On inequality and possible remedies

Essay submitted in June 2015 for the competition “Creating common good” organized by Trinity Institute on the question “What individual and community practices could be created to confront the sin of inequality and cultivate theological visions of the common good?”.

In the famous Parable of the Talents, the master awards his servants who managed to multiply wealth and punishes the one who preferred to hide the treasure and made a sterile use of it. The story ends on a harsh judgment: “for to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:14–30).

This sentence has been subject to various, sometimes contradictory interpretations. Cut from the rest of the parable, it has even been understood as a criticism of capitalism, a system in which presumably “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. Increasing socio-economic inequalities have recently returned high on the agenda, featuring this year’s World Economic Forum and having been abundantly documented in a book with an ambitious and resonant title, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, written by the French economist Thomas Piketty.

On the basis of the Parable of the Talents as well as scientific litterature, I will attempt in the course of this essay to build a typology of inequality and to propose some remedies for this problem. For the sake of clarity, I will divide it into three parts – wealth inequality, income inequality and inequality in capabilities – and follow the same outline for solutions, though one should keep in mind that these dimensions are in practice interdependent and cannot be tackled without looking at the broader picture.

I - A typology of inequalities

(1) Wealth inequality

Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Talents starts with the distribution of talents. The “man going on a journey […] gave five talents [to the first of his servants], to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” At this point of the story, there is no place for labour and the uneven distribution of capital results from the master’s appreciation of his servants’ respective merits. Although the system may look inequal, it can be justified by differences in abilities, the master having at heart to save his property or even to make it profitable.

In our world, no such master exists to reset the counters at every generation and distribute wealth according to individual merits. The current distribution of capital, either between citizens of a same state or between states themselves, is largely the result of history and has little to do with justice or utility. On a microeconomic level, inherited wealth in France, Germany or the United Kingdom accounted in 2010 for more than half of total private wealth [1] while the macroeconomic picture shows that “almost 70% of the global asset base at the end of 2013”[2] belongs to North America and Western Europe for 12% of world population. In both cases, well-off “heirs” can hardly claim that they owe their privileged position to their sole work and merits.

These wealth transmission chains can sometimes be disrupted by extreme events such as wars and revolutions. For instance, the First World War forced France and Great Britain to sell their foreign assets in order to repay war debts and less than thirty years later, after the end of World War II, regime change in many countries of continental Europe, from France to Germany and Poland, reshuffled property structure through one-time taxes or nationalizations, with or without compensation. Yet again, the outcome of these radical transformations has not always been in line with justice and meritocratic principles.

The example of post-war Poland and more broadly speaking, of communist countries adds to this development that arithmetically equal repartition of wealth does not necessarily lead to better results from a social point of view. If we assume that resources available on Earth are limited and that economics is about how to make optimal use of them, an apparently fair share of talents between the servants (two or three for everyone instead of a 5-2-1 key) in the parable would have led to a socially worse situation, where the smartest servant would have been to generate only two or three additional talents instead of five. The bigger sum hidden in the ground by the less capable servant would have created a shortfall of two or three talents for the master and maybe indirectly for the rest of the community.

Communist economic systems lacked the incentives to employ scarce resources and skills in the most productive way and denied individuals the ability to make a difference by their innovativeness… or their laziness. Central planning was considered the most efficient method to manage production and distribution of resources but because of cognitive insufficiencies, there were often misfits between what had been decided by central planners and situation on the field (over- or underproduction of goods in comparison with people’s actual needs, discrepancies between declared and real outputs at the origin of shortages).

Absence of competition also deprived economic agents of incentives to improve productivity or quality and in a environment where prices were not let free to signal rarity, resources could be used in a very wasteful manner. It was as if the master, after having equally shared the talents between his servants, never came back to “settle accounts with them” and therefore couldn’t give rewards or sanctions according to their respective merits. After some time, his original property would have most likely ended up being squandered, in a similar way to communist economies which ultimately collapsed because of chronic shortages, unsustainable foreign debt and flawed investment strategies.

