Economic inequality is a moral injustice
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”— Lilla Watson
It is difficult to ignore the great disparities of income and wealth that exist in the world today. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, “the world’s richest 1 per cent, those with more than $1 million, own 45.8 per cent of the world’s wealth”¹. The pandemic has only made conditions worse as the wealthy have become richer while others have had to contend with lowered incomes and unemployment. But is economic inequality, in itself, something that we need to concern ourselves with?
Complaints about economic inequality are often made in reference to some people lacking access to adequate food, housing, clothing, education and healthcare. Some do not have enough to survive and cannot meet their basic needs, and this disadvantages them in society. Therefore, to address these disadvantages, many argue for reducing economic inequality. However, it would not be considered an improvement if we reduced inequality by making everyone worse off. Therefore, the aim of reducing inequality is to improve the lives of those who have the least. But does this mean that our aim should be only about improving the lives of those who have the least; and not to also try to eliminate economic inequality altogether?
Bermuda Is Love argues that eliminating economic inequality is necessary if we want to become a “genuine society of equals”², and build a truly free and egalitarian system that protects and benefits everyone mutually. One of the main problems with economic inequality is that it offends our moral relationships with each other. Economic inequality is wrong because “every life is equally important”³. Every life has the same moral worth. Whether you believe that we are all equal before God or equal before a court of law, the ideal that is being shared is the concept of equal citizenship; that we are equally valued simply for being human. However, economic inequality distorts this concept of equal citizenship.
First, when wealth is unevenly distributed across society, the wealthy can “exert a disproportionate share of political influence, and shape society in conformity with their own interests”⁴. The wealthy are able to use their wealth to “make the law work for them, rather than for everyone”⁵, as they can fund political campaigns and lobby for laws for their own benefit. This means that politicians will be more responsive to the needs of the wealthy, and other voices will “not be fairly represented”⁶. Thus, the wealthy are able to exclude others from participating in society. This is contrary to our belief in equal citizenship and the rule of law.
Second, the wealthy are often able to “control many aspects of the lives of others”⁷. The wealthy control where and how others work, what others can do, what they can buy, and what shape others’ lives will take.⁸ For example, ownership of the media “can give the wealthy control over how others in society view themselves and their lives, and how they understand society”⁹. Thus, the wealthy may “develop attitudes of entitlement and privilege”¹¹ to rationalise their wealth. On the other hand, those who have less may develop feelings of inferiority, resentment or apathy to rationalise why they have less.¹² This goes against our concept of equal citizenship; that we can all participate in society, in free and equal co-operation with one another.
Third, we live in a society where a person’s moral value is often tied to their economic output. Within the context of our society, where economic output is a synonym for moral worth, people are valued only as long as they are producing economic value. Once they stop producing, there is no guarantee for the right to life. Economic output, therefore, determines who deserves to live and who does not. The wealthy deserve to live because they have the money to afford life. All others who cannot afford life are either exploited by wage labour or disregarded entirely. This divide leads to greater inequality as it allows the wealthy to determine who is deserving of life. This offends our ideal of equal citizenship; that every life is equally important.
Finally, “economic inequality undermines the fairness of the economic system itself”¹³ Economic inequality means that some families will be better prepared than others to create opportunities for their children. Wealthy families have access to greater capital, better educational opportunities and more contacts within industry that give their children a head start. This means that creating any kind of equality of opportunity is virtually impossible, as the children of less wealthy families will be always disadvantaged against the children of wealthier families. This makes a mockery of our belief in equal citizenship; that we can all relate to each other as equals.
In conclusion, all of us must question the legitimacy of the social and economic system into which we have been born, which we have unwillingly inherited, and which places our lives under the control of others.¹⁴ The economic inequality that exists today is a moral injustice because it offends our ideal of equal citizenship. Economic inequality deprives us of any “meaningful political participation and deprives our children of the opportunity at better lives and an equal share in the wealth that we all help to produce”¹⁵. It is because of this moral injustice that so many people, in a society as rich and wealthy as ours, continue to lack access to adequate food, housing, clothing, education and healthcare.
Bermuda Is Love acknowledges that there is very little we can do about the inequality endowed on us by nature, but the economic inequality created by humankind — such as the unequal distribution of wealth — must be recognised as a moral injustice. Therefore, we must eliminate economic inequality if we want to become a “genuine society of equals”¹⁶, and build a truly free and egalitarian system based on equal citizenship. If you are interested in making steps towards this ideal, please contact us at email@example.com.
Global inequality. Inequality.org. (2022, January 26). Retrieved from https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/
The origin of "our liberty is bound together". Invisible Children. (2012, April 4). Retrieved from https://invisiblechildren.com/blog/2012/04/04/the-origin-of-our-liberty-is-bound-together/
Scanlon, T. M. The 4 biggest reasons why inequality is bad for Society. ideas.ted.com. (2014, June 3). Retrieved from https://ideas.ted.com/the-4-biggest-reasons-why-inequality-is-bad-for-society/
Scheffler, S. Is economic inequality really a problem? The New York Times. (2020, July 1). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/opinion/economic-inequality-moral-philosophy.html
1 Global inequality. Inequality.org. (2022).
2 Scheffer, S. Is economic inequality really a problem? The New York Times. (2020).
3 Scanlon, T.M. The 4 biggest reasons why inequality is bad for Society. ideas.ted.com. (2014).
4 Scheffer, S. (2020).
6 Scanlon, T.M. (2014).
8 Scanlon, T.M. (2014).
11 Scheffer, S. (2020).
14 Scanlon, T.M. (2014).
16 The origin of "our liberty is bound together". Invisible Children. (2012).