Inequality – something we should all be able to agree about

It often strikes me that we almost all agree about the fundamental problem in political economy.

Almost all. A few crazies on the ultra-ultra-left think we should enforce near-perfect economic equality – ignoring the evidence that this is impossible without totalitarianism and, irony alert, impossible with totalitarianism because it always leads to corruption, massive violence, and both poverty for the masses and the creation of a rich, entrenched apparatchik class. A more numerous cadre on the Libertarian Kool-Aid right think that  government is a “beast” that needs “starving” so that markets, freed from the evil of regulation, can do their magic and usher in the Kingdom of Mamom.

For the rest of us it’s trickier: given that too much government is obviously bad, and too little is obviously bad too, where do you draw the line? One thing the right never takes seriously enough, in my view, is the vast damage done to all of us – not only the immediate victims – by large inequalities of opportunity. The UK in general has been better off since the poor could get decent health care. The US in general has been (was?) better off when the intellectually talented poor could go to great public universities for very little money. But in front of the poor themselves, especially the children of the poor, there just is no arguing that our current global system is anything short of a moral disaster. The way slavery was a disaster. The way systematic racism was and is a disaster. The way treating women as a second species was and is a disaster. This is from Alex Salmon’s commentary on Oxfam’s 2018 global inequality report:

[T]he world’s billionaires – the richest 2,000 people on the planet – saw their wealth increase by a staggering $762 billion in just one year. That’s an average of $381 million apiece. If those billionaires had simply been content with staying at their 2016 wealth, and had given their one-year gains to the world’s poorest people instead, then extreme poverty would have been eradicated…

Wealth creation is all well and good, but giving new wealth primarily to the world’s billionaires is literally the worst possible way to distribute it…

They don’t need the money; the world’s poorest do.