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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Billy June 21, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Maybe this analogy fails – my intuition suggests there is a stronger positive correlation between the amount of time and energy spent well at the gym and the consequent physical results, when compared to the amount of time and energy one spends in order to earn income and the amount of income that person actually earns.

Don Boudreaux June 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Really? Why? My intuition is very different than yours.

While I concede that some people who become financially wealthy did nothing to deserve their wealth (and vice-versa), the notion that risk-taking, insight, hard-work, and talent are not highly positively correlated with financial success in market economies strikes me as bizarre.

Billy June 22, 2011 at 12:40 am

I agree – there is likely a high correlation between the qualities you mention and financial success (your assumption that I disagree with this is equally shocking!). But I said higher, not high, and surely there is a much greater number of people who don’t deserve their wealth (and vice-versa) than there are people who don’t deserve to be muscular (and vice-versa), despite the hard work of both groups. This disparity means that income equality may be a phenomenon that needs a greater level of explaining, as opposed to reducing it to something as straightforward as physical inequality.

All I said was that the analogy failed – as someone who is usually impressed with your succinct and tight arguments, I jump at the opportunity to point out a potential flaw!

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 4:19 am

Don Boudreaux: “While I concede that some people who become financially wealthy did nothing to deserve their wealth”

Billy: “surely there is a much greater number of people who don’t deserve their wealth”

What do you guys mean? Are you referring to people who fraudulently obtain wealth? or who obtain wealth illegally? Are you referring to inherited wealth?

I don’t understand this idea of “deserving” wealth.

Don Boudreaux June 22, 2011 at 5:31 am

I had in mind those relatively small handful of people in market-oriented economies who obtain wealth through acts of crony capitalism.

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 9:27 am

Thanks for the reply. Don.

I think you know my opinion about what you refer to as “crony capitalism” – that the evil is entirely on the hands of the elected official.

Methinks1776 June 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm

…and surely there is a much greater number of people who don’t deserve their wealth (and vice-versa) than there are people who don’t deserve to be muscular (and vice-versa),

Why are you so sure about that?

Methinks1776 June 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Not really. Genetics plays a large role in how you look, despite your efforts at the gym. No matter how much and how heavy Mr. Methinks lifts, his long muscles stretched over a tall body will never bulk up to make him look like anyone in the cast of the Jersey Shore. On the other hand, I am very short and bulk up easily. Just lifting very light weights puts me at risk of resembling a small gorilla.

ccc June 22, 2011 at 12:24 am

Even so what does that matter? Some men grow muscle better than others. Some people earn money more easily than others.

muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 2:09 am

The analogy fails on so many levels. The key thing is the presumption made that income inequality is independent of policy. It’s clearly VERY dependent on policy. The other logic-fail here is to presume that income can only be re-ditributed from rich to poor and not the other way around.

The inability of the conservative economist (yeah it’s the same as libertarian economist for practical purposes) to see this is what Professor Krugman points to when speaks of their inability to even consider the liberal economist’s position. They have blinders for things that aren’t coherent with their world view.

But it’s like evolution or anthropogenic climate change…. nature doesn’t care what unlearned skeptics have to say on the subject…. she will act out by very strict orders. Same goes for economies and income inequality. You simply can not have efficiency and massive inequality…. it doesn’t matter what the dogmatist claim.

russell June 22, 2011 at 7:49 am

“…this is what Professor Krugman points to when speaks of their inability to even consider the liberal economist’s position. They have blinders for things that aren’t coherent with their world view.”

mr. krugman’s theory has already been debunked. the fact that you’re trying to use such an unpersuasive argument speaks volumes about YOUR blinders.

Slappy McFee June 22, 2011 at 10:38 am

Ok muirego –

Why don’t you just explain why income inequality is a bad thing? My neighbors income is 4 times what mine is, should I hate him?

vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

The retiree living a full-time life of leisure off the income of his retirement savings should, according to muirde, hate the young guy working 60-80 hours per week.

The teenager working at McDonalds, should hate the 30-year-old physician just starting his practice.

The intern should hate the senior partner.

The minor league slugger should hate the major league all-star.

The entrepreneur who sold his business 10 years ago should hate the entrepreneur who is still earning income from his business.

