Over the last decade, the debate over income inequality, poverty and wealth, and socialism has increasingly heightened. Notably, the three aspects are related as they constitute the economic aspect of life. The first two entails elements that define an individual’s economic class, while the last one refers to a concept of social organization advocating for means of production, distribution, and exchange to be owned or regulated by the society as a whole. It is worth noting that there are mainly two facets of the said debate. In the context of the United States, the two sides of the debate can be explained using the paradigm of the two visions of government, which entail the constrained and unconstrained visions.
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Facets of the Debate
Income Inequality and Poverty and Wealth
Regarding income inequality, poverty, and wealth, the fundamental question is what makes someone rich or poor. One side of the debate holds that a person’s financial standing is related to how hard working they are. Thus, it is up to an individual to ensure that they escape poverty through hard work. People who hold this view strongly believe that America is a land of opportunity, but these opportunities can only be optimized by those who are willing to work hard and uphold the enterprising spirit (Bougrine, 2016). Based on this viewpoint, whether a person is rich or poor boils down to how hardworking they are and their enterprising level.
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The other side of the debate entails people who believe that a person being rich or poor stems from factors beyond their control. Most of them believe that poverty and wealth are rooted in how the government provides opportunities to different groups of people based on their background. Concerning income inequality, this side argues that American society is characterized by prejudice mostly underpinned on racial and gender grounds. It is this prejudice that contributes to income inequality (Aiyar & Ebeke, 2020). Relatedly, income inequality influences wealth distribution; thus, explaining poverty and wealth.
Similar to the issues of income inequality and poverty and wealth, there are two faces of the socialism debate. On one side are people who express positive views regarding socialism. Notably, these individuals argue that capitalism oppresses the lower class due to its competitive nature. According to them, the wealthy minority controls the economy by emphasizing decreasing wages and opportunities for the working class. As such, they believe that socialism can dispel class distinction by allowing social ownership and control of means of production and management of the economy. They also hypothesize that dispelling class distinction can result in a harmonious society – one that is free of oppression and financial instability, and wealth divides (Honneth, 2016). Thus, they generally believe that control is necessary to eliminate among citizens; therefore, ensuring financial freedom for all citizens by addressing income inequality and wealth distribution issues.
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On the other side of the debate is people who are against socialism. These are individuals who believe that socialism smothers the aspect of individualism in a society. They argue that when there is no individualism, competition becomes non-existence, and, as a result, aggregate production declines. According to this group, competition is necessary to ensure that an economic system continuously strives to maximize efficiency, consequently facilitating optimal production (Honneth, 2016). They also argue that socialism can paralyze features of production since there will be an artificial system in which the laws of supply and demand do not apply. Moreover, anti-socialists elucidate that socialism can incentivize the lazy to rely on the hardworking, thereby burdening the latter (Lipset, 2019). Thus, they hypothesize that in socialism, the rich can become poor, and those who are poor suffer even more due to the planned economy.
Analysis of The Various Positions
Sowell’s dichotomy of the constrained and unconstrained visions can help explain the above-described faces of the debate regarding income inequality, poverty and wealth, and socialism. According to Sowell (2007), people with constrained vision believe that certain limitations are acceptable inherent facts of life. However, one must strive to do their best within the constraints by carefully weighing trade-offs to ensure that their actions are informed by morality and the desire to do what is right. As for people with an unconstrained vision, believe that everything is perfectible and, as such, the concept of “solution” is central to their vision. According to Sowell, for those with an unconstrained vision, the objective of achieving a solution justifies their initial means even though they might be otherwise considered unacceptable. The constrained vision represents people who subscribe to the right-wing, while the unconstrained vision defines those of the left-wing. This is clearly visible under the lens of the values and principles that inform the policies of both political divides.
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Regarding income inequality and wealth and poverty, the left-wing (Democrats) believe that people are poor or rich due to social disparities stemming from systemic injustice. As such, a person being impoverished is in most cases beyond their control since the systemic injustice causes exclusion and segregation, which in turn influences the likelihood of an individual being poor or rich. The systemic inequality also causes the income inequality that characterizes the American working class (“Republicans, Democrats split on why people are rich or poor”, 2017). Hence, Democrats are more likely to associate a person’s financial/economic position with circumstances and advantages or disadvantages. Contrarily, the right-wing (Republicans) believe that a person is poor or rich due to their efforts. They also pose the same argument to explain income inequality. Most of the individuals who subscribe to the right-wing link a person’s income to their level of competence, experience, and hard work – or a lack of it. Concerning socialism, most Republicans strongly reject the concept while most Democrats are more supportive of it, although not vehemently. This can be attributed to the values and principles that underpin both divides (“Stark partisan divisions in Americans’ views of ‘socialism,’ ‘capitalism’”, 2019). The left-wing emphasize reform, rights, equality, progress, and freedom. On the other hand, the right-wing stress order, authority, duty, hierarchy, tradition, and nationalism (Salmela & von Scheve, 2018). Therefore, Sowell’s dichotomy of the constrained and constrained vision can help illuminate why the Democrats and the Republicans have opposing views regarding income inequality, poverty and wealth, and socialism.
Biblical Approach to Income Inequality
From a Biblical Approach, “The Parable of Talents” in Mathew 25:14-30 best explains the concept of income inequality. The parable narrates of a master who was about to travel for an extended period. Before leaving, he entrusted his property to his three servants. The first one received five bags of gold, the second one received two bags, and the third one bag based. Notably, the master distributed the wealth based on each servant’s ability. Two servants went ahead to put work into the entrusted gold. One of them dug a hole and hid the bag of gold. Upon return, the master called the servants to balance the accounts. Those who invested their gold had doubled it while the one who hid his in a hole made no profit. The master was pleased with the first two and rewarded for their efforts. However, he was resentful to the lazy servant that he fired him. The parable shows that those who invest their time and efforts wisely are rewarded while those that fail to do so suffer adverse consequences. Therefore, income inequality is not inherently wrong as it stems from people’s varying abilities, creativity, hard work, enterprise-spirit, and decision-making. It is fundamentally deep-rooted in the differences in skills, competence, and ability that characterize a society. Therefore, the biblical approach to income inequality concurs with the argument of individual’s with an unconstrained vision, who in America mostly subscribe to the politics of the right-wing.
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To sum up, the debate over income inequality, poverty and wealth, and socialism mainly take two positions. On one side are individuals who believe that income inequality, poverty, and wealth depend on society’s systemic design and thus are beyond an individual’s control. The other side incorporates people who believe that the aspects can be explained by the differences in skill, competence, creativity, hard work, enterprise-spirit, and decision-making within society. The former group advocate for socialism while the latter is firmly against the concept. Analysis of the two sides of the debate using Sowell’s dichotomy of visions points out that those who advocate for socialism and believe that income inequality and poverty and wealth are due to systemic prejudices can be categorized under the constrained vision while the other group aligns with the unconstrained vision. Regarding income inequality, the Bible illuminates that it is not inherently wrong as it stems from people’s varying abilities.
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