I've always steered clear of Ayn Rand. As a 'libertarian or 'classical liberal', I've often been accused of being some Rand fanboy and I was always abI've always steered clear of Ayn Rand. As a 'libertarian or 'classical liberal', I've often been accused of being some Rand fanboy and I was always able to reply that I'd never read one of her books. But I don't suppose you can avoid it forever.
Rand exists as both novelist and political philosopher and the two cannot be entirely disentangled. This short book, really a novella, is a sort of parable illustrating the key points of Rand's Objectivist philosophy. As a literature it actually works better than I'd been led to expect. The last couple of sections might be a bit overblown, but it is worth remembering that this is written in the first person by a character escaping from a lifetime of deadening submergence in a collective.
As political philosophy Anthem is not the evil book that some of these reviews would have you believe. It is based on the simple and obvious observation that people exist as individuals and that when people say 'we' do this or think that what they really mean is that some of us do this or think that and extending that action or thought over people who might not do or think it is wrong.
Either way, if you think you might like or hate Rand as writer and/or philosopher, this book is probably a good place to start. ...more
In a world plagued by ISIS and facing the supposedly existential threat of climate change, President Obama has still called income inequality "the defIn a world plagued by ISIS and facing the supposedly existential threat of climate change, President Obama has still called income inequality "the defining challenge of our time". In this short, tightly argued book, Frankfurt argues that it isn't.
Why is income inequality so dreadful? There are roughly two schools of thought on this. The first can be called 'consequentialist'. Examples include The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, or Joseph Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality. These books argue that income inequality leads to all sorts of bad outcomes in society; more violence, poverty, or general unhappiness, for example. But the causality, the mechanism by which inequality is supposed to generate these bad outcomes, is always a little vague, and much of it is based on spurious correlations; Wilkinson and Pickett's book was mercilessly eviscerated by Christopher Snowdon in The Spirit Level Delusion.
The other school argues more philosophically. According to these thinkers, income inequality is bad in itself, not because of its supposed consequences. It is this school that Frankfurt has in his sights, making Abba Lerner Ground Zero.
Lerner was an economist and his theory was grounded in economics. It was based on two premises; first, that all people had the same marginal utility of wealth, i.e., each person enjoyed their 509th unit of wealth as much as another person. The second, was that the marginal utility of wealth for each person declined (and at the same rate, as per premise one). It followed from this that the overall utility of all people in society could be maximised by an equal distribution of wealth.
But, as Frankfurt argues convincingly, neither premise is true. At the heart of Frankfurt's argument is the fact that wealth, pounds and dollars themselves, do not yield utility except to numismatists. What yields utility is the goods and services that wealth can be used to buy. Regarding the first premise, utilities are only ordinal, not cardinal. While preferences may be ranked for each person, they cannot be quantified and compared. For the second premise, if the addition of another unit of income allows you to buy something for £500 which yields you more utility than what you would have spent the £499 on, then marginal utilities of wealth do not necessarily decline.
Frankfurt's conclusion is that what matters is not inequality, whether one person has more than another, but sufficiency, whether those people have enough. This would seem to be true. If I have £X, and £X is sufficient for me to live my life, why should my situation be adversely affected if someone else has £X+1? There is only a problem if £X is not sufficient for me to live my life.
Inequality is a popular topic at present. As Frankfurt argues, it shouldn't be. This short book is both timely and effective. ...more