These are examples of what makes up the inequality statistics that muirde thinks is so unfair. This genius understands that inequality is ENTIRELY a matter of how much income a person generates on any particular year.

muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm

No VV,

The honest hard working American should hate the fact that he is forced to compete with communist Chinese workers simply to the benifit of CEO trade profiteers.

We set up labor laws, environemental laws and such to have the civilized society we do have. Then to drop the rules and allow corporations to arbitrage our workers against communist and 3rd world workers who’s country’s have standards like communism and child labor we would abhore is the problem.

It truly is a race to the bottom to benifit the few.

People like you , Don and Russ don’t get to talk about how aweful communism is and then suggest we should have our workers compete with communist and still be taken seriously. It”s a highly hypocritical position. Where does it stop. You OK with child labor, slave labor? We might be able to get things even cheaper if we just lower our standards even more.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm


“We set up labor laws, environemental laws and such to have the civilized society we do have. Then to drop the rules ”

The industry with the strictest environmental laws are chemical manufacturing. Chemicals are overwhelmingly produced in western nations. How can this be if what you claim is true?

“People like you , Don and Russ don’t get to talk about how aweful communism is and then suggest we should have our workers compete with communist and still be taken seriously. It”s a highly hypocritical position.”

The position is consistent with the belief of individual liberty for Chinese and Americans. The knowledge that communism reducing the liberty of the Chinese is very consistent with the knowledge that liberty also includes Americans having the ability to trade with whomever they want, including Chinese.

“You OK with child labor”

Yes. One of the biggest travesties in the US is preventing young people from getting work experience. And at the same time these same young people are kept in publicly run facilities laughably called schools killing their brains and initiative.

“slave labor?”

No. Cooperative behavior, not force defines liberty.


muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm
Jim June 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm

You simply can not have efficiency and massive inequality…. it doesn’t matter what the dogmatist claim.

I have never heard this claim before. Does any cogent economic theory espouse it, or is this a Muirgeoism?

The favorite form of any complex system, like the economy or the Internet, is a scale free network which conforms to Power Laws (80/20 rule). It is nature’s favorite form because it is adaptable, efficient, creative, redundant and highly impervious to failure. It is how nature evolves.

muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

What you want to leave out of the economic equation though are social things that matter too… at some point very poor or inequitable economies give way to revolution. Poeple forming unions and revolting and voting democratically are just as legitimate parts of the complex thing we call the economy as our men of great wealth seeking rent and owning politicians.

In the end history is always a power struggle between the privledged abusive few and the many. You side with the few and the priveledged…. I side with the many…

Whiskey Jim June 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Sorry Muirgeo, this is just not true at all.

The most stable economies and cultures in the world are the most unequal. It turns out enslaved populations don’t rise up so much.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm


“The key thing is the presumption made that income inequality is independent of policy.”

This is a lie. No one on this site has ever claimed that.

“The inability of the conservative economist (yeah it’s the same as libertarian economist for practical purposes) to see this is what Professor Krugman points to when speaks of their inability to even consider the liberal economist’s position.”

Except that he has all ready admitted he doesn’t read anything that non-liberals write, that he just confirms all his biases.

“They have blinders for things that aren’t coherent with their world view.”

Yeah, it’s called Krugman Disease.

“You simply can not have efficiency and massive inequality…. it doesn’t matter what the dogmatist claim.”

The first part of this statement is completely dogmatic because it doesn’t have any basis in the real world. It’s true the huge inefficiencies can cause massive inequality; just take a look at many parts of South America, the former Soviet Union, and currently China. However, it is definitely NOT true that efficiency leads to equality of income or wealth. This is true pretty much by definition. Some produce more than others, even when all are acting as efficiently as possible.


muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hey Ken how’s it going… I see you wrote something up there. Just so you know you are fly over country for me. I pretty much don’t read most of your stuff…. like vidyohs and some others… so you might want to stop wasting your time.

Rudy June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Muriero, would it surprise anyone you avoid posts rooted in basic common sense??

muirgeo June 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm

OK Rudy then lets work through this with common sense.

Does sending our manufacturing off shore increase or decrease wages here in America?

Ken June 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm


“I pretty much don’t read most of your stuff”

I’m sure it’s pretty disheartening to see how easy it is to point out your mistakes in logic and fact. If I were consistently wrong and unwilling to learn anything new like you being the true bigot that you are, I would stop wanting to hear how foolish I am as well.

“so you might want to stop wasting your time.”

