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Chemical Engineering Seminar

Thursday, February 8, 2024
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Spalding Laboratory 106 (Hartley Memorial Seminar Room)
How Much Income Inequality is Fair? A Surprising Answer to a 200-year-old Question.
Venkat Venkatasubramanian, Samuel Ruben-Peter G. Viele Professor of Engineering, Columbia University,

Extreme economic inequality is widely seen as a serious threat to the future of stable and vibrant capitalist democracies. In 2015, the World Economic Forum in Davos identified deepening income inequality as the number one challenge of our time. Yet some inequality is inevitable, even desirable and necessary, for capitalist societies to work productively. Different people have different skills and capacities for work, and so they make different contributions to society, some more, others less. Therefore, it is only fair that those who contribute more earn more.

But how much more? What is the fairest inequality of income?

This critical question is at the heart of the inequality debate. The debate is not so much about inequality per se - it is about fairness. This central question about fair inequality has remained open in economics and political philosophy for over two centuries. Mainstream economics has offered little guidance on the fair distribution of income. Political philosophy, meanwhile, has much to say about fairness yet relies on qualitative theories, such as the ones by Rawls and Nozick, which empirical data cannot verify.

In this talk, I will present a novel analytical framework, called statistical teleodynamics, which is a synthesis of key concepts and techniques from game theory and statistical mechanics. This theory answers this question quantitatively, and leads to surprising insights into the political philosophy, economics, game theory, and statistical mechanics perspectives of this question.

Furthermore, the theory proposes a spectrum of self-actualizing capabilities, going from none to completely strategic decision-making, and envisions the various examples of active matter systems occupying someplace in this spectrum. As examples of such active agents, I will discuss how the theory predicts pattern formation via self-organization in mussel beds, in ant craters, and in the flocking of birds.

For more information, please contact Aracely Sustaita by email at [email protected].