For those who haven’t followed it, Robin Hanson called attention to a video in which college students in favor of “wealth redistribution” are asked their opinion about “GPA redistribution”. Unsurprisingly, their reaction is negative yet largely incoherent.
My point isn't to say one can't come up with reasons to treat these differently. One could, for example, argue that we prefer differing school signals to help employers sort people into jobs, to achieve higher productivity so that the pie is bigger when we redistribute money. My point is that most people can't think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.
Robin then allowed that little can be learned from the inability of college students to instantly articulate their objections to such an off-the-wall proposal as GPA redistribution. On reflection, XPostFactoid lists some objections, which Megan rebuts, although I think she give short shrift to this point:
[I]t's still true that student performance bears a closer relationship to grade than the social utility of the average person's work does to that person's earnings.
More specifically, metrics for assessing student academic performance are specifically contrived to measure individual mastery of the subject matter. Leaving aside for the moment Half Sigma’s notion of the difference between “value creation” and “value transference” in the modern economy (a notion I find broadly persuasive, by the way), consider that if GPA was accumulated the same way as wealth in the market economy, then students would be free to exchange the answers to test questions they know for answers they don’t know – complete with IP protection! But of course, this isn’t allowed: testing conditions are set up to most resemble those of subsistence farming, in which wealth and GPA are only a function of an individual’s ability to extract them from the raw earth.
If we really want students to reconsider the morality of wealth redistribution, then Brandon’s comment on Megan’s post is apropos:
But what about sex redistribution? It's not fair that a small number of people are having lots of sex with many attractive partners while others have sex only infrequently with unattractive partners, if at all. The government needs to step in and do something to address this inequity.
I chimed in:
So much of the welfare/affirmative action/civil-rights apparatus, in effect if not in design, redistributes wealth and opportunity from men (who create and control it) to women.
Yet not only will women object to redistributing the resource they control, they have set about dismantling such equality-inducing arrangements such as marriage / legally enforced monogamy as once existed.
Conservatives believe in economic freedom, and we are prepared to tolerate a fair amount of economic inequality to preserve it. Yet we frown on social inequality and would enforce social regulation to prevent it.
Liberals, in contrast, believe in economic equality and happily redistribute wealth to that end. But they believe in “social” (i.e. sexual) freedom and positively revel in the inequality that results.