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Inequality, galactic and planetary
Is the relationship between inequality and homicide casual? Should we expect it to be?
It has been reasonably argued that if humanity ever happens to meet an alien civilization, that civilization is unlikely to be technologically close to us. Rather, due to the long passage of time since the beginning of the universe, it is far more likely that it would be either significantly more advanced or significantly less advanced than ourselves.
This is, of course, terrible news. It would mean that our universe, teeming with life forms at vastly different stages of cosmic evolution, has a very large Gini coefficient. The negative implications of such inequality cannot be overstated. Since the broad-scale distributive properties of societies, i.e., states, planets, and, by reasoned extrapolation, galactic sectors, positively relate to all the negative ills of our great society, human history has finally become explicable. Our poor, nasty, brutish, and long history has undeniably been inflicted by such large-scale inequalities. Our hominid ancestors spearing those Denisovans losers is an inevitable consequence of 1% of intelligent life controlling 99% of solar output. That's just the sort of thing that happens when a single species has such a large share of the pie.
Furthermore, if broad-scale social distributions causally relate to social ills, then a large amount of social ills is evidence about the broad-scale distribution. Since we know population density relates to violence, an undeniably causal effect, the large amount of violence on our planet raises the possibility that we are in a very populated galactic sector. With each life snuffed here, we are raising the chances for alien life elsewhere; it's no wonder space exploration took off after WW2.
The fact that alien life might be closer than we think is a very exciting realization since it means we might be able to meet and tax them. If they are indeed far more advanced than ourselves, they would immediately consent, if not outright propose it to us. As a matter of fact, in a highly unequal universe teeming with life, it's somewhat of a paradox why no aliens have found us and given us universal basic income yet.
While possible advancements in basic income and taxes are all well and good, what is really needed is a much more radical solution to fix overpopulation and inequality, and lucky for us, there is one in store. Due to inflation and entropy, the universe is rapidly expanding and equalizing in all directions. A great fix is in store, an inevitable one that is due to the fundamental materialistic forces that drive history in the direction of progress. Such happy news is not happy to all; the long-standing fascist forces of order will argue, as they always do, that a fine solution to inequality such as entropy would lead to chaos and disorder and that the current non-equal arrangement is what makes everything run, from trains to our bowl system. While it may indeed be the case that long-term increases in entropy and inflation would lead to the heat death of the universe, this is not the first time sacrifices have had to be made in the name of equality, after all, it might not even be as bad as communism.
So, does inequality casually relate to violence?
If we look at the cross-sectional relationship between the GINI and the rate of homicide, we do see a positive correlation, but when we look at the yearly data within a country, there is no clear positive relationship between the two variables. The two following graphs are illustrations of that fact, using the 32 countries with the most complete data.
If we take the 65 countries with the most complete data, the weighted correlation of all the within-country correlations is r = -0.04, meaning there is no correlation between the GINI coefficient and the rate of homicide within countries.
So the cross-sectional correlation is due to some third variable or variables that relate to both inequality and rates of homicide; this is not surprising, generally speaking between countries, "bad" things correlate with other "bad" things, and "good" things correlate with other "good" things. For example, this partial list of things that correlate with national IQ is copied from Lynn & Becker. Since all of those things correlate with a single variable, they all correlate with each other, from inequality, GDP, and meat consumption to the rate of leprosy, social trust, and the freedom index.
There is shared variance between many positive properties, this is why Kirkergad talks about a general social-economic factor and why old-timey cultural anthropologists saw cross-sectional correlations between indicators of complexity in societies and so built general social complexity indexes, a work continued by new-timey cultural anthropologists showing a general factor of social complexity.
The implications of all of this are that if 100 variables all correlate with each other, then you have 4950 different correlations, and if the reason why they correlate is due to a few general factors, almost all of those correlations will be spurious, meat consumption doesn’t cure leprosy, trust doesn’t cause wealth, and inequality doesn’t cause violence. This is why it’s important to use the noggin when thinking about how likely one thing is to cause the other, like inequality and violence., Should we have even expected this relationship to be casual? Well, should we expect the GINI coefficient of our galactic sector to be casually related to anything? When people talk about the relationship between GINI and various factors, there doesn't seem to be any effort to put forward a reasonable theory about how it would have even been possible to have a casual influence on stuff like homicide. Usually, what is proposed are some vague statements about how inequality is a consequence of some unfairness in our society and that unfairness drives people to violence, but that would make both inequality and violence the result of some third variable, not directly casual, so why even bring it up? The reason is ideological; people want the government to treat the reduction of inequality as a goal, so they focus on it and work backward to connect it to negative results, and if their theories imply that the relationship between inequality and negative results is due to some third variable, they don’t care about this since that omitted variable is not the focus of their moral outrage. The explanation closest to implying a direct causal relationship is statements regarding how inequality causes anger, which may lead to violence—riots breaking out as people get the latest World Bank statistics delivered to their doorstep, for example.
While we are at it, it is worth mentioning that if you look at very long-term trends in the homicide rate and inequality, the two variables are fairly discordant. After the Black Death, homicide skyrocketed in the 14th century just as inequality was in decline; later, inequality started to rise just as rates of homicide were dropping. Even in recent times, the two trends seem to diverge in opposite directions on the graph.
Not to suggest I believe in a casual relationship in the opposite direction,
That would be silly.
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