At this step of the explaination, it appears that while the “spontaneous order” is barely equal or fair, attempts to zero the counters have not been more successful in putting these principles into practice. Were King Solomon to be driven by purely arithmetical justice, he would have gone to the end of his reasoning and ordered to “divide the living child in two” (1 Kings 3:16-28), an absurd situation where the two mothers as well as the society would have been worse off for the sake of equality.

In consequence, one should treat equality as a horizon, an organizing principle that should be integrated into actions or policies but only in relation with other objectives and not as a superior goal to be reached by any means. This is why more equality, or at least limitation of rising inequality should be obtained not by revolutionary, but by evolutionary instruments such as redistributive tax policy on the long term. I will later come to this point in the chapter dedicated to solutions.

Yet to give a fairly accurate picture of inequality, one can’t only deal with initial distribution of resources, that is wealth inequality, but must also investigate income inequality – as a byproduct of wealth inequality and differences in remunerations for labour – and inequality in capabilities, partly resulting from both wealth and income inequality. As income inequality is not present in the Parable of the Talents, I will keep it for the end of this chapter and now move on to inequality in capabilities.

(2) Inequality in capabilities

In the previous part, commenting the distribution of talents, I have written that unequal sharing can be justified by differences in abilities between the servants. I have taken them for granted and have not tried to explain them further. Yet abilities are not purely the product of genetics, they are also acquired and developed during a lifetime at school, in the family and more generally speaking in a specific environment.

The parable doesn’t tell us about the servants’ background and therefore doesn’t precise whether their differences in abilities are innate or cultivated. In real life too, distinguishing between the respective spheres of nature and nurture is very hard, if not impossible at all. Nevertheless there are some elements that can suggest whether an individual is given the chance to cultivate their innate gifts: this is the capability approach elaborated among others by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.

The less productive servant may have badly scored not because he has less innate qualities but as a result of poorer treatment. More fragile health, lower-quality education or in the social sphere, fewer relations can hinder access to interesting investment or job opportunities and thus have a negative impact on economic results, not to mention well-being.

As in the case of wealth, completely flattening differences in capabilities between individuals doesn’t look realistic nor desirable, except at the price of massive killings and huge collective losses. Policy can however put in place instruments such as universal health coverage, lifelong learning or transparent access to public information in order to create, as far as possible, a level playing field.

Capability enhancing actions should also take into account the intergenerational dimension as cultural and social capital, maybe even more than economic capital, are difficult to acquire through work and merit and are more likely to be inherited [3], thus perpetuating inequality over time with no sound justification.

While it may already by too late for the less talented servant to catch up with his colleagues, his children should be offered the chance to prove themselves and not be considered from the very beginning as less competent than the more skillful servants’ kids. Following Warren Buffett’s words, “would anyone say the best way to pick a championship Olympic team is to select the sons and daughters of those who won 20 years ago?” [4]

Before coming to more detailed solutions, let’s close this chapter on inequality with the third aspect of the phenomenon, that is income inequality.

(3) Income inequality

Because most people in the world rely mainly or exclusively on their work to make a living, income inequality is probably the dimension of inequality we are best familiar with. It is also more often studied and measured, in particular thanks to the Gini coefficient which can for example reflect in a simple manner distribution of income among individuals or households in a given country.

Focus on income inequality tends to go with another bias, namely reduction of the notion of income to labour remuneration. This is again the consequence of our common experience as only a minority of people earn money from capital gains – to do so, one must own some marketable assets – and we don’t always perceive social transfers, whether received or paid, as parts of our income.

For this reason, when hearing about inequality, public opinion first thinks about astronomical salaries of football players, pop singers or CEOs, more publicized than other occupations. Yet if we look at the American case, “superstars” actually account for a very small share in the top 1% of best-paid professions, both in terms of number of individuals and part of the national income – managers and doctors are much better represented [5].

It is nonetheless true that overall, the share of national income going to the top 1%, excluding capital gains and irrespectively of their jobs, has been consequently increasing since the early 1980s, with a jump from 9.18% in 1979 to 16.97% in 2005. This means an almost three-fold pay rise over the same period, against a quasi stagnation in real value for the bottom 90% [6]. The gap is even more impressive if we take into consideration not the top 1%, but the top 0.1%.

