Their inequality and ours | Citizens' Press

There is a big difference between the reasons that socialists/leftists bring up inequality and the reasons liberals are concerned with it. However, many on the left seem unable to articulate the difference well enough to distinguish ourselves from liberals when it comes to how we should deal with inequality. There is a cost to this confusion as people are unable to distinguish between the politics of the solutions presented.

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Socialist and liberal analysis come from different starting points even when it comes to issues like social and economic inequality.

Two clear examples of the liberal analysis can be seen in Crystia Freeland’s articles about inequality and this article in The New Yorker entitled the Mobility Myth.

Freeland’s articles highlight the correlation between inequality and reduced economic growth and ends with a call for more equitable opportunity to rise through the classes. The authors in the New Yorker article look at a new study that shows that Americans do not have reduced mobility between economic classes today versus 30 years ago. Instead, the study shows that Americans have not had any significant access to social mobility for a long time – including 30-40 years ago.

The main reason why liberals focus on inequality is social mobility. This makes sense, since meritocracy is an important tool for selling their ideology. The belief that the system is not entirely rigged is what allows them to promote their ideas of individual responsibility and limiting the role of the State to helping individuals “self maximize”. It also stops liberals from acting together to fight for systemic change – why do that if you can just work harder to make things better for yourself?

The reasons socialists focus on inequality are different. Socialists start from the analysis that capitalism is an economic system controlled by those who own the capacity to produce goods. The expectation therefore is that capitalism will always have high levels of inequality. Socialists also recognize that capitalism will allow some social mobility because it is structured this way. However, for individuals to have slightly more or less ability to climb over each other does not solve the inequality caused by capitalism. This is because you have to pull someone else down (or displace a failing individual) to get to the top.

You can see the relevance of this difference when it comes to producing policies to address social and economic inequality. Liberals will try to promote social mobility and use taxes to facilitate that. Socialists will try to use the State to redistribute wealth downwards from the excessive wealth hoarded by capitalists to the workers that created that wealth, as well as to those that were trampled along the way.

Simply put, liberal analysis and policies dealing with economic and social inequality strive to produce better capitalists; socialist policies promote more social and economic justice.