Inequality

It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the oft-expressed desire to reduce inequality.

If by inequality one means the existence of poverty among riches, would it not be more prudent to work toward a reduction of poverty rather than of inequality? Reducing inequality won’t necessarily reduce poverty. In fact it could exacerbate poverty.

As reported in the Washington Post, the poor actually enjoy higher life expectancies (and thus higher standards of living) in cities where inequality is highest. San Francisco has gross inequalities due to the tremendous number of tech millionaires and billionaires, yet relatively low poverty rates. One reason is that wealthy people put their money towards starting businesses (and thereby employ poor and middle class people); towards charitable causes; towards savings where the money in turn is used to provide car loans, student loans and home loans for poor and middle class people; and/or towards consumption which in turn keeps businesses afloat and employees employed.

Perhaps one could justify wanting to curtail inequality because of the danger of envy and resentment among the less fortunate toward the more fortunate (this even includes millionaires toward billionaires). But in that case, why not just work toward a curtailment of envy and resentment? Envy and resentment are actual moral failures. Inequality is not, provided one earns one’s money honestly and justly, and gives substantially to charitiable causes. Moreover almost all agree that a brain surgeon should be paid significantly more than a janitor. Were they paid the same, there would be a shortage of brain surgeons; few would devote the time and expense necessary to become one. So pay differentiation is not a moral failure.

In fact, excessive focus on inequality actually could have the perverse effect of stirring up envy and resentment. To combat this, when one talks about inequality, one should always admonish one’s audience not to harbor ill will toward the more fortunate.

So in this humble observer’s opinion it is much more effective to work toward an end to poverty and envy.

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