What warrants explaining: equality or inequality?

Follow up to: Thomas Sowell on income inequality

Today Yahoo News reported the this Live Science article:

Conservatives Happier Than Liberals

Individuals with conservative ideologies are happier than liberal-leaners, and new research pinpoints the reason: Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person’s tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: “It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” and “This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.”

Upon reading this I smelled something fishy. My question, which reveals that I’ve learned something from Thomas Sowell, was: Why did the study assume that inequality was something to be explained? Why not ask people who expect equality (however defined) to be the “normal” state of affairs to explain why they think it’s normal?

In his essay, Race, Culture, and Equality, Thomas Sowell starts off listing several historical instances of inequality. He then asks

Why are there such disparities? In some cases, we can trace the reasons, but in other cases we cannot. A more fundamental question, however, is: Why should anyone have ever expected equality in the first place? …

Given similar educational disparities among other groups in other countries– disparities in both the quantity and quality of education, as well as in fields of specialization– why should anyone expect equal outcomes in incomes or occupations? …

Groups also differ demographically. It is not uncommon to find some groups with median ages a decade younger than the median ages of other groups, and differences of two decades are not unknown. …

It makes sense to blame human beings for biased rules and standards. But who is to be blamed for circumstances that are the results of a confluence of all sorts of conditions of the past and present, interacting in ways that are hard to specify and virtually impossible to disentangle?

The whole essay is worth reading.


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