05 October 2009

Four Things I Think about Privilege

EconLog | David Henderson | The Real Meaning of Privilege, David Henderson
Once we start using the word "privilege" where what we really mean is "wealth," we start applying this term to those who came by their wealth without special privilege-the Bill Gateses of the world, sure, but also the more-common successful businessmen or professionals who are earning a few million dollars a year down to a few hundred thousand dollars a year and who don't show up on any "richest people" lists. The vast majority of people who get rich in even a semifree economy such as ours do so by producing goods and services that others value. But because the word "privilege" carries a negative connotation, when we call someone "privileged," we are communicating, even if unintentionally, that this person came by his money dishonestly. And if you think that this is not a major issue, consider what President Obama's first budget book, an official U.S. government publication, said about the highest-income people in the United States: "While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not."
This is from my "The Real Meaning of Privilege."
(1) I think the matter of privilege is a very real and serious issue which is inadequately discussed.

(2) I think this issue is most often discussed on the Left.

(3) I think the Left does a very sloppy job of critiquing privilege, in ways such as the one Henderson points out above.

(4) I think the Right uses this sloppiness as an excuse to put its collective head in the sand and ignore privilege entirely.

This turns into the prototypical conservative/liberal argument:

L: At least I care about the problem!
C: But your solution is wrong!
L: But at least I care!
C: But you're wrong!
L: But I care!

The liberal rarely comes up with a correct approach, the conservative rarely comes up with any approach.
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected
— G.K. Chesterton

I feel awkward and defensive when the subject of economic inequality comes up. The fact is that I cannot say that I feel comfortable with the levels of inequality and excess that exist in our society.


What the American people really should feel awkward and defensive about is the level of inequality and excess of political power. Instead of asking ourselves what we can do about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, we should be asking ourselves about what we can do about the Clintons and the Eliot Spitzers. Those who want more and more power should be our biggest concern.

— Arnold Kling, Orange County Register, 22 June 2008

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