Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Michael McDowell supports gravity shock!

Posted by Jason O on Jul 31, 2010 in Irish Politics |

Proponent of inequality, or just plain speaking?

Proponent of inequality, or just plain speaking?

It’s pretty much par for the course now that when Michael McDowell’s possible reentry into politics is discussed, some on the left dig up what is deemed his now “infamous” remarks about inequality. What he said was that a liberal society like ours needs a degree of inequality to function, which is the economic equivalent of saying that if you jump off a cliff, you will almost certainly be pulled downwards by gravity. What’s the problem?

The problem, apparently, is that he accepted the fact that inequality may actually be permitted to exist, and it is at this point that many on the left refuse to continue debate. There is nothing inherently wrong with a society wishing to reduce inequality, provided it is willing to debate what exactly that means, and what it will cost each individual member of that society. The problem is that many of the opponents of inequality don’t really like digging too deeply into the concept, something that Michael McDowell has always been willing to debate.

Should a person who works harder than another be rewarded to a greater extent? Most people would say yes, yet that is the fundamental value at the heart of inequality. Should those who work hard, and generate wealth as a result, show greater charity towards those who cannot work as hard? I would say, morally, yes. But should they show charity towards those who do not wish to work harder? This is the crux: The belief of some that the right to an equal share is greater than the responsibility to mitigate one’s own inequality. In short: If you want to work, go ahead. More power to your elbow, as McDowell has said. Can’t work? Yes, decent people should help you. Won’t work? You’re on your own, pal. The value up for debate here is whether you believe that everyone is entitled to an equal share of a nation’s wealth, regardless of their contribition towards creating it. Let’s debate that.  


Daniel Sullivan
Jul 31, 2010 at 9:59 am

I also think his remarks were directed in the main at inequality existing in terms of people having different abilities and aptitudes meaning they would end up doing different work rather suggesting that a lack of equal opportunity was a goal in itself. He was in a sense celebrating diversity but the left appears to believe it as an article of faith that a completely equal opportunity society would lead to entirely equal distribution of everyone. That 50% all doctors would be of above average height and 50% below and so on (allowing for no one to be of exactly average height).

William Quill
Aug 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I remember Colm O’Gorman being asked about this quote, he said he wouldn’t have put it like that, but that he agreed with the sentiment, that in a diverse society, of course there will be a diversity of income levels. It should be obvious really, but McDowell was castigated for saying the obvious, rather than banal political platitudes. It’s also particularly true that we should expect inequality to rise in a boom, when he made those remarks, because some will leap in bounds ahead of others, but we’d all be worse off if they couldn’t do so.



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