Yesterday I did a Bloggingheads with Mark Kleiman that ought to be up soonish in which we discussed, briefly, taxation and distributional justice. One of the things we touched on is how much of your income you are morally (not legally) required to give away.

Liberals get angry at conservatives who point out that most poor people have more than one color television, with some justice. The collection of goods that constitutes a decent minimum changes over time. In the 1920s, many people thought it was ridiculous to say that the poor ought to have iceboxes and electric lights. We add to the bare minimum in part because we are wealthy and can afford to, and in part because when goods become common among the non-poor, society adapts to those goods in ways that exclude the poor from a decent life. A telephone, for example, may have been a luxury in 1940, but without one these days it's awfully hard to get and hold a job.

On the other hand, liberals also seem to be getting angry at the idea that there is a decent minimum--that the poor are not entitled to all the benefits of being solidly middle class.

What I wonder is where it stops. If we are upset by the very fact that it is nicer to be middle class than poor, and even nicer to be rich than to be middle class, then the only way to fix this is to fix everyone's income at the same level. Otherwise, the poor will enjoy life less than everyone else.

So question for my liberal commenters, and other liberal bloggers: assuming that you are not yourself poor, what is it okay for you to have while poor Americans do not? This is not a trick question, a prelude to some "gotcha" argument. I'm genuinely curious: where, exactly, do you think the levelling should stop? House size? Length of commute? Lean meat in the diet? Where do you draw the line?

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