In the absence of precise data regarding capital gains for the same period, we have to rely on other sources to see how much they weigh in total income. A study carried out for the period 1996-2006 shows that while the part of wages and salaries in total income has remained the same (82%) for the bottom 80%, it has dropped from 34.4% to 26% for the top 1%. At the same time, the share of dividends and capital gains for the bottom 80% has decreased from 1.4% to 0.7% but sharpy risen from 30.8% to 38.2% for the top 1%. It follows that despite their smaller part in total income, “capital gains and dividends were the single largest contributor to rising income inequality between 1996 and 2006” [7] because capital is concentrated in the hands of a relatively tiny group. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman’s work confirms these observations [8].

Figures provided above are all pre-tax. We have seen at the beginning of this subchapter that besides labour compensation and capital gains, income is also composed of social transfers, which can help smoothing inequalities resulting from differentials in labour or capital remuneration. However, this is hardly true for the United States, where monetary redistribution (cash government transfers, taxes and social security contributions) between 1979 and 2004 has had a very weak impact on inequality reduction, with no progress over time [9]. Unlike growing disparities in labour or capital income which can be attributed to decisions in the private sector or structural changes in the economy, the insufficiency of redistribution measures to cushion the inequality boom is first and foremost a matter of public policy.

As stated in the introduction, the three types of inequality (wealth, capabilities, income) are here analyzed separately but are in reality mutually self-reinforcing. The importance of capital gains in rising income inequality has largely to do with the structure of asset ownership whereas well-off people, whether counted in capital or income, tend to be healthier, to live longer and to be better educated. These advantages are often passed on to their offsprings. When working on solutions, one should keep in mind these interrelations in order not to miss a dimension of inequality but also for acceptability reasons. A person rich in capital can be poor in income or the other way around, and acting on only one lever may require a disproportionate effort from one social group which will be then more likely to oppose change.

II - Individual and community practices to confront the sin of inequality

(1) Confronting the sin of income inequality

We have ended the previous chapter on income inequality and we shall open this new one on the same issue. Better knowledge of this aspect of inequality is also reflected in political demands to rebalance them, as one of the most popular measures to tackle the problem is the introduction – or more accurately the return – of high marginal tax rates for the richest. Indeed, in the 1940s, the United States had extremely high marginal individual tax rates, up to 94% compared with less than 40% nowadays.

Though such a move would certainly appease thirst for social justice, it is not likely to structurally change the income distribution ladder. In addition to risks of tax evasion or talent drain, a drastic increase of marginal tax rates would most certainly further complicate remuneration schemes in favour for example of stocks, savings systems or in-kind benefits, which are subject to different taxation rules and sometimes even legally escape them.

Similar problems would occur were governments to try to interfere in corporate governance and set for instance pay caps. It would be also very difficult to define a one-size-fits-all, cross-sector threshold beyond which salaries would start to be considered “obscene”. However, it may be useful to adopt more stringent regulations on salary disclosure, not only for top managers but also for the rank and file in order to strengthen their bargaining power with directions.

Labour compensation inequality is before all a private matter that should be left in the hands of shareholders, managers, without neglecting other employees and consumers who can by their daily choices reward “ethical” companies and boycott noncompliant businesses. That is what they do when buying fair trade products, and a comparable labelling system could be put in place this time not to protect workers in developing countries, but ours.

Public authorities have nevertheless a role to play in terms of disclosure regulations and promotion of alternative, more democratic forms of doing business. One of the causes behind skyrocketing salaries and other forms of remuneration for top managers has been the lack of effective control by shareholders. Empowering the social economy and its different forms (cooperatives, associations, social enterprises…) by adopting friendlier legal or tax rules in exchange for the respect of stricter rules in the fields of governance (workers’ participation in decision-making, “one member, one vote” system) and corporate social responsibility would alleviate enforcement costs and contribute to struggle against income inequality from the bottom up.

