Tag Archives: inequality

David Reich

The genomic evidence of the antiquity of inequality—between men and women, and between people of the same sex but with greater and lesser power—is sobering in light of the undeniable persistence of inequality today. One possible response might be to conclude that inequality is part of human nature and that we should just accept it. But I think the lesson is just the opposite. Constant effort to struggle against our demons—against the social and behavioral habits that are built into our biology—is one of the ennobling behaviors of which we humans as a species are capable, and which has been critical to many of our triumphs and achievements. Evidence of the antiquity of inequality should motivate us to deal in a more sophisticated way with it today, and to behave a little better in our own time.

David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, New York, 2018, p. 246

Branko Milanovic

At the global level, and in sharp contrast to what is increasingly the trend at the national level, it is plutocracy rather than democracy that we live in[.] […] It has become almost commonplace to point out that the rules of the game in all important international organizations are disproportionately influenced by the rich world, and among them by special interest groups. […] The World Trade Organization, despite an appearance of democracy in the sense that decisions are made unanimously, is also […] controlled by rich countries. The “green room” negotiations where the really important issues are decided in small circle have come in for much criticism. So have many WTO decisions relating to the protection of intellectual property rights and unwillingness to allow the provision of cheaper generic drugs in poor countries, the exemption of agriculture and, until recently, textiles from tariff liberalizations, the emphasis on the liberalization of financial services where the rich countries enjoy comparative advantage, the prohibitively high costs of dispute resolution, and so forth. Global bodies tend to be either irrelevant if representative, or if relevant, to be dominated by the rich.

Branko Milanovic, Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality, New Jersey, 2005, pp. 149-150

Simon Blackburn

I’m very suspicious of the professional ethical scene, which I think has to concentrate on issues of often obsessive importance to certain kinds of middle-class Americans. For example, you find probably 10 articles in the ethical journals on the rights and wrongs of abortions for one article you find on the distribution of resources to healthcare, for example, between the poor and the rich, which seems to me a far more important problem: the fact that the rich command all the health resources available. So, if I were to become a first-order moralist, on these matters, I’d become a first-order political theorist. It seems to me that actually the fundamental moral problem faced in the world is the distribution of wealth. It has nothing to do with whether women should have control over their bodies, or if we should be allowed to red pornography, or whatever might be. These things are side shows. The real ethical issues are the different life-expectancies in different countries, and the different access to the necessities in life [for different] people.

Simon Blackburn, ‘Quasi-Realism in Moral Philosophy, ethic@, vol. 1, no. 2 (December, 2002), p. 114

G. A. Cohen

When aggregate wealth is increasing, the condition of those at the bottom of society, and in the world, can improve, even while the distance between them and the better off does not diminish, or even grows. Where such improvement occurs (and it has occurred, on a substantial scale, for many disadvantaged groups), egalitarian justice does not cease to demand equality, but that demand can seem shrill, and even dangerous, if the worse off are steadily growing better off, even though they are not catching up with those above them. When, however, progress must give way to regress, when average material living standards must fall, then poor people and poor nations can no longer hope to approach the levels of amenity which are now enjoyed by the world’s well off. Sharply falling average standards mean that settling for limitless improvement, instead of equality, ceases to be an option, and huge disparities of wealth become correspondingly more intolerable, from a moral point of view.

G. A. Cohen, If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000, pp. 113-114

Kai Nielsen

If we start with the idea of moral reciprocity in which all human beings are treated as equals, we cannot accept the relations that stand between North and South as something that has even the simulacrum of justice.

Kai Nielsen, ‘Global Justice, Capitalism and the Third World’, Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 1, no. 2 (1984), p. 182

Ken Coates

Reports show that the combined Gross Domestic Product of forty-eight countries is less than the wealth of the three richest people in the world. Fifteen billionaires have assets greater than the total national income of Africa, south of the Sahara. Thirty-two people own more than the annual income of everyone who lives in South Asia. Eighty-four rich people have holdings greater than the GDP of China, a nation with 1.2 billion citizens.

Ken Coates, ‘Post-Labour’s New Imperialism’, The Spokesman, no. 79 (July, 2002), p. 39

Louis Pascal

Thus we have, I think, a rather complete refutation of those strange people who think life is nice. In the first place, life is clearly not nice for that substantial proportion of mankind (soon to be a majority) who must live from day to day from hand to mouth for ever on the verge or over the verge of starvation. Ask some of the thousands who starve each day how much they enjoy the beautiful birds and flowers and trees. Ask them their opinion of God’s love and His tender mercy. Or if perchance you don’t believe in God, then ask them their opinion of the love and tender mercy of their fellow human beings, the rich gods across the sea who couldn’t care less about their sufferings -at any rate not enough to go out of their way to help them. Ask them those questions. They count too.

Louis Pascal, ‘Judgment Day’, in Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics, Oxford, 1986, pp. 113-114