preserving the differences that made change impossible. It's not that I expected a philosophy to eliminate these acknowledged differences but that incorporating them meant the entire thing was a wishful sham.

No cream or surgery can make tall people the same height as short people - and income follows height. Extensive surgery can only partially make the symmetries people find attractive - and then at a cost of plasticity that can overwhelm the "improvement."

So the real questions, for me, are the extent to which we can:

a) investigate our judgements about these deeply rooted differences (such as tall = better).b) act on them in a rational manner.c) understand the limits to any attempts to mitigate differences and not waste effort, which means more rational effort not no effort.

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You can easily find conservative defenses of stupidity (mocked here); after all, the best argument for relying on tradition is the belief that we are too stupid to figure out what changes will work.

Not quite the same thing as defending stupid people as a class, to be sure.

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I gave a shot at answering the same question in my last weekly opinion column.


"Publicly calling for a redistribution of money to help poor children get health care says, “I’ll sacrifice my interests to make sure our future children will be cared for in sickness,” and we can see people taking that strategy.

Calling for redistributions for “my short, ugly, fat, loveless children” isn’t a good evolutionary strategy. Perhaps that’s why it’s only facetiously done."

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