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Amy L. Sherman

Does Inequality = Injustice? (Part 2)

(Second of three parts; click here to read Part 1)

Finally, a focus on relative poverty prevents us from making sound judgments about the economy. As long as we concentrate on how the economy allows some people to do so much better than others, we'll never be satisfied with our national economic progress. If, on the other hand, we judge economic policies by their ability to lift the poorest people out of poverty, we'll be able to discern more precisely how well or how poorly our policies are faring. Our primary moral consideration cannot be how well we're doing in "closing the gap" between the rich and poor, but rather how well we're doing in reducing the number of people living in destitution. We must ask whether a proposed policy is likely to produce a situation in which everyone does equally poorly, or one in which everyone does better but some do phenomenally well--thus increasing the gap between the richest and poorest. There's something awry when we condemn an economy in which most people are doing better simply because in that economy the very rich happen to be doing so much better than everyone else.

Correcting The Conversation

Whether or not we should be focusing on inequality, that's what the conversation is about. Thankfully, in the last year or two, several new participants--Michael Novak, Karl Zinsmeister, James Glassman, Charles Murray, and others--have joined the discussion, largely to challenge the claims made by Reich, Lind, Thurow, et al. These newcomers have marshaled evidence that calls into question some of the main claims bandied about in the inequality discussion.

Consider first, for example, the allegation that American economic growth is not benefiting, and indeed, cannot benefit, everyone. This claim rests on the supposition that permanent socioeconomic classes exist in America (or, to put it in Reich's terms, that people always remain in the same boat). This proposition is erroneous, because most people's level of wealth or poverty depends on ...

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