Professor Michael Schwalbe wrote an essay entitled “A Brief for Equality.” The basic thrust of his argument is a good one: liberal insistence that egalitarianism is too extreme is really about maintaining certain inequalities, which are not morally justified. However, there is a curious flaw in his argument. He writes:
“equality would produce a flourishing of creativity and constructive diversity. The cultivation of talent that is possible now for only the privileged few would be possible for all. What’s more, an equal sharing of resources would by no means hinder the appreciation of virtuosity. There would in fact be more virtuosity and accomplishment to appreciate.”
Why is this a logical flaw? Well, there are different types of capital (as a sociologist, Schwalbe should be well aware of these concepts; though they appear in fiction too). Yet his brief is written only in regard to economic capital. He asserts that a better society flows from equality of economic capital. But he then praises an inequality of cultural capital (virtuosity, accomplishment). Why is it that the liberal position that relies on a core of (economic) inequality is wrong but Schwalbe’s reliance on a core of (cultural) inequality is better? He does not address this point about second level (cultural) hierarchies. This seems to be a flaw in his underlying theory — by failing to account for different types of capital, and associated hierarchies, his argument lacks persuasiveness. Really, this is perhaps a pure expression of ideology, revealing the disavowed assumptions behind his argument. It is somewhat customary for academics to have more cultural capital than economic capital. So does Schwalbe’s argument really amount to self-interested promotion of the type of capital that he possesses over that which he does not possess? And will inequality of cultural capital simply reproduce inequalities of economic capital over time? These are the lingering doubts clouding his argument, which is far more self-interested than it admits.