It’s my time. It’s only wasted if I think it’s wasted; it has nothing to do with you. The same as it has nothing to do with you if I buy a Toyota or a Ford. The same as it has nothing to do with you that I outsource car manufacturing rather than manufacture a car myself. To whom I outsource, similarly has nothing to do with you.

The point is is that you are a nothing to most people, as am I. The primary difference is that I am humble enough to know this, whereas your ego can’t stand the fact that people don’t do what you want them to do.

“Does sending our manufacturing off shore increase or decrease wages here in America?”

Does building machines to perform the tasks people now labor to perform increase or decrease wages here in America? Does owning a car increase or decrease your wages compared to having to walk everywhere you go?


brotio June 23, 2011 at 3:23 am

or anthropogenic climate change

Is the planet getting warmer? Or cooler? Don’t know any more? Is that why your Church is now The Church of Anthropogenic Climate Change rather than the name His Holiness: The Divine Prophet Algore I originally chose? You remember the name your Church started with, don’t you, Yasafi? Gotta be ready for the coming Ice Age, hmm?

Rudy June 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Out sourcing, in many instances, not only saves jobs in the US, but the solvency of a corporation. It can hurt some and benefit others all at the same time within our boundaries.

Peter St. Onge June 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Beautiful analogy!

I like that you put on-air-quote-friendly snippets in the last paragraph.

W.E. Heasley June 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm

With executive pay, rich pull away from rest of America – Peter Whoriskey

“…society aims to endow each person with equal political rights, it allows very unequal economic outcomes“.

Ah ha! Whoriskey wants to promote social justice. The non-discipline discipline. The non-definable social justice concept, the concept with no definition according to a decade of research by F.A. Hayek.

“The uneasiness arises out of the fear that extremes of wealth can unfairly reduce the economic opportunities and political rights of everyone else, according to sociologists. The wealthy, for example, can afford better private schools for their children or acquire political might by purchasing campaign advertising or making campaign donations. Moreover, as millions struggle to find jobs in the wake of the recession, the notion that the very wealthiest are gaining ground strikes some as unfair.”

Oh no! Whoriskey goes one step further and synthesized the indefinable concept social justice with the personal circumstance definition of “fair”. You see, fair is what you are doing and what the other guy is not doing -or- “fair” is where you go get your pigs judged. Self interest is your noble interest, greed is the other guy’s ignoble self interest.

“Democratic leaders, whose constituents have expressed more alarm over the divide, have used the phenomenon to justify their policies, such as universal health care.
“A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous,” President Obama said in his inaugural address.”

Holy Whoriskey! Pete takes the indefinable and adds in the personal circumstance concept of “fair” and concludes politicos through political constituency building exercises through the use of other peoples’ money is the answer.

In the land of perpetual economic fallacy, where its always “before breakfast“ with the White Queen, Whoriskey has fashioned a Homeric Hymn to the forest nymphs with pockets full of pixie dust. Very nice!

EG June 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm

“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?”

As everyone knows, when efforts at the gym fail to provide the desired results, it only encourages people to work harder to get better results! Thus, if we took 90% of their gains from every workout, it would only encourage them to work harder! And it won’t hurt them that much anyway, since they probably are already pretty buff! Its only…additional gains…that we will be redistributing. So if you’re already pretty buff, you don’t really need more…do you?

I could see a leftist making this argument.

Patrick June 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Everyone knows that taxing things only results in less of them if they are fatty foods, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or carbon emissions. Income and investments obey different laws of economics. /sarcasm

Damien June 22, 2011 at 2:03 am

Although I’m not convinced by the argument and believe that taxing income will on average tend to reduce the labor supply, I’d also say that we don’t need to posit different laws of economics to argue otherwise.
The backward-bending labor supply curve is taught in all labor economics class and, intuitively, is not very problematic. Sure, if they were to double my wages, I might work more because leisure has now become more expensive. If, however, I could make $10,000 a day, why on earth would I spend more time at work when working a few days per month would be enough? The income effect is not just some story cooked-up by liberals to justify income redistribution.

Theoretically, it is possible that people would work out more in response to a government program that redistributes some of the muscle that they build up. For instance if they have a minimum level of “buffness” that they want to achieve. A priori, we cannot tell whether the substitution effect will be larger than the income effect or vice-versa.

