6.7.2 Political Responses to Inequality
The political responses to inequality are driven by ideology, but must be able to command sufficient support from the population
Politicians and political parties have different ideological agendas. As described earlier, individualists want to keep the money that they have earned (6.2.2), and they accept great differences in wealth, but many collectivists want to reduce economic inequality (6.2.3). Public attitudes are similarly divided.
Perfect equality of income and assets is unachievable and undesirable: people need to feel that they can improve their finances by hard work, as an incentive to create wealth (3.2.1), and it would create a sense of injustice if those who were idle received the same economic rewards. If most people believe that they personally have a good chance of becoming wealthier, they will tolerate some inequality – but if they believe that the whole system is unfair, they become resentful and they want politicians to correct it.
Even without political intervention, there is a tendency for economic inequality to increase – as described in Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It is a growing problem that is causing discontent, because it is not just virtuous hard work that has made some people so wealthy. A BBC article, Thomas Piketty: The French economist US liberals love, explained how Piketty had shown why those who are already wealthy become more so…
“…because the rate of return on capital has been outpacing the rate of economic growth. In layman’s terms, the rich are getting richer”.
People have now started to realise that the rich have also bought themselves political influence to become even richer (184.108.40.206), so politicians are being blamed for the perceived unfairness. There is evidence that it is now becoming politically advisable to share wealth more fairly, as socialist politicians with an egalitarian agenda have been gaining support and there have been protests about economic hardship:
● As reported by CNN, Bernie Sanders won considerable political support in 2016 and 2020 Democratic Primaries – describing himself as a ‘democratic socialist’.
● The Jeremy Corbyn factor in the 2017 UK General Election yielded “a result that exceeded all expectations” by “someone who calls himself a socialist”.
● In October 2022, Reuters reported on Strikes, protests in Europe over cost of living and pay.
The following sub-sections explore the political responses to economic inequality in more detail:
● Individualists and collectivists differ (220.127.116.11) on whether inequality is a problem and, if so, what to do about it.
● Political action to reduce economic inequality can improve people’s quality of life and avoid instability (18.104.22.168).
● The policies for intervening to reduce inequality differ according to the level of poverty being addressed and the level of political support (22.214.171.124).
● There are several ways of reducing economic inequality (126.96.36.199), by making financial interventions, providing services that are available to everybody, and addressing regional variations.
The political benefits to be gained by reducing inequality are in addition to the economic benefits described earlier (3.5.6).
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/672b.htm.