On Facebook this morning, economics Ph.D. student Garrett Malcolm Petersen, aka The Economics Detective, asked the following:

Has anyone else noticed the contradiction between Rawls’ veil of ignorance argument against inequality and the concept of male privilege?

Not only had I not noticed it, but, even after reading his question, I still didn’t see it.

Fortunately, I was not alone. Other commenters asked Garrett to explain. He did, and has allowed me to reprint his explanation. Here goes:

Men are the high-variance gender. We see more men at the highest peaks of achievement but also at the lowest points of failure. If the men and women in the same country were actually two different countries, Manistan would have a higher average income than Womania but it would also have more absolute poverty, much more crime and incarceration, a higher suicide rate, etc. By saying that men have male privilege, we’re essentially saying that being born in Manistan is inherently advantageous over being born in Womania.

The difference between Manistan and Womania is similar to the difference between the United States and Sweden. The US is richer but more unequal than Sweden. So it’s somewhat contradictory to say that, behind a veil of ignorance, you would choose being born male over being female (male privilege) while also saying that, behind that veil, you would choose to live in a less unequal country even if it meant a lower average income (social democracy).

Garrett even has an explanation for why people have come up with the idea of male privilege:

My theory is that people who talk about male privilege are high achievers surrounded by other high achievers, in which case their experience would be with men dominating most areas they have experience in. If a social worker came up with a theory of privilege, they would probably invent a theory of female privilege based on all the poor and homeless men they deal with. But privilege theory was developed by academics, so the privilege they saw around them was male privilege.

Although I don’t think he should use the word “privilege” to describe success, I think he’s making an excellent point.

By the way, I think Garrett is an excellent interviewer, at least based on his interview with me.