My take, which is what the empirical literature shows IIRC, is that higher taxes slightly reduce hours worked for the main provider of the household. It has a more significant impact on hours worked by other members of the household, whose supply of labour is more elastic.

Whiskey Jim June 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm


1. When I visit my European colleagues, I notice I work for 10-11 hours, while their office comes in at 9 and leaves at 5.
2. When my European executive friends come to visit me, they all remark that my employees live better than they do.
3. When I suggest they also work harder, their response is uniform; they would work hard also if the marginal tax rate made it worthwhile. Unfortunately, working 30-35 hours a week, and none to fast either, is now baked into the culture.

I suspect the cultural aspect of habitually destructive policy is not incorporated into your graphs.

brotio June 23, 2011 at 3:26 am

You mean Yasafi Muirduck was wrong when he said Europeans are better off than Americans? Who’d a thunk!

Mike P.F. June 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm

“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. ”

Many people in the bottom income cohort work many more hours than those in the top income cohort. However, their effort isn’t enough to overcome obstacles like their age (especially so if they have a family), lack of education, geographic location, socioeconomic background, etc, to ensure economic mobility.

It’s analogies like these that prevent the general population from actually taking free market principles seriously. They just make you come off as an elitist.

EG June 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm

So your argument is that I, as a younger person, ought to compensate those who did not get an education, did not get skills, chose to have 6 kids…by virtue that now that they are older, they do not make as much as me who invested in education and doesn’t have kids.

Mike P.F. June 22, 2011 at 8:13 am

I didn’t say you ought to do anything.

Ken June 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm


“Many people in the bottom income cohort work many more hours than those in the top income cohort.”

While this may be true, in some particular cases, the average number of hours worked by those in the top quintile is 700% more than those in the bottom quintile. Those in the top quintile earn about 15 times more than those in the bottom quintile. In other words most of the income distribution is due simply to putting in hours at work.


EG June 21, 2011 at 11:55 pm

An old Japanese guy who used to work for Toyota and then started doing consulting in the US, walks into a customer’s facility, and after about 30 minutes takes a piece of chalk and draws a line on a nob on a machine, to indicate the location where the nob should be turned during operation.

He charges $10,000 for this: $1 for the chalk, $9,999 for knowing where to draw the mark.

Now Mike thinks this isn’t fair, since 30 minutes from this guy can’t possibly be worth more than 30 minutes for a ditch digger.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 1:06 am


My point to Mike is that once you account for the number of hours put in at work, much of the “inequality” in the income distribution disappears. I would much prefer to see an hourly wage income distribution (yearly income/hours working) rather than a yearly income distribution. The former is a much more honest viewing of the distribution of income, whereas much of the latter is more a reflection of putting in hours at work.

While I agree that the old Japanese person you mention is probably worth paying him much more for an hour of his time rather than say mine. But that is beside the point I am making for Mike.


Herman June 23, 2011 at 12:59 am

It’s most likely that the consultant acquired the knowledge of where to draw the line after having spent thousands of hours in the trade and in acquiring education. The delivery of that expertise took only 30 minutes, but the bill includes the time required to obtain it.

Mike P.F. June 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

I’m sure there are exceptions in “some particular cases.”

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

How many executives have you worked closely with, Mike? Do you really have any idea how many hopurs those guys put in? Or how many sacrifices they have made throughout their careers to get where they are?

Mikenshmirtz June 22, 2011 at 10:21 am

Elbow grease is only one aspect of working harder. The other, more valuable aspect, is working smarter. In my experience, that involves elbow grease off the clock. Call it education, call it innovation, call it whatever you want—it comes down to increasing the value of individual output.

If you can work smarter, not harder, and if it also holds true that time is money, then wouldn’t the smarter worker also work harder? That’s why the Japanese man in EG’s story will spend several more hours figuring out how to make his 30 minutes worth $20k.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Yeah, that’s why I used the phrase “particular cases”, then proceeded to talk about averages. Your argument is a nothing argument. For your argument to have any weight at all, the problem you think exists should be systemic, not random noise.

It is true that there are some who don’t work very hard and live exorbitant life styles due to their enormous wealth and/or earnings. What is NOT true is the idea of the working poor. The median income for a high school drop out working 40 hours per week is almost $30K/year, i.e., well above the poverty line. Due to minimum wage, anyone working full time will be making roughly $15K/year. Almost all those earning minimum wage are low skilled young people, i.e., the high schooler living with his parents wanting to earn a little money.