These measures would have an effect on both labour compensation and capital gains, at least for people who work. They are not aimed at rebalancing the respective shares of labour and capital in remunerations, which in my opinion should not be primarily dealt with through income taxation. While it is true that skewed fiscal policy in favour of capital gains is problematic [10], arguments warning against the risk of asset offshore are serious and shouldn’t be neglected.

A more efficient solution would consist in taxing capital directly and rebalancing income taxation not by increasing pressure on capital gains, but by diminishing burden, including social security contributions, on labour. This would help stimulating job creation and be morally fair, as profits from one’s own labour are certainly the most closely related to merit: “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). I will later discuss in detail the main assumptions and benefits of a wealth tax.

Should the shift be revenue-neutral? In the case of the United States, where public spending in relation to GDP is one of the lowest among OECD countries [11], a revenue-neutral tax reform would be insufficient to finance possible additional social transfers – as seen above, a significant instrument to reduce inequality – but most importantly to enhance people’s capabilities and make the promise of equal opportunity more real.

(2) Confronting the sin of inequality in capabilities

In the previous subchapter, I have advocated for the use of relatively light instruments to tackle the issue of income inequality because in my typology of inequalities, it is economically speaking not the most salient and from a moral point of view, it is the less illegitimate. We may not agree that a CEO earns several hundred times the wages of the most humble workers of a company, but we generally accept that professions involving a lot of risk taking (soldiers, firemen), requiring very high skills (surgeons) or prone to face attempts of corruption (judges, politicians) should be paid accordingly, that is higher than the average.

Therefore, some dose of inequality is acceptable, even necessary, but should be kept within the limits of decency, especially when the link between astronomical remuneration and performance or social utility is difficult to establish, like in scandals around traders’ bonuses or CEOs getting golden parachutes worth millions of dollars after having sunk the firm they had in charge.

However, raised in the spirit of liberal democracy and with the beliefs that “all Men are created equal” [12] and “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” [13], we have less tolerance for environment-based, “deterministic” inequalities connected with ethnicity, gender, the family or place of residence. According to this individualistic ideal, the sole criterium that should be taken into account for distribution of social roles – and subsequent retributions – is people’s capacities, virtues and talents.

Alike the Parable of the Talents, this principle has been perverted in its understanding by a social Darwinist, static interpretation which leads to the conclusion that we live indeed in such a society where distribution of places has already been made in line with the rule of fairness. Therefore, the current order is just and existing inequalities are nothing else but the reflection of differences in abilities.

This vision relies on two strong hypotheses that are in reality hard to verify. The first is that social hierarchy is perfectly liquid and allows everyone to challenge any position at any time, so that the best candidate for a given place, even if he is a newcomer, can access it… and consequently declass the former occupant. In advocating social mobility, we indeed tend to forget that it cannot work only upwards and implies that some people go down. We see however in practice that mere transaction costs, not to mention people’s “defense” strategies, make the social order much more inert than a purely meritocratic system would require.

The second assumption is that ability-enhancing instruments such as education or healthcare are either available for all or, at least, that they are also made accessible on a competitive and fair process, like it is supposed to be the case for studying at university. In reality, while significant progress has been achieved in the United States regarding extension of health insurance coverage [14], college entry and persistance has been become more and more correlated with family income [15].

Critiques of the Affordable Care Act usually argue that mandatory health insurance illegitimately undermines freedom of choice. One can ask however what kind of freedom it is to skip out medical treatment because of cost – a population on the rise for the past fifteen years [16] – and ultimately to put a bigger financial burden on the society as emergency measures are more expensive (and must be provided by hospitals) than prevention and regular care.

In this example, reducing the freedom to choose or not to subscribe a health insurance plan can actually increase the chances for an individual to be able to effectively exercise his other freedoms: if they are sick or disabled, their ability to take an employment, to have a family life or to enjoy culture and leisure is undeniably restricted in comparison with other people, all other things being equal. Though in Horace Mann’s thinking, the “great equalizer” referred to education, it could be extended to include public regulation in general.

