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Bill Harrison


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Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?

Google "Low social status is bad for your health. Biologists are starting to understand why" to read an Economist article describing how relatively low social status acts as an epigenetic trigger, which can contribute to inflammation, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc. In other words, relatively low social status makes you unhealthier, not just at the level of chronic stress and cortisol (see the work of Dr. Robert Sapolsky and the talk by Richard Wilkinson), but down to the level of your genes.

Consider also this idea by Robert Frank:

Namely, there are cases in which everyone pursuing their individual rational self interest leads to absurd or horrific outcomes, just as with the tragedy of the commons.

As primates, we are wired to seek and maintain high social status (for ourselves and our children.) If we fail to do so, arms race logic and our own epigenetic responses dictate that we will be worse off - you would be a sucker not to seek higher status, or to fail to give your children all the advantages (relative to other children) that you can, even if that means that kids who are smarter or more talented than your kids (impossible, I know, but humor me) don't get an equal shot.

See also this article describing how equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are essentially the same thing:

The government's role in the economy is to correct for such absurd outcomes, so that we can live and work more effectively together. In the 1950's we had a top marginal tax rate of 90%, yet today such talk is derided as "socialism," as though that's a bad thing. Given that relatively low social status has real negative (mental) health impacts upon people, how is it socially justified to have a country in which 25% of the income goes to 1% of the people?


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  • Apr 27 2012: The American economy needs a course correction, yes. But it's unrealistic to believe we could ever achieve complete economic equality. Communist societies have been attempting that since the beginning of time and it never lasts, if it even happens at all.

    The same thing goes for social equality. You could take the top 10 champion racehorses in the world and make them into a herd, and even though every one of them is better than any outside horse, one of them will still be the doormat of the group. Equality is simply not a sustainable condition.
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      Apr 27 2012: Sure, and I don't expect complete equality by any means, but I do expect to live in a country where there is social mobility, and at the moment we don't have that.

      And while I don't believe in complete equality, whatever that even means, I do know that in the 1950's, coming out of the Depression, we had a top marginal tax rate of 90% so no one could make more than the equivalent of 2 million dollars per year. Beyond that, you don't need the money to live well, and there's a good chance that you're not making that money through socially productive labor.

      You can say that CEO pay has to be 500 times what the worker of the company makes, because that's just how human dominance hierarchies work. But that's not how it is in other countries, and that's not how it was in the past.

      The Founding Fathers were obsessed with getting rid of "titles of nobility" so that we would have a meritocracy instead of a permanent aristocracy/plutocracy, and for good reason. Right now, wealthy plutocrats buy lobbyists who influence legislators to write rules in their own favor rather than in the public's interests, and this systematically funnels wealth, health, education, etc. toward the wealthy and not the common man. This is not what was intended by "of the people, by the people, for the people."

      Here's a video of Ronald Reagan arguing that it is completely wrong for millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. He would be called a Communist or *gasp* a socialist by today's GOP:

      Here's Malcolm Gladwell on how the US tax system is completely off the rails in favor of the wealthy:
      • Apr 30 2012: You're right of course. I would rather handle the problem the way Japan does - with a more consistent tax rate but a much smaller gap between the highest and lowest incomes. Tax rates are too easy to change.
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      May 3 2012: "But it's unrealistic to believe we could ever achieve complete economic equality."


      We can do anything with the effort of just a small percentage of us working toward it.

      How many people working together did it take to:

      create the atomic bomb
      write the UN Declaration of Human Rights
      put 12 men on the moon and bring them all back safely
      make a robot that plays violin
      read the sequence of DNA of homo sapiens and others... the list is ever growing
      put a synthesized genome in a bacterial cell and boot it up successfully
      create the largest, most up-to-date encyclopedia in history and give it free to everyone

      We have had a crewed space station circling the earth every 90 minutes for the last 11 years, an SUV sized robot circling Saturn sending pictures that take an hour to cross the solar system, another zipping around Mercury, hell, we got one 16.7 light-hours out there tasting fresh Milky Way space.

      Yes We Can

      C'mon people! W e m a d e m o n e y u p. The Fed types a number into a computer and *poof* that many hundreds of billions of dollars are created and entered into the system.

      We don't need EQUALITY, just a bottom that's above subsistence.

      How absurd to think we did all that and much, much more and we CAN'T put 7 billion people to bed with full stomachs?

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