In other words, the only way to earn so little to be in poverty is to work part time or not at all. And it is only possible to stay in poverty if you refuse to develop any skill to market to employers.


EG June 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

There’s no exceptions. He’s not putting in 30 minutes…he’s putting in 30 years of accumulated knowledge.

T Rich June 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I don’t believe that Don is addressing the effort that people put into things so much as the fact that outcomes are not always equal. His analogy is straightforward in saying that some of the people who are younger (and thereby have biochemistry that is favorable to building muscle mass) and work longer hours have more impressive muscle development. And, that he would not support any arrangement to strip their property away in order to benefit others.

To say that some people do not have the advantages of age, intelligence, location, education, contacts (whatever) is simply stating that which is true. However, being at a disadvantage does not mean that one can not achieve something. I had the great fortune and pleasure to work with a gentleman (and that’s what he was in his own way) in South Carolina who had but an 8th grade education. Before coming to the textile plant where we worked, he slung 80 pound bags of peat moss into the back of a truck all day long (much like my dad did with hay bales and grain sacks on the farm). He was such a hard worked and with such a positive attitude that after working part-time at the textile plant, the management courted him like a prize basketball prospect. He learned every job in the plant and answered every request of, “Joey can you do” whatever with 2 words…”Yes, Boss!”

I asked him once why he was like he was and he said, “Boss, I worked my ass off in that peat moss plant because I dropped out of school in the 8th grade. I have 2 boys in high school right now, and I’ll be damned if they don’t get a college education.”

Joey Poole didn’t let those disadvantages stop him. In fact, he made more money than most of the people that he called “Boss.”

Finally, economic mobility isn’t some kind of a birthright; however, a vibrant and free economy will do the most to provide opportunities to all skill, ambition levels, age, etc.

Scott June 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

Let’s agree that first off, income inequality by itself is not the problem. The problem is unjustified income inequality. We cannot be satisfied when the decisions of a CEO bankrupt a company and he still leaves with his golden parachute while his employees are forgotten. (This is particularly true in my mind when the CEO is not the original purveyor of the ideas that first made the company great.)

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

Scott: “We cannot be satisfied when the decisions of a CEO bankrupt a company”

As long as we understand that “We” refers to the owners of the company. It should be the owners – the shareholders or the partners – who police the actions of the CEO.

It is the owners who suffer permanent loss when a company goes bankrupt. The employees may suffer a temporary loss of income – a loss they should have prepared for by accumulating savings. The owners, though, suffer a permanent loss of their investment.

T Rich June 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Yes, there are some instances where your scenario occurs and a complete disaster of decision-making leads to a company going out of business. And, as much as the golden parachute grates on one’s nerves, that is typically the cost of doing business to hire a CEO at a major company. These people are hired because of their prior track record of entrepreneurial judgment, and as the investment commercials say, “past growth is no guarantee of future earnings.”

It is simply a contract – and I would suspect that in many of the cases where a major company goes under, the CEO was brought in to try to revive a company that was in decline. Therefore, s/he wisely puts a clause in the contract saying how they will be compensated if the company is not successful in turning it around.

Besides, as usual, concentrating on CEO compensation is always a foolish diversion. Let’s instead focus on the large middle and see what can be learned from the many that make it from lower class to lower middle class to just plain middle class to upper middle class. Thomas Sowell has written extensively about this type of income mobility if you want to make the effort to get up to speed on this.

Whiskey Jim June 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm

As always, reality may be a little more complex than your explanation of CEO pay, which has risen sharply since Clinton. Some reasons for this may include:

1. Government regulation. Clinton declared tax war on all salaries above $1 million. It quickly became common practice to provide options instead. Given that a CEO is often a drop in the bucket compared to total Shareholder equity, it is not surprising these packages became extraordinary.

2. Exceptions make bad policy. Getting to the helm of a mega-corporation has much more to do with politics and maneuverability and reputation than it has to do with entrepreneurial savvy. The modern search firm has done a great job in nurturing the idea that only a small population of folks qualify, as well as driving their price up.

I suspect the high price of large corporation CEO’s will eventually drop again. Reasons? Technological change drives efficiency and reduces barrier to entry. Both are driving any big, lumbering business out of business.

