Inequality of Wealth is a Force for Good

by Abiola Lapite | 10/22/97 5:00am

In a just world, there would be no inequalit-es of wealth and income, no winners and losers. No man would wallow in luxury while his neighbor lacked a roof over his head, and secure jobs at good wages would be available for all who wanted them. Oh what a wonderful world this would be! Or that at least is what quite a few people, such as Scott Brown, the Dean of the Tucker Foundation, would have us believe. ["The Growing Economic Class Divide," Oct. 20, The Dartmouth.]

Unfortunately I am not one of those who subscribe to the dean's definition of justice. I will go so far as to say that I find the world detailed above as disgusting a world as is imaginable. Not only do I believe that there is nothing wrong with income inequality, per se, I think that the world can never have too much of it, and I say this in all seriousness. Inequality of wealth is a force for good in the world, the nearest thing to natural justice the world has to offer. In as far as a man acquires his wealth by his own talents of mind and character, and not by fraud or naked force, then he should have every right to keep it, and to be free from pressures to share his good fortune with the envious and the "needy." Why should one man who has had the foresight, intellect, and determination to carve out a place for himself in life be forced to share his rewards with lazier and less reflective individuals in the name of "society?"

Despite what the dean's article on Tuesday would have us believe, social mobility in America today is as great as it has ever been. Furthermore, there is no shortage of financial aid in this country for those who have the intellect to make use of it in college: truth be said, the large percentages of students who drop out without ever completing their degrees suggests that there is rather too much financial aid floating around. And as for funding for elementary and high school education, America spends more per student by a large margin in comparison with any other nation in the world. As this is true even for students in low-income areas, if there are problems with access to high quality education in this country, said problems have nothing to do with stingy funding.

What all the above comes down to is that while one's background does play a role in determining where one will end up in life, it plays no bigger a role in America than it does anywhere else. The inequities of wealth in America are due, not to any pernicious social obstructions, but to the fact that in our time talent has come to matter more than ever before, and that America has allowed talent to enjoy its due rewards more than most other countries in the developed world. More and more it is the case that what determines where one will end up in life is not the quality of one's golf game or whether one is named Kip or Todd, but whether one has the brains, the persistence and the ruthlessness to take advantage of the opportunities our times afford. One can think of no better outcome than a world where the mediocre child of some old line family sinks into suburban anonymity while the hungry young son of Russian Jews or Vietnamese refugees founds a great software firm or media house. To seek to rob such individuals of even a portion of their victory is to do a great dishonor to what the American Dream is all about.

That dream, and the fact that it has been achieved and will be achieved by countless more ambitious and talented individuals, is why I am all for inequality, even increasing inequality. I am all for a world where ingenuity, boldness and cunning are rewarded more and more, and mediocrity and timidity reap ever smaller returns. Fairness is not about everyone ending up roughly equal to every one else, but about letting winners keep their winnings and losers savor the bitterness of defeat. That is the greatest tribute that one can pay to all those who have moved our world further along by their willingness to work harder, to think more and to act with more boldness than the cattle who were their peers.

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