[First published on Free Life]
The inequality of wealth and income is a frequent bone of contention in the mainstream media. According to The Guardian, 1% of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by the year 2030. A typical response to this kind of revelation is the following utterance from the Executive Director of Oxfam in 2015:
An explosion of inequality [is] holding back the fight against poverty. Do we really want to live in a world where 1% own more than the rest of us combined?
The mainstream debate over this issue fails to understand the true nature of the problem (although, interestingly, The Guardian article referred to above is unusually far sighted in recognising some of the causes of inequality).
The pro-free market side is wont to point out that such inequality “doesn’t matter” and that governments should not do anything to interfere with the progress of business. The likely call from the opposite side, however, is for increased taxation and redistribution and, indeed, Oxfam itself stressed the need for a greater crackdown on tax avoidance by large, multinational corporations. However, the reality is much more nuanced than the false dichotomy between “pro-business” and “pro-government/anti-poverty”.
On the one hand, we can agree that wealth inequality does not, on its own, create any problems for the generation of wealth and the reduction of poverty. The common attitude towards the rich appears to assume that someone like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates has tens of billions of dollars lying around in a bank account for them to spend and enjoy.