Large hierarchical business models have never been more vulnerable. That trend will continue to get worse if governments do not prop them up.

vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

I believe that the first question a judge should ask an apprehended thief is, “Did you believe that you had less of what you stole than the person you stole from?” If the thief answers “Yes”, then he should be thanked for increasing equality, and set free.

Gil June 22, 2011 at 12:20 am

Actually the analogy semi-fails. Spending six hours a day in the gym would lead to overtraining and injury and probably wouldn’t happen as the gym staff would probably boot you out. Some people think weightlifting three times a week gets better results than six times a week. However, by the same token, putting more hours doesn’t necessarily lead to much greater pay assuming there is overtime to be had. Instead people do different types of work that are deemed more valuable which pays far more than merely do more hours in the day.

Scott G June 22, 2011 at 12:34 am

If you’d like to get another perspective on muscle inequality, I suggest listening to this video clip from a six-time Mr. Olympia, who until 2011 was vested by constitution, with the supreme executive power of the State of California.

“The first attempt to secure individual liberty by constitution has evidently failed.” F.A. Hayek.

Mao_Dung June 22, 2011 at 1:39 am

I do not want Bill Gates physique; I want his money. Actually, I want good health more than I want oodles of money. Really, I want lots of good things not just for me but for all living things. I don’t want life in the oceans to die out. And, it is sick not to do something about it. Since Bill Gates won’t do anything about it, I want to take 99 percent of his money away from him to be used to save life in the 7 seas. Bill Gates is a sorry sack of DNA, who will croak in a few decades. Billions of years of evolution was required for life in the sea to develop to the present stage. Worthless human life is destroying it all in a few paltry decades.

dsylexic June 22, 2011 at 5:55 am

you want all those things.the problem is,you want them all free. begone,freeloader

Mao_Dung June 22, 2011 at 6:18 am

Begone, purveyor of greed, death and destruction. The problem is you, vile monster of excessive plunder and overuse.

Fred Bauer June 22, 2011 at 8:07 am

Actually, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation would seem to provide more benefit to the world per dollar than the government or an internet troll.

T Rich June 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Don’t confuse him with facts – trolls hate those.

Mao_Dung June 22, 2011 at 1:54 am

The concern about income inequality is a sideshow to the ecological disasters that mankind is facing. Income inequality can be dealt with at any time by dividing up the bounty. Extinction is forever.

tdp June 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

“Extinction is forever”
Good. When’s yours?

Mao_Dung June 22, 2011 at 3:56 am

When do the end justify the means? When is torture appropriate? When is the confiscation of billionaires’ outrageous fortunes justifiable.

The answer is in urgent, dire circumstances like we are now facing. The Constitution IS just a piece of paper and should be disregarded if it anti-peace and harmony. When there is no hope for the coming of the age of Aquarius.

All bets are off is a person has knowledge of an imminent nuclear bomb going off in downtown Manhattan. She should be tortured to get the information if there is no other option. Similarly, Bill Gates fortune ought to be confiscated for the greater good. You pick your gathering storm on the horizons of humanity: global overheating, war, poverty, Depressions, environmental holocausts form sea to shining sea, plundering capitalist bankers, hedge fund managers, etc.

Scott June 22, 2011 at 7:35 am

Roll on down that slippery slope, dung for brains!

STATISTICULOUS June 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

How would taking his money fix any of those problems?

DG Lesvic June 22, 2011 at 6:42 am

Sorry, but muscles like mine are not something I want to talk about, so I’ll just tell them that taking from the rich to give to the poor doesn’t reduce but increases inequality.

Scott June 22, 2011 at 7:20 am

You have to admit (if you read the whole article) that there is something off about executive incomes. There is not enough pay for performance and penalty for failure.

I believe it has to do with a lack of free market forces in the executive employment world. There is a lot of cronyism behind the closed doors of the boardroom.

jeffmeh June 22, 2011 at 9:52 am

The owners of a company, whether holding private or public equity, are those who should be concerned with their executives’ compensation. They stand to gain from company success and lose from the lack thereof, and whatever “cronyism” exists is none of anyone else’s business. If an owner doesn’t like it, he can work to change it or sell his stock.

When the government steps in and bails out failure at the expense of the taxpayers, that is “cronyism” of the highest order. As a taxpayer, one can (futilely) work to change it, but there is no analogy to selling the stock (try taking tax deductions for government programs with which one disagrees, and the government will take your freedom).

