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Income Inequality And Poverty Aren’t The Same Thing

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income-inequalityIncome inequality and poverty are separate issues. For many people this is obvious. But there are numerous Christians who believe that income inequality is an important issue because they assume it is a proxy for poverty. If this were true, Christians would indeed need to be concerned about income inequality because concern about poverty is a foundational principle of any Christian view of economics.

Fortunately, there is neither a necessary connection nor correlation. A country could have absolutely no poverty at all and have extremely high-income inequality. The reason is because income inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient), measures relative, not absolute, income.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Harry Frankfurt, a philosopher who has written a book on inequality, has a guest post at Forbes in which he makes the same point: income inequality and poverty aren’t the same thing.

What is bad is not inequality; it is poverty. We should want each person to have enough—that is, enough to support the pursuit of a life in which his or her own reasonable ambitions and needs may be comfortably satisfied. This individually measured sufficiency, which by definition precludes the bur­dens and deprivations of poverty, is clearly a more sensible goal than the achievement of an impersonally calibrated equality.

[…]

It is not inequality itself that is to be decried; nor is it equality it­self that is to be applauded. We must try to eliminate poverty, not because the poor have less than others but be­cause being poor is full of hardship and suffering. We must con­trol inequality, not because the rich have much more than the poor but because of the tendency of inequality to generate unac­ceptable discrepancies in social and political influence. Inequality is not in itself objectionable—and neither is equality in itself a morally required ideal.

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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).

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