Muscle Inequality

by Don Boudreaux on June 21, 2011

in Inequality

Here’s a letter to Washington, DC, news radio station WTOP:

Programming Director, WTOP Radio

Dear Sir or Madam:

Driving from the gym during today’s 1pm hour I caught your report on Sunday’s Washington Post article about income inequality.  Your reporter presumes that income differences necessarily reflect something amiss.

That presumption is mistaken.

I spend about six hours weekly (and weakly) lifting weights at the gym.  The modesty of my effort combines with my age (early 50s) to ensure that I’ll never be as buff as younger guys who spend more time at the gym than I do.  The result is muscle inequality!  And I’m tempted to feel envious.  I want to be as bulging-biceped, broad-shouldered, and chiseled as are my young gym-rat friends.

Really, though, how seriously do I want this outcome?  I could build more muscle if I spent not six hours weekly at the gym but, rather, six hours daily.  But I choose not to do so.  Spending more time at the gym means spending less time working (that is, earning income), less time with family and friends, and less time doing other things that I judge to be worthwhile.  The fact that I’d be more buff if being more buff were costless is irrelevant.  It’s not costless; therefore, the size of my muscles is largely the result of the way I choose to make trade-offs.

So I resist the temptation to envy men with bigger muscles (men whose muscles, do note, were not built with fiber taken from my muscles).  And if muscle redistribution by government were possible, I’d oppose it.  Not only would the result be less muscle bulk to ‘redistribute’ (Would you pump weights for hours each day knowing that a large chunk of what you build will be stripped away and given to someone else?) but, more importantly, I’m not entitled to the confiscated fruits of other people’s efforts.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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