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Income, Inequality, Status, and Health

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Nicholas Kristof too uncritically accepts Richard Wilkinson’s and Kate Pickett’s conclusion that peoples’ health would be improved by greater government efforts to equalize incomes through redistributionist policies  (“Equality, a True Soul Food,” Jan. 2).

First, the fact that low-status macaque monkeys suffer more health problems than do their high-status fellows is dubious evidence for the desirability of income-redistribution among humans: macaque monkeys have no income.  So clearly the size of a primate’s financial portfolio isn’t the only source of status.  Is Mr. Kristof confident that some other, non-pecuniary – and more dangerous – measure of social rank wouldn’t increase in importance among humans if monetary wealth is forcibly made more equal?

Second, according to research reported in 2006 by Nobel economist Daniel McFadden, “both behavioral observation and brain studies indicate that organisms seem to be on a hedonic treadmill, quickly habituating to homeostasis, and experiencing pleasure from gains and pain from losses relative to the reference point that homeostasis defines.”  That is, a person’s subjective well-being is reckoned relative to his or her own accustomed state rather than relative to the material standard of living enjoyed by other people.

Donald J. Boudreaux

And see also here.