The capabilities approach is multifaceted and can affect issues ranging from housing to environment protection as geographical segregation, either “spontaneous” or policy-designed, does have certain effects on economic opportunities, access to good education or health. It would go beyond the limits of this essay to express detailed propositions for each of the potentially concerned fields, yet we can list some of the principles that should be incorporated in public policy and understood by citizens.

First, contrary to what is often said, public intervention aimed at reducing inequality is not so much a matter of trade-off between liberty and equality but before all between different liberties. We have just seen an example of this in the case of healthcare, but the same could be claimed for instance in a situation where economic freedom enters in conflict with one’s own (and others’) “freedom to”, that is right to live in a safe environment and to be kept away, as far as possible, from hazardous substances and activities.

Second, in a world going more and more interdependent and therefore, where one’s activity involves more and more externalities, sometimes even unintended or unforeseen, trade-off between conflicting liberties cannot be solved at the level of the sole individual but must also involve other “interested parties”, or stakeholders. That is why public regulation – though not necessarily state-driven – should grow accordingly.

Third, a large part of it cannot function properly without being universalized, at least at the nation-state level. Leaving education or healthcare unregulated would simply create two-tier schemes, where the best “fruits” would be picked up by market players while more “difficult” cases would be left to public entities if they exist, or simply out of the system. Again, it doesn’t mean that state authorities have to manage everything, but like in the example of the Affordable Care Act, they can put obligations on private parties to correct collectively damageable situations.

Public regulation should not however cover the entire range of services. The limit between what can (or should) be guaranteed by law and what is considered “optional” should depend on democratic decisions, the level of affluence of a given society and the range of externalities. In the case of higher education, considering the level of development of the United States, the impact of college completion on social trajectories and general evolution of the labour market, one may raise the question of making it less expensive for students and their families through increased public support. In this regard, the Kalamazoo Promise experiment is rather encouraging, though it is obviously no silver bullet [17].

Universalization does not mean either uniformization. Together with rising interdependence – a consequence among other factors of deepening division of labour and globalization –, we have observed another aspect of complexification, namely diversification of preferences and heterogenization of people. The cult of the individual and their freedom of choice, combined with the general elevation of the average level of education, have made social structures and preferences more “liquid” (Zygmunt Bauman) and people, less prone to see their lives dictated by institutions, be it the state… or the church.

That is why regulatory activities should be inclusive during the definition process and later, during the implementation and enforcement phases. They should also leave a lot of freedom in finding local solutions that meet criteria set at the regulatory level. This is the approach taken for example towards charter schools in the United States or free schools in the United Kingdom, and more broadly speaking in the Big Society vision. Though Germany is usually seen as less liberal, it applies a similar model for the provision of social services by religious organizations, thus giving reality to the principles of freedom of religion and equal treatment between them.

Yet again, for apparent freedom not to turn into a situation where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and to ensure a level playing field, there is a need for centrally managed redistribution of resources. Where to find such resources? This will be the main topic of the next and last subchapter dedicated to solutions against the problem of wealth inequality.

(3) Confronting the sin of wealth inequality

Paradoxically, while wealth inequality may be the most serious form of inequality for this century [18], its taxation tends to be not very popular, even in a shrinking middle class that would eventually benefit from it. Another logic opposes here the merit-based argument: the legitimacy and right for people to pass something on to their offspring and the belief that the protection of private property, enshrined in most modern Constitutions, is some kind of natural right that bars the possibility for the state to tax it.

One should remember though that the high importance given to this point, theorized by political thinkers such as John Locke in the 17th century, appeared in an epoch of absolutist and oppressive regimes and was in fact used as a weapon to check them. Private property had in this context the function to protect people’s political and economic autonomy against illegitimate state intervention. Until the Second World War, private property was still perceived as the main guarantee for an individual or a family to protect their political independence and their economic position against the “risks” of life such as disease or age. Socialists would try to seize capital and redistribute it to the masses, whereas liberals would encourage people to work hard and save up money so that they would also eventually become capital owners.