The solution is not to whine about executive pay, but to keep the government out of it and let the market reward good company performance and punish bad company performance.

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 11:26 am

** Like **

Methinks1776 June 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm


russell June 22, 2011 at 7:56 am


i love the analogy. keep up the great work!

Ross June 22, 2011 at 9:44 am

In the words of Art DeVany to N.N. Taleb: “are you putting kurtosis in your workouts?”

To me, six hours a week in the gym sounds like a lot, especially for a guy who’s running a major blog, writing letters, teaching students, managing thesis research, doing his own research, heading up a family, etc.

May your luck optimally meet your preparation on your path to your goals!

John Dewey June 22, 2011 at 11:31 am

“To me, six hours a week in the gym sounds like a lot’

At one time in my life, it would have sounded like a lot to me. At age 60, though, I now realize that keeping fit should have been the highest priority task of my earlier life. All the money I’ve put aside for my retirement years would have been wasted if I do not live long enough to enjoy it.

Scott G June 22, 2011 at 9:54 am


You gotta add this one to the DB 100!

One inequality that exists within the economics profession, is the attention given to Adam Smith’s, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” relative to his, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments, or an Essay towards and Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves.” Now seems like a good opportunity to discuss ideas which would fall more into the latter.

One aspect of your post worth discussing further is your your choice of words with regard to your temptation to feel envious. Let’s first look at what you said.

You are, “tempted to feel envious [about the muscle inequality existing between you and younger men].” Then you say, “I want to be as bulging-biceped, broad-shouldered, and chiseled as are my young gym-rat friends”.

Towards the end of your post you say, “…I resist the temptation to envy men with bigger muscles. And if muscle redistribution by government were possible, I’d oppose it.”

The data in this case is:
1) that you “want to be” something (bulging-biceped, broad-shouldered, and chiseled) that you are not,
2) you are “tempted to feel envious” (about the muscle inequality existing between you and younger men),
3) and you “resist the temptation to envy” (men with bigger muscles).

These three data points are worth looking at closely.

Many people want to be things they are not. It’s very human to want to be something that one is not. Ridding oneself of want is not something a human can do (though some try, for example Zen Buddhists, and some temporarily succeed by using drugs).

Even if you were to workout for 20 hours per week (which I have done for stretches of time at very heavy cost to much else in my life), you would still find within yourself a feeling of wanting to be a little more sculpted, or a little bigger in your calves, or a little more lean around the elbow. You would still compare yourself with other humans (maybe professional athletes), and you would still feel insecure about your body in some way. Don Boudreaux has not made the mistake of running from or suppressing the feeling of want. Go Don!

I take to mean your statement of “tempted to feel envious” as decision to feel envious. I think it’s easier to understand when one says that you’re tempted to be something that you’re not and you have a decision about whether to feel envious about that want.

Your phrasing is interesting because you say that you’re tempted to feel envious, and according to Merriam-Webster envy is, “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” I have to ask myself, why would anyone be tempted by a painful or resentful feeling? That’s a feeling that one should avoid!

To understand this, I have to realize that you use the word temptation in the sense of “to do wrong or to do evil”. But then I ask, why would anyone want to do something wrong or evil?

The easiest way of understanding this is to visualize at the root of this temptation to do wrong (in your case, to feel envy) are the feelings of inadequacy or inferiority (e.g. not feeling buff enough, not rich enough, not smart enough) which are themselves painful feelings that one tends to want to avoid. These painful feelings of inadequacy and inferiority push, pull, tempt, lead, or however you want to say, us into to doing other stuff.

Where people often go wrong is their belief that they can deal with these painful feelings on their own. Don Boudreaux is intelligent enough and knowledgeable enough to understand that he has a decision to either feel envious about other’s muscles or to reevaluate the scarcity of his time and energy in regard to spending more time in the gym vs all the other stuff that he wants to do and become. Don didn’t get to this level of intelligence and knowledge on his own however. He had parents, friends, teachers, ex-girlfriends, children, a spouse, siblings, and colleagues, that, throughout his life helped him learn to become aware of the feeling of envy and the ability to make a choice about whether to feel envy. Obviously Don, doesn’t want to feel envy (because it’s painful). He says that he “resists the temptation to envy.” He avoids that feeling by reevaluating his priorities and his scarce resources (time, energy, and money). If he gives enough time to this reevaluation, he will likely understand that he wants to workout either more, the same or less, in exchange for his other resources. The feeling of envy will be avoiding by properly organizing his values and resources. Once organized he can look at those “bulging-biceped, broad-shouldered, and chiseled young gym-rat friends” and say I’m doing what I can and want to do to in order to look like those guys. He still wants to look like and be like them, but he isn’t feeling envy about it, at least for a while.

