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By William Letwin
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Extra resources for Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy
Since it might be expected that where all workers are paid equally, few would volunteer to do jobs which are especially burdensome, the need to have such work done would point to forcible direction of labour. And nothing can better illustrate inequality of burden or sacrifice than the practice of conscripting people into forms of service which, though highly valuable to the beneficiaries, are repugnant to the unlucky individuals forced to perform them. 5. Suppose a government tried to resolve the foregoing contradiction by establishing a rule which equalised pay per unit of effort, burden, discomfort or sacrifice - let us say, 38 THE CASE AGAINST EQUALITY LETWIN generally, per unit of disutility.
The doctrine, in short, rests on ignoring the simple and basic fact that free rational human beings adjust the amount of work they do in accordance with incentives to work, at least one of which incentives is the possibility of increasing one's private consumption. In short, Rawls's analysis of this point - which is far too elaborate to be dealt with comprehensively in these brief comments - is vitiated by his having assumed that all human beings do, or rationally should, avoid risk; and, secondly, that enforcing a more equal distribution of income need not depress the absolute level of everyone's income.
Nor could any sort of scientific or technical expertise answer the question objectively. Who can pretend to know exactly how much more disagreeable it is to operate a lathe at midnight than at noon? Of course, each individual can judge for himself how much extra pay it would take to induce him to exchange his present job for some other - though as such judgements involve comparison of known past conditions with predicted future conditions, t}:ley are liable to gross errors of estimation . Yet ignoring this imprecision, were an egalitarian to adopt the expressed individual tastes of each worker as the criterion for AGAINST EQUALITY: READINGS 39 determining the pay of each individual, he would have abandoned all hope of equalising pay in any sense other than equal pay per unit of felt disutility, and he would authorise instead great inequality among the annual incomes earned by different individuals.
Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy by William Letwin