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July 24, 2016


Milanovic's article on the link between inequality and citizenship prompted these thoughts in me:

It's no surprise that the country one is born in today significantly shapes one’s material outcomes in life. Accidental birth in the first-world confers real but unearned advantages (similar to being born white in America or Brahmin in India). It's like getting a lifelong "citizenship rent", and Milanovic's article quantifies it.

In short, a random individual's income is predicted more by his country's global income rank than by inequality within his own country. From another vantage point, our national borders and immigration restrictions seem like a form of global apartheid, which keeps poorer groups out of richer enclaves, consigning them to inferior social goods and services.

Indeed, why must our quest for equality of opportunity only have national horizons? First-world citizen-philosophers concerned about equality of opportunity for all humans should not only recognize this unearned advantage but also desire a world where one’s country of birth would matter less and less (just as race, caste, and gender shouldn’t limit one’s material outcomes in life).

Most of us can agree that first-world lifestyles are sustainable only in small numbers. It’s unlikely that India, Africa, and Indonesia can all achieve today's first-world living standards. Their march to get there may truly well wreck the planet. If you worry about our limited natural resources and believe that there are limits to "endless" economic growth, the only morally defensible path to global equality of opportunity, it seems to me, is to commit to finding practical ways of driving the mean income of your country towards the global mean, say, that of the Malaysian middle-class.

Are we ready for this my fellow Americans? And if not, is equality of opportunity not important to you? :-)

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Books by Namit Arora

  • “Namit Arora does for Silicon Valley what Tom Wolfe did for Wall Street in The Bonfire of the Vanities: with keen eye and sharp wit, he captures the culture and mores of the place. But Arora is funnier. And sweeter.” —S. Abbas Raza, Editor, 3QD.

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

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