Friday, October 23, 2015


Is inequality itself a real problem?

The moral problem posed by the distribution of wealth isn’t inequality. It’s poverty.

These might seem like the same issue, but Frankfurt shows us with elan that they are not. Suppose, he says, there is a resource that will keep a person alive, but only if that person has five units of it. There are 10 people, and there are 40 units of the resource. If the resource is distributed equally, everybody gets four units -- and everybody dies. To insist on equality in that case, he argues, “would be morally grotesque.”

Fortunately, says Frankfurt, we don’t really try to promote equality. Even among those who worry about inequality, people adjust their consumption to their own assessments of their needs. They don’t reduce their consumption because it’s unfair for them to have money. This instinct he lauds: “A preoccupation with the condition of others ... leads a person away from understanding what he himself truly requires in order effectively to pursue his own most authentic needs, interests, and ambitions.”

Frankfurt suggests that the instinct that leads many to complain about inequality isn’t about equality at all: “What I believe they find intuitively to be morally objectionable ... is not that some of the individuals in those circumstances have less money than others. Rather, it is the fact that those with less have too little.”
An interesting view.

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