Over the weekend an article appeared in the FT Weekend where the question was asked: “But might the pursuit of equality be philosophically indefensible – a distraction from more important goals?” Julian Baggini reviews four recently published books on the subject of inequality. The books by the epidemiologist Michael Marmot and economists Robert Reich and Thomas Piketty ‘argue that the return to equality as a political ideal is important and well-grounded’. But Harry Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton University, dissents. He argues that “it is misguided to endorse economic egalitarianism as an authentic moral ideal”. His argument rests on three pillars:
- Equality can easily be achieved by making everyone ‘dirt poor’;
- A better idea is the ‘doctrine of sufficiency’ which concerns the inherent value of genuine human goods – need rather than what we have; and
- Emphasis on equality is in some senses corrupting.
Baggini concedes that although the logic is impeccable there are shadows of straw men falling across it. It is doubted whether concern for equality is that significant. Read Julian Baggini’s article The few and the many’ first published by the FT Weekend on 10 October 2015 [subscription required] and the books reviewed are:
- On Inequality by Harry G Frankfurt, Princeton University Press 120 pages;
- The Health Gap: The Challenge of a Unequal World by Michael Marmot, Bloomsbury 400 pages [to be published in the US next month];
- Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert b Reich, Knopf 305 pages; and
- The Economics of Inequality by Thomas Piketty, Bellknap Press 160 pages.