The Illusions of Egalitarianism

Here is a consequence of egalitarianism. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, men’s life expectancy is on the average about 7 years less than women’s. There is thus an inequality between men and women….Egalitarians, thus must see it as a requirement of justice to equalize the life expectancy of men and women. This can be done, for instance, by men having more and better health care than women; by employing fewer men and more women in stressful or hazardous jobs; and by men having shorter work days and longer vacations than women…There remains the question of how to compensate the present generation of men for the injustice of having shorter lives than women. No compensation can undo the damage, but it may make it easier to bear. The obvious policy is to set up preferential treatment programs designed to provide for men at least some of the benefits they would have enjoyed had their life expectancy been equal to women’s. There is a lot of pleasure that could be had in those 7 years that men are not going to have. And since those years would have come at the end of their lives, when they are more likely to know their minds, their loss affects not only the quantity but also the quality of their not-to-be-had pleasures. One efficient way of compensating them for their loss is to set up government sponsored pleasure centers in which men may spend the hours and days gained from having shorter working days and longer vacations.

Read the whole post, taken from John Kekes’s new book The Illusions of Egalitarianism. I have long felt that egalitarianism makes no sense. I can understand assigning a priority to the interests of the poor. Donate a dollar to an orphan, not to Bill Gates. But the plight of the orphan is not worse because Gates exists (in practical terms quite the contrary). Nor do we worry about the “inequality” between the millionaires and the billionaires in Beverly Hills. Let’s not confuse egalitarianism with benevolence toward the needy.


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