Improving the distribution of wealth requires addressing world poverty

BINGHAMTON, NY – Political equality and democracy matter, but to improve the global distribution of wealth we must reduce global poverty, according to a new paper from faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

According to statistics based on family data showing wealth distribution in the United States in 2017, the lower-income 50 percent of the American population owned about 1.1 percent of the total wealth, while the 1 percent top-earners possessed about 35.5 percent of the wealth. But even the poorest Americans are middle class globally and the eight richest people are wealthier than the bottom half of the global population.

Nicole Hassoun, associate professor of philosophy at Binghamton University, hopes her research into wealth distribution will influence public discussion both locally and worldwide about what we owe to others. The aim is to get people thinking about larger issues like extreme poverty.

“I think it would be better to focus first on ensuring that everyone can live a minimally good life—whether that requires constraining the growth of capital accumulation or something else,” said Hassoun.

In her paper, Hassoun considers the Democratic Equality Argument:

  1. 1. We should support a truly democratic society and this deserves a great deal of priority (over, e.g., addressing more properly global issues).
  2. 2. A truly democratic society requires political equality.
  3. 3. Political equality requires a strong middle class.
  4. 4. A strong middle class requires limits on inequality in wealth.
  5. 5. So a truly democratic society requires limits on inequality in wealth.
  6. 6. Therefore, we should support limits on inequality in wealth within society and this deserves a great deal of priority.

Hassoun argues that further evidence is necessary to make the case that constraining inequality in the distribution of wealth is beneficial for political equality and democracy. However, the aim is not to justify inequality.

“There’s a large debate about constraining the accumulation of capital to promote equality and democratic concern in society,” Hassoun said. “While inequality certainly matters, it is not what matters most—poverty is. Lots of people focus on what’s going on in the US, but the larger concern should be about the global situation and poverty. We may need to reform our political, as well as economic system, to better protect individuals’ basic interests, irrespective of country of origin.”

Hassoun acknowledges that democracy may be helpful in ensuring that everyone has enough, but the focus on putting America first is problematic when there are people suffering from lack of food and clean water or basic sanitation.

“We do not have to give up everything that can contribute to the quality of our lives to help others, but we must sacrifice some things that might do so,” she said.

The paper, “The Evolution of Wealth: Democracy or Revolution?,” was recently published in a volume on wealth from NOMOS LVII - The American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy.

Posted in: In the World, Harpur