Inequality, Immigration, and Hypocrisy

CAMBRIDGE – Europe’s migration crisis exposes a fundamental flaw, if not towering hypocrisy, in the ongoing debate about economic inequality. Wouldn’t a true progressive support equal opportunity for all people on the planet, rather than just for those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised in rich countries?

Many thought leaders in advanced economies advocate an entitlement mentality. But the entitlement stops at the border: though they regard greater redistribution within individual countries as an absolute imperative, people who live in emerging markets or developing countries are left out.

If current concerns about inequality were cast entirely in political terms, this inward-looking focus would be understandable; after all, citizens of poor countries cannot vote in rich ones. But the rhetoric of the inequality debate in rich countries betrays a moral certitude that conveniently ignores the billions of people elsewhere who are far worse off.

One must not forget that even after a period of stagnation, the middle class in rich countries remains an upper class from a global perspective. Only about 15% of the world’s population lives in developed economies. Yet advanced countries still account for more than 40% of global consumption and resource depletion. Yes, higher taxes on the wealthy make sense as a way to alleviate inequality within a country. But that will not solve the problem of deep poverty in the developing world.