Acton Institute Powerblog

Hayek, Inequality, and Poverty Alleviation

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81396fYesterday, Acton research associate Dylan Pahman made the connection between inequality and poverty alleviation. Today, he continues that argument and explains how the connection affirms the moral merits of economic liberty:

Hayek argued for a stronger connection between inequality and economic progress in his 1960 work The Constitution of Liberty. “New knowledge and its benefits,” writes Hayek, “can spread only gradually, and the ambitions of the many will always be determined by what is as yet accessible only to the few . . . This means that there will always be people who already benefit from new achievements that have not yet reached others.”

Hayek’s basic point is simple: Before many social advancements become common, they first exists as luxuries. “The new things,” writes Hayek, “will often become available to the greater part of the people only because for some time they have been the luxuries of the few.” This applies to much of what the average person in a developed society today takes for granted: automobiles, air-conditioning, refrigeration, tablet computers, smart phones, and so on. Go back far enough, and we might even add clean water and basic sanitation to the list.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • I think you guys are being too generous toward the comments of religious leaders who trash wealthy countries. Their comments indicate a level of economic intelligence equal to that of the middle ages. They seem to think that the wealthy nations have mountains of gold sitting idle. Western wealth is all working hard producing jobs because it is tied up in businesses. To transfer that wealth to poor countries would require selling ownership in Western businesses. But who would we sell to? If we merely sell to each other in the wealthy world there would be no net giving to the poor. But the poor world can’t afford to buy those companies.

    The only answer would be for all Westerners to quit investing in the maintenance of existing companies and stop creating new businesses. Only then could we take the wealth created by Western businesses and give it to poor countries. But that would mean massive layoffs and unemployment in the West. Why are these religious “leaders” too lazy to learn that?

    Also, for inequality to be evil the wealthy must have gotten their wealth in an immoral way, such as theft. Are these religious leaders accusing the West of having stolen from the poor what took us 300 years to produce? That seems to be the implications of their nonsense, but if so it demonstrates truly disgusting ignorance.