Inequality on the March

How much should we worry about inequality? Answering that question requires that we first answer another question: “Compared to what?” What is the alternative against which to judge the degree of inequality that we see?

Florida is a much more materially unequal society than Cuba. But the right way to look at the situation – if Florida and Cuba are our alternatives – is not to say that Florida has too much inequality, but that Cuba has much too much poverty.

On the global level, it is difficult to argue that inequality is one of the world’s major political-economic problems. It is hard, at least for me, to envision alternative political arrangements or economic policies over the past fifty years that would have transferred any significant portion of the wealth of today’s rich nations to today’s poor nations.

I can easily envision alternatives, such as Communist victories in post-World War II elections in Italy and France that would have impoverished nations now in the rich North. I can also envision alternatives that would have enriched poor nations: Deng Xiaoping becoming China’s leader in 1956 rather than 1976 would have done the job there. But alternatives that would have made the South richer at the price of reducing the wealth of the North would require a wholesale revolution in human psychology.