The Unprecedented Equality of the 21st Century

Dave Rubin, Michael Munger,

Release Date
August 7, 2017


Economics Poverty & Inequality

The rich get richer, and the poor get … cell phones, cars, and nice TVs? Prof. Mike Munger says we’re actually more equal than ever. Click to watch the full interview

    1. Debate: Is There Too Much Inequality in America? (video): The question of income inequality has become a key issue in contemporary politics. The Institute for Humane Studies asked two professors– Prof. Steve Horwitz, economist at St. Lawrence University, and Prof. Jeffrey Reiman, philosopher at American University- to answer questions about wealth, fairness, and inequality in the United States. This is their debate: 
    2. Income Inequality and the Effects of Globalization (video): Income inequality in America is a serious issue. People are worried about a widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. But is the global story the same?
      Professor Tyler Cowen explains how globally, income inequality worldwide is on the decline. 
    3. How to Fight Global Poverty (video): Have you heard the news? The number of people living in abject poverty—defined as living on less than $1.25 per day—has been halved since 1990. How did that happen? Prof. Stephen Davies explains that extreme poverty has been on the decline in part because two of the world’s most populous countries, China and India, have embarked on a path of economic liberalization and development over the past two to three decades. 

Michael Munger: So it is true that if you look at income levels, there’s more inequality. The reason is there’s more rich people, and the rich have gained by more than the poor, but the poor have gained a lot. So but let’s compare this to 1800. In 1800, the mode of transportation of the wealthy was very different from the poor. Now if I’m really rich, maybe I have a Tesla and you have a Dodge Minivan.
Dave Rubin: Chevy Equinox. Leased.
Michael Munger: It’s not that different, really. It has air conditioning. It works pretty well. It gets … I don’t know if the Tesla gets good gas mileage. There’s some sort of status difference.
Dave Rubin: But we’re basically doing the same thing.
Michael Munger: We’re the same! We’ve got an internet connection at home. We’ve got a nice television. We’ve got a computer, we’ve got a laptop, we’ve got a cell phone. There are some differences in status, but there’s never been more equality in the basic way that people live their lives. The difference in, if you look at the difference in life expectancy between the wealthy and the poor, it used to be enormous. Child mortality rates, it was enormous. It’s converged. Our biggest problem is not starvation. It’s obesity. There has never been a time of greater equality.
Dave Rubin: Now I know some people are going to hear that and go, “Ah you Libertarians. What he’s saying is you people on the bottom have a TV, have a cell phone, have a … What about the people that don’t have that stuff?” Now I get what you’re saying. Those, that most of the bottom has sort of moved up to have a decent level, but what about that other? What’s the Libertarian view of how you help or not help the people that don’t have that baseline?
Michael Munger: Two things. One, when historians look back at the period between 1945 and 2010, the great story is the worldwide elimination of poverty through capitalism. Every country that has chosen markets has dramatically improved not just the average but the least well off. China, India, poverty is disappearing around the world, if by poverty you use some objective measure. If you have a subjective or comparative measure, yes it’s a problem because there’s always going to be one-fifth of the people in the bottom 20%. That’s just the definition.
Dave Rubin: I’m not a mathematician, but I can go with you on that, yeah.
Michael Munger: That’s one thing, is allowing markets solves poverty in a way that no government program ever could.