When Is Inequality Okay? When Is It Not Okay?

David Brooks, advisor to foreign tourists

One of my favorite writers, David Brooks, seeks to answer these questions in his fascinating and cage-rattling op-ed in the New York Times. Brooks begins “The Inequality Map” with a tongue-in-cheek situation:

Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”

This is an excellent question. I will provide you with a guide to the American inequality map to help you avoid embarrassment.

Then, Brooks surveys the following types of inequality, commenting on whether they are acceptable or not in American society:

Academic Inequality
Ancestor Inequality
Fitness Inequality
Moral Fitness Inequality
Sports Inequality
Church Inequality
Income Inequality
Spending Inequality
Technological Inequality
Cultural Inequality
Status Inequality
Beer Inequality
Cupcake Inequality
Travel Inequality
Supermarket Inequality
Jock Inequality
Vocation Inequality

Here’s a representative excerpt:

Travel inequality is acceptable. It is perfectly normal to have separate check-in lines and boarding procedures for airline patrons who have achieved Gold, Platinum, Double Ruby or Sun God status.

Supermarket inequality is unacceptable. It would not be permissible to have separate checkout lines at the grocery store for obese frequent buyers who consume a lot of Twinkies.

Obviously, Brooks is having fun. But he’s not just having fun. With lots of talk these days about inequality and the need for greater equality, we need to read Brooks’ piece, have a good laugh, and then think twice about how we are living in this society.

  • ljames1

    I liked the sentence “If your kid is a star, then his or her accomplishments
    validate your entire existence.” How true!

  • Anonymous

    True and scary and sad.


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