Shaw on Inequality

From George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism:

Between persons of equal income there is no social distinction except the distinction of merit. Money is nothing: character, conduct, and capacity are everything…. There would be great people and ordinary people and little people, but the great would always be those who had done great things, and never the idiots whose mothers had spoiled them and whose fathers had left them a hundred thousand a year; and the little would be persons of small minds and mean characters, and not poor persons who had never had a chance. That is why idiots are always in favour of inequality of income (their only chance of eminence), and the really great in favour of equality.

This analysis is … flawed.  For example, Shaw ignores the countless forms of social distinction based on neither income nor merit. Physical attractiveness, for example. Also, capacity may not itself be merited. Also, he overlooks the role of money in motivating greatness. The concluding inference could have gone the other way, perhaps with greater psychological plausibility: idiots favor equality as their best chance of effacing invidious distinctions. This strikes me as a completely sophistical passage. Perhaps Shaw didn’t really think all that highly of women’s intelligence.

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