It turned out however that employment was not a temporary phase during which workers would accumulate wealth before crossing the barrier with the haves, but that it was a normal and indispensable feature of industrial capitalism. Therefore, a solution had to be found in order to provide workers – the large majority of the population – with some sort of social insurance against basic risks of life, including unemployment, yet at the same time keeping them in factories or offices owned by big corporations.

This solution was the welfare state, according to which the main foundation for providing social security was no longer private ownership, but financial contributions paid throughout professional life and rights acquired during employment periods (Bismarckian system) or simply citizenship (Beveridgean model). Universalization of these schemes didn’t always lead to concentration of power in the hands of state authorities as in many European countries, Social Security systems have been co-managed by business and labour organizations. In other words, at that moment, private property lost part of its social function.

The idea that private property is an earthly institution that exists to fulfill certain social functions and is not a natural or divine right can be also traced in theological thought, from Saint Thomas Aquinas [19] to Pope Francis. One can for instance read in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good […].” [20]

It follows that private property cannot claim for absolute protection and that its defense should be put in relation with other principles and objectives, such as equality or at least fairness. Going a step further, we come to the hypothesis where private property can even be forfeited if it ceases to correctly fulfill its social function. In which way does it make a case for the introduction of a global wealth tax, like Piketty suggests in his book?

“Real” wealth, that is land, buildings, natural resources but also art or manufactured products is mostly available in limited quantities. If they were not, property rights would not be necessary as there would be no need for a system of “control management” over a restricted number of goods. In this situation, everyone would possess and use as much as they desire without having to take their neighbors’ pieces.

Because it is not the case in reality, property rights exist to maintain a certain stability and predictability of the distribution scheme of scarce resources. If anyone could at any time go to their neighbors and pick there fruits from the garden or food from the fridge, no one could be ever sure of having dinner in the evening. At the same time, following the pope’s words and what we saw earlier in this subchapter, besides the protection aspect of private property, there is also a growth dimension. Private property is indeed supposed to increase global wealth, playing either on greed or people’s desire to leave something to their children to encourage them to work and make a productive use of capital.

Is this second objective met in the current situation? One can have doubts about it. Extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and well beyond what it takes to satisfy even highbrow needs creates an exaggerate competition for non duplicable goods such as artwork or luxury housing in global capitals or on the French Riviera. This results in hyperinflation of prices for such goods and further exacerbate the needs felt by billionaires to earn additional billions in order not to lose the rat race with their counterparts. Except for a few artists or real estate brokers, the social output of this process is null or even negative as it draws money that could have been otherwise spent with a higher level of social utility for people with smaller income and wealth.

In a different domain, the inability of markets to correctly internalize the negative externalities of resource extraction, for example of hydrocarbons, on water rarefaction, land degradation, air pollution or climate change, also questions the adequacy of the property rights’ system in its current form to address scarcity and even to preserve the “common good”. The conclusion is that low cost of capital and resources doesn’t incentivize economic agents who own them to make the most productive use of these instruments while private property rights protect owners from the possiblity to be challenged by potentially more motivated and talented entrepreneurs. Again, it is as if the master, after having distributed the talents, left forever and servants have become lazy.

A global tax on wealth and natural resources which could be first introduced at the level of the United States or the European Union, would have, if well designed, a long list of consequences. First, replacing at least partially income taxation, it would alleviate burden on labour, make work pay and this way support job creation. Additional revenue would serve among other destinations to finance capability-enhancing policies mentioned in the previous subchapter.

Second, taxing any form of capital, regardless of its type and the nature of its owner, would recreate a level playing field in a economy affected by “disruptive” phenomena. For example, innovative platforms like Airbnb or Uber make the line blurrer between non professional and professional service providers whereas they are subject to different legal and tax regulations. A uniform, asset-based tax regime would make competition fairer between them and at the same time encourage individuals to make a more intensive use of their property, for instance by subletting their homes or cars, instead of leaving them empty a majority of the time and idling resources.

Third, the integration of natural resources, including greenhouse gas emissions, in the tax base and the calculation mode, with differenciated rates for primary and recycled material, would encourage both producers and consumers to adopt more economical practices, from cradle to cradle design to circular and functional economy (also called sharing economy or collaborative consumption). This would in turn reduce ecological footprint without significant degradation of comfort or qualify of life.

