Examining Inequality

Increasing disparity in household wealth has brought the controversial topic of inequality to the forefront. In its Global Wealth Report 2014 (https://publications.credit-suisse.com/tasks/render/file/?fileID=60931FDE-A2D2-F568-B041B58C5EA591A4), Credit Suisse Research records that the ratio of wealth to income has risen to a level not seen since the Great Depression. “This is a worrying signal given that abnormally high wealth income ratios have always signaled recession in the past,” the report noted.


Joseph E. Stiglitz in The Price of Inequality wrote that “inequality is the result of political forces as much as economic ones…. Every law, every regulation, every institutional arrangement has distributive consequences – and the way we have been shaping America’s market economy works to the advantage of those at the top and to the disadvantage of the rest.” Both economic and political stability are at risk.


In a Thought Economics blogpost on equality (http://thoughteconomics.blogspot.com/2014/01/equality.html), Richard Wilkinson, co-founder of the Equality Trust in the UK, wrote, “we are not stating that all things should literally be equal – as that would be a fallacy, as by any measure we are all – by our diversity- unequal. Equality in a human context is more of a moral concern; it is a statement of what differences we do or do not decide are morally permissible in society…. it cannot be morally permissible for a society to exist where each individual who is born does not have equality of consideration and opportunity. If people are at least given that benchmark, they can then as holders of individual agency, decide how they flourish from there.”


In Wilkinson’s book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, co-authored with Kate Pickett, the authors reported on the results of thirty years of research in the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition to economic and political benefits of equality, their findings showed that many social problems – short life expectancy, poor health, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, drug problems, violence, and poor education – are more likely to occur in unequal societies.


Beyond Professor Wilkinson’s discussion of equality and diversity, inequality clearly carries one set of connotations in western Africa and another in western Europe. Nonetheless, the moral standard for providing all individuals with opportunities enabling them to flourish applies.

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