Income inequality — the what can I do to make it better?

Income inequality has become a heated topic: Paul Graham wrote Refragmentation and Economic Inequality, Mark Suster joined. However, it felt that none of the VCs dug deep enough to the root of the issue or came up with anything really helpful to understand inequality well.

ForeignAffairs in their Jan/Feb issue have had a much better coverage of the topic.

A theory of equality needs to focus on the structure of society. It should rest on three principles: a recognition of people’s singularity (as opposed to individualism), the organization of reciprocity (in the relation of citizens to one another), and the constitution of commonality (for the community as a whole).

Pierre Rosanvallon in “How to Create a Society of Equals” argues that equality defined by our perception of our peers — all being a part of the same group, we need to be sure that everybody contributes to it and receives back a rightful amount of value. Being equal doesn’t mean same income, but it means everybody working together to create a better place to live in.

Capital is one great source of inequality. Inherited capital creates a number of privileges: nutrition, education, connections. Capital earned by entrepreneurs does the same, but it is very beneficial to the society — innovation and technology improves everybody’s condition. By and large capital comes with the political power, since our political system is skewed toward the wealthy.

There are purely technical problems we need to fix. Lawrence Lessig was running this year to put an end to lobbyism. Giving the wealthy a tax discounts with no clear benefit to society doesn’t make sense either. Extreme poverty destroys people’s dignity and could be solved by minimal wage or some version of it.

However, I naively believe that a solution to the inequality problem should be rooted in humanist values: if people were more empathetic with each other, they would use their power to improve the pain of others. Last December, Mark Zuckerberg’s has committed $45 billion to solve world’s problems, “.. because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation”. Mark has previously joined Bill & Melinda Gates campaign for the world wealthiest to pledge their money to philanthropy.

Billionaires giving away their money for a good cause sounds nice but what is so special about it? First of all, it is an acknowledgement of different congenial or acquired conditions that limit people around the world to fix their own lives (individual singularity as Rosanvallon puts it). Second, perception of the humanity as one, small, hermetic space, where happiness of inhabitants depends on well-being of neighbors (community). Third, reciprocity — desire to positively contribute to society that fostered us.

It is a great theory and indeed it outlines a framework. However, my own personal question doesn’t become more clear: “What can I do to make it better?”

Written by

Engineering Manager @ Instacart, ex- Uber, ex- Kiva Systems

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