Fourth, because of the restored connection between taxation and “real” assets, tax evasion would actually be made more difficult than it is the case now, with financial flows or global managers moving quite easily with little or no control at all. The general shift in tax policy from flows to stocks is notably supported by the OECD, on the grounds of both taxation effectiveness (revenue-raising), social redistribution and ecological objectives [21]. In the long run, it should progressively reduce inequalities in income and capabilities while the persistance of the current wealth distribution structure would depend on owners’ ability to increase the rate of use, thus the rate of return of their capital. From this perspective, wealth taxation would not be confiscatory nor would it violate property rights.

More than on lobbying efforts on behalf of the richest, the chances for such proposals to be adopted depend firstly on our own acceptance to take the risk of paying more in order to ultimately get more, though not necessarily in monetary form. We must therefore be ready to make another act of faith towards our neighbors, with whom we should feel bound not only by the ties of “forced interdependence” but also the “chosen” one. The difference is called solidarity.


[1] Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, “Wealth and Inheritance in the Long Run,” in Handbook of Income Distribution, ed. Anthony B. Atkinson and François Bourguignon, 1303-1368, (Elsevier, 2015), 1340.
[2] Kathrin Brandmeir, Dr. Michaela Grimm, Dr. Michael Heise, Dr. Arne Holzhausen, Allianz Global Wealth Report 2014 (Munich: Allianz SE, 2014).
[3] Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Passeron, Les héritiers. Les étudiants et leurs études (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1964).
[4] Carol J. Loomis, “Should you leave it all to the children?,” Fortune, November 21, 2012, https://fortune.com/2012/11/21/should-you-leave-it-all-to-the-children/.
[5] Jon Bakija, Adam Cole, Bradley T. Heim, “Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality: Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data,” (Internal Revenue Service, 2010).
[6] Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, The World Top Incomes Database, retrieved June 25, 2015. http://topincomes.g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/.
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[8] Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, “Wealth Inequality in the United States Since 1913: Evidence From Capitalized Income Tax Data,” NBER Working Paper No. 20625 (Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014).
[9] Herwig Immervoll, Linda Richardson, “Redistribution Policy in Europe and the United States: Is the Great Recession a ’Game Changer’ for Working-age Families?,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 150 (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013).
[10] Steven Mufson, “Obama’s proposal to raise the capital gains tax drives sharp wedge between parties,” The Washington Post, January 20, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/obamas-proposal-to-raise-the-capital-gains-tax-drives-sharp-wedge-between-parties/2015/01/20/85eafb64-a0c1-11e4-903f-9f2faf7cd9fe_story.html.
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[12] United States Declaration of Independence, 1776.
[13] Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789.
[14] Jenna Levy, “In U.S., Uninsured Rate Dips to 11.9% in First Quarter,” Gallup, April 13, 2015, http://www.gallup.com/poll/182348/uninsured-rate-dips-first-quarter.aspx.
[15] Martha J. Bailey, Susan M. Dynarski, “Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in U.S. College Entry and Completion,” NBER Working Paper No. 17633 (Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2011).
[16] Rebecca Riffkin, “Cost Still a Barrier Between Americans and Medical Care,” Gallup, November 28, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/179774/cost-barrier-americans-medical-care.aspx.
[17] Timothy Ready, “Free college is not enough: The unavoidable limits of the Kalamazoo Promise,” Social Mobility Memos - The Brookings Institution, June 24, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/social-mobility-memos/posts/2015/06/24-kalamazoo-promise-college-ready.
[18] Thomas Piketty, Le capital au XIXe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 2013).
[19] Anton Hermann Chroust, Robert J. Affeldt, “The Problem of Private Property According to St. Thomas Aquinas,” Marquette Law Review vol. 34 no. 3, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Law School, 1951).
[20] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 2013.
[21] Henrik Braconier, Giuseppe Nicoletti, Ben Westmore, “Policy Challenges for the Next 50 Years,” OECD Economic Policy Paper No. 9 (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2014), 55.