Mark Greif writes at n+1 that the best system of eradicating extreme poverty and extreme wealth — not to mention make us live up to our aspired individualism — would be to give all citizens one salary for whatever work they do, $100,000 a year. “Our system is predicted on the erroneous idea that individuals are likely to hate the work they have chosen, but overwhelmingly love money. Presumably, the opposite should be true.” Beyond what such a system would do for our job satisfaction (professional ball players turn to teaching school because they find it’s really their life’s calling), Greif asks what it would do for how we give.
Charity is the vice of unequal systems. (I’m only repeating Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.”) We shouldn’t have to weigh whether our money would do more good in a destitute person’s pocket, or our time do more good if we ladled soup to the hungry, or our study do more good if it taught reading to the illiterate. It always, always would. Because it is hard to give up your money, however, when not everyone else does, and hard to give up your time when not everyone else does—and nearly impossible when you have less time, and less money, than the visibly rich and comfortable—and frankly, because it’s not often a good idea to give up your true calling or your life at all, our giving is limited and fitful. It can never make a large-scale difference.