The reflections here stem out of a conversation several days with a person whose opinion I value. At the time it felt like kind of a nitty back-and-forth. We advanced different positions on economic inequality, with the initiator of the conversation concerned about its growth and favoritism toward the rich, the respondent taking a MIckey Kaus End of Equality line (without crediting Mickey) that money inequality isn't a big deal though social equality is and that social equality is not promoted by compelling economic equality through making markets illegal, the initiator noting that we weren't talking about communism, and so on. I won't say who I was though I'm guessing anyone who's reading this who knows me well can guess :)
What I want to reflect on here is the way in which protagonists of the "we should be worried about economic inequality" position and the "it's not such a big deal" position can respect the other side even while advancing their own positions on tax policy (marginal tax rates, capital gains rates, etc.), unionism (a desirable force for equality?), and other political issues.
Three thoughts. One possible route to mutual respect is the "My values are good and so are the differing values of the other side" idea. Dynamism good, likewise security. Individual responsibility good, likewise compassion. That's perfectly fine. Am doubtful that it works too well, though, when we extend it to value systems. "The right good, the left good, the center good!" is all very well, and those of us with Daoist inclinations may yearn for more of us and in the end all of us to embrace an "it's all good" ethos. But good luck to us in that pursuit. It is a difficult one, not least because we neo-Daoists very readily fall into our own industrial-strength moralism against ideological moralism.
A second thought is to employ the social equality frame that the respondent in the conversation used in an adversarial way--"Economic egalitarianism is connected to highly hierarchical societies like Russia 1917 and China 1949 and quite hierarchical ones like the UK 1957 that miss the point and compound their fundamental problem of social inequality by going against capitalism as in the USSR and China or by taxing capital income at 98% as in the UK!" The economic egalitarian can, if not hammered by the skeptic, perhaps empathize with the other side if he/she gets that a person who dislikes high marginal tax rates and unions can be seen not as a greednik or a captive of purportedly pro-market but actually pro-rich folks ideology but as someone who has a sincere if possibly empirically wrong in a given case concern about social equality. Likewise, the pro-market person not concerned about money inequality can perhaps empathize with the other side if he/she gets that the economic egalitarian can be understood as one with a sincere if possibly confused in a particular case concern with advancing the fundamental moral and social equality of human beings.
A third thought for promoting mutual respect is to find common ground between the economic egalitarian and the market outcomes supporter in the form of a controversial value they but not all on their respective sides share. To turn back to the conversation: Both the other person in the conversation and I are supporters of Freud's "Love and Work" framework for understanding a life well lived, even as we would both acknowedge that that framework has a tilt toward achievement-oriented, driven individuals, social groups, and cultures, and would further acknowledge that there are other legitimate frameworks to understand a life well lived for less driven people, groups, and cultures. Given that, we are in a position to respect the other's stance if not necessarily to agree on policy. In particular, the one of us who is more pro-market and more skeptical of economic egalitarianism is in a position to understand that the other is not inattentive to values of individual responsibility and character, but in fact is profoundly devoted to them.