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In this interesting article on whether “we” want more equality or something else, the author includes a discussion of an idea that is very common:

People might be troubled by what they see as unjust causes of economic inequality, a perfectly reasonable concern given how much your income and wealth are determined by accidents of birth, including how much money your parents had, your sex, and the color of your skin.

There is no question at all that I, myself, had no agency in where and how I was born. Just as I had no say in whether I was born in the U.S. versus Zambia, I had no say about whether I was born to a lower-middle-class family in Queens versus a 7th generation Boston Brahmin. Fine. But here is where you get yourself walked out of the dinner party …

Did my parents have no agency about my particular circumstances? In other words, while I had no say about what my lot in life would (presumably) be, my parents surely did. I suspect that if my parents had this feeling that their kids would have no future, have no way to improve their condition, then they would have been less likely to have given birth to the six of us (I have 5 siblings). Indeed, wouldn’t the high birth rates in the poorest countries of the world be even harder to explain if folks had no optimism about their childrens’ futures? I am not sure this ponderance changes anything, but it is remarkably under-discussed in these matters.

Here is a previous edition in this series.

Here is an example of how you get univited from polite company on a major scale (as he already has):

It follows that there is less need for government to fund science: Industry will do this itself. Having made innovations, it will then pay for research into the principles behind them. Having invented the steam engine, it will pay for thermodynamics. This conclusion of Mr. Kealey’s is so heretical as to be incomprehensible to most economists, to say nothing of scientists themselves.

For more than a half century, it has been an article of faith that science would not get funded if government did not do it, and economic growth would not happen if science did not get funded by the taxpayer. It was the economist Robert Solow who demonstrated in 1957 that innovation in technology was the source of most economic growth—at least in societies that were not expanding their territory or growing their populations. It was his colleagues Richard Nelson and Kenneth Arrow who explained in 1959 and 1962, respectively, that government funding of science was necessary, because it is cheaper to copy others than to do original research.

“The problem with the papers of Nelson and Arrow,” writes Mr. Kealey, “was that they were theoretical, and one or two troublesome souls, on peering out of their economists’ aeries, noted that in the real world, there did seem to be some privately funded research happening.” He argues that there is still no empirical demonstration of the need for public funding of research and that the historical record suggests the opposite.

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