Debate: Is There Too Much Inequality?

Wealth inequality may be real, but is it fair? And what does it mean for a society to be fair? Learn Liberty asked these questions to two professors — a libertarian (Professor Steve Horwitz), and an opposing philosopher (Professor Jeffrey Reiman) — in a debate on inequality in America.

The distribution of wealth in America is dramatically lopsided towards the 1% – a point vividly demonstrated in “Wealth Inequality in America,” and agreed upon by both professors. For many, there is something intuitively and philosophically unfair about this inequality. “We are the 99%!” is a mantra of Occupy Wall Street’s dissatisfaction, and a protest against America’s status quo. Professor Horwitz says that this argument misses a central point: do the poor in our society regularly lift themselves out of poverty? “How easy is it, or how difficult is it, for folks who start off poor, to no longer be poor?”


  1. Matt Wavle

    First I’d like to know WHY is equality a goal and WHY is inequality a bad thing?  If freedom is a better goal and if forced equality is counter-productive to freedom, then equality may at times be an enemy to freedom, and should not even be considered a valid goal.

  2. borisjvandruff

    There is no civilization on the planet that prospers without at least some form of capitalism and largely free trade. Not a single one.

  3. Anonymous

    They aren’t espousing complete equality, just more equality. Henry Ford knew that to be successful, he would have to pay his workers enough to be able to afford what he was manufacturing. If I can’t afford to buy what a business provides, we all lose. For example, if middle and working class wages stagnate, we won’t be able to pay our mortgages and we’ll have a housing crises. 
    The economy depends on a viable middle class. The past 30 years has seen the largest transfer of wealth to the very top since Europeans stole the land from the Native Americans. 
    I’m all for monetary incentives, and maybe I’d like to be moderately wealthy, just enough to not have to worry about just survival and paying bills. But I would acknowledge that I did not do it all without the help of others and government to provide a system where this is possible. (The internet and satellite communications has been a great driver of the economy and were both government programs that private industry has used to great benefit.)
     As money concentrates in fewer and fewer hands we’ll lose democracy as our political leaders will be owned by the wealthy. As Justice Brandeis said “You can have great wealth in a few hands or you can have democracy, you cannot have both”. You should check out what we did as a nation to build the largest middle class the world had seen in history out of the depression of the 1930s. The myth is that everyone did it “on their own”. It was largely due to gov. programs and laws that encouraged the growth of wealth and wages for the working and middle classes. We still have the remnants of that great build up of the middle class, although it is shrinking as the new economic order is unsustainable. 
  4. Anonymous

    I agree, and say that it is the best economic system ever. However, it must be saved from it’s own excess.  

  5. Lukas Koube

    capitalism doesnt have excesses. people who want equality often come into the conversation when it is 90% over. 

    if i have 100% of the materials to make a pie, and say that ill give you 30% if actually bake it, then we made a contract. if a 3rd party comes in after the pie is made and demands a 50-50 split, then he has violated our contract and i will stop producing pies. this means in the future you wont get 50% of the pie, or even 30%, you will get 0 pie.
    wealth is not mana from heaven. you cannot divide it up with no regard to its creation. this is why socialism always fails.
  6. Lukas Koube

    this is nonsense. if people cant pay their mortgages, housing prices will fall and people will re-finance. this isnt a housing crises, this is a good thing for poor people who cant currently afford homes.

    furthermore, the government FORCES you to pay for roads. your example is like saying “a slave master gave food, water, and shelter to his slaves, therefore the slave owes labor in return”. 
    the point is that the slave didnt have any choice. he was FORCED to accept the food, water, etc. you might think forcing people to pay for things is a good idea, but pretending that roads are a gift that you have to repay is insanity. 
    lastly, your entire premise is wrong. you should try looking at the empirical evidence. the people in the top 1% this year are not the same as those in the top 1% next year. money does not concentrate in a capitalist society.
    think about it. what is money? its paper. you cant eat paper. rich people have to trade that money for other ppl’s labor. that means that money never stays in the same hands for long. look at the top richest Americans in history (indexed for inflation), nearly all of them were born before 1850. this is bc in capitalism no one stays at the top forever, or even very long.
    lastly, today’s poor people have a far higher standard of living, by far, than the middle class in 1970. that is why in a capitalist society everyone wins.
  7. Lukas Koube

    in order to end an inequality of material possessions you must first create an inequality of power.

    does anyone honestly think the rich and powerful are going to sit back and watch their property get taken away from them? No. they are going to take control of the political process and write the rules on how wealth will be divided. they will benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.
    im sure everyone wanted the FDA to protect consumers, but what happened? powerful factions bullied and bribed until the rules were written to favor big companies at the expense of the average american. 
    creating a tool to redistribute wealth will only give powerful people more tools to oppress regular people. this is why socialism has been tried many times and always fails. 

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