Monday, March 29, 2010

Equality: the long and the short of it

When I saw this picture of height-equalizing shoes [everyone wears shoes that make them 2 meters tall, for some reason the picture isn't uploading] reposted from a repost at Marginal Revolution, it put me in mind of a favorite quote from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:

You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them 'tyrants' then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy to a field of grain, and then snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, 'democracy.' But now 'democracy' can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks. -- P.165

Questions: Suppose these shoes were sold on the market. Would they only be used 'as intended' or would anyone who got them get the tallest shoe they felt comfortable wearing? MR asks about who monitors to ensure everyone is the same height and who will monitor the monitor? Isn't this desire for equality really declaring that 2 meters is The Right Height, accentuating differences it attempts to mask? Is there any way to make those shoes sensible? Is there any way to make those shoes good for dancing? If you could run in them, what would happen to basketball? Does height matter in experimental economics - does the appearance of height change my reactions in Prisoners' Dilemmas or Ultimatum Games or Caterpillars or or or....? Would people's wages increase by wearing these shoes? If not, what does that mean for Mankiw's height tax? Could you work up that as an experiment?

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