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Frankfurt, On Inequality

On Inequality

Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, is probably best known for his book On Bullshit. In his new book, a revised and expanded version of two journal articles published decades ago, he takes on those who find economic inequality morally objectionable. On Inequality (Princeton University Press, 2015) may not be the last word in the debate over income distribution, but it should sharpen the terms of the debate.

Eliminating income inequality, Frankfurt argues, cannot be a fundamental goal because “inequality of incomes might be decisively eliminated … just by arranging that all incomes be equally below the poverty line. Needless to say, that way of achieving equality of incomes—by making everyone equally poor—has very little to be said for it.” (p. 3) Instead, we should focus on reducing both poverty and excessive affluence. “That may very well entail, of course, a reduction of inequality. But the reduction of inequality cannot itself be our most essential ambition.” (p. 5)

It is not morally important that everybody have the same. “What is morally important is that each should have enough. If everyone had enough money, it would be of no special or deliberate concern...