Last week someone mentioned drug addiction at Cafe Hayek as being a disease. I don’t care to use the word disease in that way (but save that for another day). Addiction occurs when one’s feelings are too painful to deal with. A central of addiction (whether it be an addiction to envy, drugs, spending, stealing) is shame. When one is feeling ashamed of their addiction or their painful feelings (of say envy) they can’t easily communicate their problems to someone else to get help. If one can’t evaluate one’s values and priorities by oneself, and can’t talk about one’s values and priorities with someone else, then it’s easy to get stuck. It’s easy to get addicted to avoiding the painful feeling all together.

At some point in Don’s life, he learned about the feeling of envy from someone. He identified this feeling in himself. He then learned to deal with that feeling as I’ve described above.

But what would happen if Don had never in his life come across someone that talked about envy or dealt with envy in a healthy? What if it was taboo to talk about envy? Would he in that case be able to learn how to deal with envy on his own?

How did humans learn how to deal with painful feelings, (which as Hayek would argue are things they didn’t invent and don’t completely understand, but rather emerged and evolved over a long period of time)?

The fact that Don feels envy is because his ancestors who felt envy survived. Don’s parents probably taught him how to deal with envy at an early age.

Key to dealing with envy is talking about it. Language evolved in order to deal with feelings and prices are a type of language.

Some people, for whatever reason, don’t know how to deal with certain feelings and envy happens to be one that a large number of people don’t know how to deal with.

So, here’s something to ponder. What is the best way to get more people to learn how to deal with envy, so that individual liberty is preserved?

Finally, I’ll add that even understanding envy on an intellectual level does not mean that one can deal with envy in a practical sense. I’m guilty of getting caught up in envy as this post at Studio Hayek hints at:

Scott G June 22, 2011 at 10:05 am

My sentence above which reads: “I take to mean your statement of ‘tempted to feel envious’ as decision to feel envious.”

Would read more clearly if I would have said: “I take to mean your statement of being ‘tempted to feel envious’ as decision of whether or not to feel envious.”

Also, there is a missing word in this sentence: “A central of addiction (whether it be an addiction to envy, drugs, spending, stealing) is shame.”

It should read: “A central cause of addiction (whether it be an addiction to envy, drugs, spending, stealing) is shame.”

RC June 22, 2011 at 10:11 am


I thought people earn money by creating value, which sometimes doesn’t require any effort (inheritance is a perfect example). Am I missing something?


BonnieBlueFlag June 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Ya’ll are reading way too much into this. Stop overthinking a simple analogy.

carlsoane June 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I like the question:
“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?”

It reminds me of when Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias circulated a petition to redistribute GPA.

Whiskey Jim June 23, 2011 at 12:12 am

I have read of a number of professors offering to redistribute GPA:)

The stories are remarkably similar. How strange!

Coyote June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Check out the movie 2081, about 20 minutes long and available on Netflix and Amazon. Based on the Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron, describes an America where stronger and brighter folks are handicapped with weights and other devices to make them equal to some lowest common denominator.

tdp June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I remember reading that story in 8th Grade English class and thinking “This sounds like the Democratic Party”

muirduck June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. -Martin Luther King, Jr

Whiskey Jim June 23, 2011 at 12:14 am

If that is the lesson you take from this website, then you do not understand Libertarianism or free markets at all.

tdp June 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Agreed. Boots are cheap and plentiful on the free market

tdp June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Brilliant article by Dr. Sowell just a few days ago called “Dependency and Votes” that touches on some of these subjects.

Simon June 23, 2011 at 8:08 am

I think that the absence of muscle redistribution helps more people to be buff, than the muscle redistribution would. Not only the mere sight of those big muscles motivates les muscular men, but allso the advice given by them at the gym might help to gain strengh more easilly, their demand for a gym nearby might make gyms more accesible, etc.
For income inequality it certainly works even better, so the best way to redistribute blessings may be not to redistribue them at all.

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