As we’re well aware the current cry is that inequality is at record levels and we really, must, just overturn the entirety of society to wipe this evil from the world. There are a number of problems with this idea, among them that those Jacobin attempts to overturn society have never really worked out well. It’s also true though that inequality isn’t at record levels.
Think through it for a moment. Think about Victorian levels – to which today is so often compared. To be poor was not to eat. Absent significant mental health or addiction problems no one cannot eat in our society. The same is true of clothing, of shelter and so on. Sure, some people have Primark sneakers and some have spare pairs of Air Jordans but that’s qualitatively different from some having shoes and others none.
Another way to look at this is that a century ago the poor did not own a telephone and only the very richest would make an international phone call. Today – well, OK the 2 billion of us in middle income and rich countries – all have the same access to free telecoms as Bill Gates. Well, assuming that Gates can bring himself to use Facebook that is. W£e might indeed have inequality of financial assets between us and Gates but we’ve got near none at over our access to other things. And I would submit that those other things are the rather more important parts of life as well.
Let us look at the actual numbers for the UK. Here’s the Office for National Statistics:
Overall, taxes and benefits continued to redistribute income from the richest to the poorest people in the FYE 2019; the ratio of average income between the richest and poorest fifth of people fell from 13.7 to 3.8 after accounting for all these redistributive measures.
Your nominal income is the amount of cash you get. Your real income is the amount you can consume. So, inequality in the UK is, between those top and bottom groups, 3.9 times when we measure by real incomes.
Is that too high or too low? Certainly, it’s nowhere near as high as it used to be under dear Queen Victoria, is it? Myself I’d say we’ve rather solved the inequality thing, time to go look at other problems.