Reducing Inequality vs Helping the Poor

why should reducing income inequality be a worthy goal? If we are concerned about the poor, then we should focus (as Rawls famously does) on improving their lot in absolute terms, regardless of the effect of such improvement on the gap between them and the rich. Again, this is common currency in academic circles, but I don’t hear anyone in our public debate making the point.

via On Inequality | Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Indeed. It’s easy to make the case for helping the poor, but the case for reducing income inequality is not only difficult to make, it flies in the face of centuries of wisdom: envy is a very bad, soul corrupting thing (see Commandments, Ten). You can even make a reasonable case that increasing income inequality is necessary for improving the lot of the poor: thus the title of this posting. It seems to me that those complaining about income inequality are, at best, holding misplaced priorities and, at worst, willing to sacrifice the least advantaged of us for the pursuit of their own malevolent envy.

Mind the income gap

Image via Wikipedia


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michael Johnson on January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Real wealth in most western countries has been increasing at about 2%/year for centuries. By real wealth I mean national income per capita adjusted for inflation. If you look at graphs of real GDP per capita you will see this trend very clearly. Up until the 1970’s this wealth was being shared by all – yes, the rich got richer, but the poor also got richer. Since then, the rich have gotten much richer while the poor have gone nowhere. It’s not about envy, it’s about balance and sustainability. If income inequality keeps getting worse, look for more unrest like we’ve seen in Greece and with OWS.

    But if you prefer biblical quotes to make the case against income inequality:

    Matthew 19:21
    Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Mark 10:25
    “In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”


  2. Thinking Things Through: It was Anatole France who famously said that a rich man and a poor man are perfectly equal in the eyes of French law in that both are prohibited from sleeping under a bridge. While it is neither possible nor desirable to achieve complete equality in absolutely everything, great income inequalities ultimately result in inequality of opportunity and inequality in law, de facto, if not de jure.

    If you don’t believe the poor should be babied, fine — but the problem is, conservative folks tend to be very inconsistent on this issue. On the one hand, they claim the government shouldn’t help the poor because that unfairly burdens the rich. On the other, they defend protectionist legislation designed to artificially inflate the incomes of the affluent (at the expense of everyone else) and socialize their losses. That’s a fundamentally contradictory position that cannot be logically defended.


  3. […] Reducing Inequality vs Helping the Poor ( […]


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