6.7.2.2 Reasons for Reducing Inequality

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6722a.htm)

Thomas Piketty argues that “this state of affairs [where “the rich get richer”] is simply not sustainable, and however it ends, it ends badly”, according to an overview of the book published by The Economist on 25 April 2014: Reading “Capital”: Part 4, Conclusion, and recap.  There are political, social, philosophical and economic reasons for reducing inequality:

Nick Pearce’s review of the book, entitled Thomas Piketty: a modern French revolutionary, describes its sweeping analysis of the potential for revolution.  The French Revolution in 1789, and what the BBC called an Arab uprising” in Tunisia, are examples of dramatic political upheavals.

In a democracy, there can be a voter backlash.  Martin Jaques wrote an article headed The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics, which was published on Sunday 21 August 2016 by The Guardian, in which he asserted that economic inequality “is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west”.  The election of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union in a ‘Brexit’, both in 2016, were examples of this.

In a book published in 2009, “Research by Richard Wilk[in]son and Katie Pickett has shown that among the richest countries, it’s the more unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator”, as quoted by the BBC in a review: The Spirit Level: Britain’s new theory of everything?.

Unequal societies “have more violence, they have higher teenage birth rates, they have more obesity, they have lower levels of trust, they have lower levels of child well-being, community life is weaker and more people are in prison.”

Although this was challenged, a convincing and detailed response was published: Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level, reply to critics. It showed that the critics had used questionable methods to try to discredit a message that they had found to be unwelcome.

It diminishes the value in being wealthy if, the moment one steps out of one’s door, one is surrounded by poverty and resentment.  Good public facilities and contented neighbours are as much valued by the rich as by the poor.

John Rawls put forward a philosophical argument in his book A Theory of Justice [sect. 11, p. 53]:

“social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and b) attached to positions and offices open to all.”

Michael Sandel, in his book Justice [p. 156], offered another philosophical approach:

“Encourage the gifted to develop and exercise their talents, but with the understanding that the rewards these talents reap in the market belong to the community as a whole.  Don’t handicap the best runners; let them run and do their best.  Simply acknowledge in advance that the winnings don’t belong to them alone, but should be shared with those who lack similar gifts.”

An economy grows more strongly if wealth is more evenly distributed, as described previously (3.5.6.4).

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