Inequality – ethics or economics?

Distributional issues are at the heart of urban and regional policy.  Most planners, for example, have clear and firm views (at least in their own minds) on the equity implications of their activities.

I recently read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009). It basically argues that more equal societies are happier and healthier than unequal ones.  This is an impressive and much-lauded work that is also an easy read.

However in the Australian Financial Review last week, Andrew Leigh of ANU summarised a number of other studies that use a more robust methodology (Equality is a Just Cause?). These studies suggest the link between inequality and economic, social and health outcomes is much weaker than Wilkinson and Pickett contend.

Andrew suggests that the strongest case against inequality therefore isn’t about economic or health outcomes but rather about justice, morality and ethics. “Politicians who want less inequality will be on firmer ground if they discard the instrumental arguments and start talking ethics”, he says.

3 Comments on “Inequality – ethics or economics?”

  1. If one looks at political ideology as being confined on one large circular chart then one can slice it down the centre vertically. The left and right sides can be labelled however you like but in reality the left side generally promotes the ideology of equality and compassion for all things whereas the right side promotes ideology that creates inequality as all of the ideology promotes individual successes.
    If one side gains the upper hand over the other then major problems develop as the ideology and economic system will move constantly toward the radical and fanatical extremes of Corporatism, Fascism, Totalitarianism, free market anarchism or Stalinism etc
    SO – what causes some ideology to gain the upper hand over the desires of the general population? The answer is not near as complicated as one would believe. It is the electoral system in play within a nation.
    Please take the time to investigate the nations that lead in equality based ideology and you will find that the majority have electoral systems that create legislatures that better represent a cross section of society. This is through what is known as Proportional Representation.
    Britain gave all the colonies the legacy of an electoral system that creates enormous opportunities for abuse from outside and within government. The result is well documented in The Spirit Level.
    The Encyclopaedia Britannica addresses two issues with this entry — the British electoral system and Representative Democracy:
    The case for Proportional Representation is fundamentally the same as that for representative democracy. Only if an assembly represents the full diversity of opinion within a nation can its decisions be regarded as the decisions of the nation itself.
    One final note – one should not look at everything on the equality side a socialism – it is simply civilized behavior

  2. Dave Sutton says:

    Interesting to see a parallel view. Thanks a lot.

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