Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Egalitarians for Resource Depletion?

Here's a curiosity. Suppose there is some scarce resource, which can either be used by us for a temporary boost in welfare, or invested for the greater benefit of all future generations. Further suppose that improvements in technology etc. mean that the standard of living is steadily improving, so that future generations will be better off than we are. Then it seems that egalitarianism recommends we deplete the resource, selfishly expending it on ourselves. Doesn't that seem odd? (Maybe it's just my utilitarian intuitions playing up again.)

P.S. For other curious facts, you should read Will Wilkinson: "while nominal inequality is increasing, material inequality continues to decrease. As market competition pushes prices down, goods at the bottom of the price range more and more closely approximate goods at the top of the price range." I hadn't thought of that before.

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4 comments:

  1. Egalitarians ARE strange.
    but then again egalitarians may not believe in considering equality across time.

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  2. Well, on the intuitive front, I don't find it odd at all. If we're suffering due to mere circumstance of the time period that we're born in, it might seem fair that we're compensated with greater rights to depletable resources.

    Second, it's worth pointing out that the same problem arises for non-egalitarian consequentialists, given the truth of diminishing marginal utility. It might be the case that we'll gain more from depleting those resources now than future generations will lose through not having access to them, at least when you're measuring benefit in terms of, say, mental happiness.

    (It's probably worth pointing out that I doubt this debate has any factual relevance to most issues of resource depletion in the world )

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  3. Of course, if we would get the most benefit (strictly contradicting my description of the case) then there's no "problem" at all.

    But on the first point, I guess the egalitarian can frame their position, as you do, to sound more plausible than I'd put it.

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  4. Sorry, my bad. My basic point was that for almost any real world dilemma of this kind, egalitarianism and consequentialism are both going to have similar results, given that they are both committed to material equality in some sense.

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