Inequality is an inherent fact of life and has been so for ages. For any society to truly prosper, however, ensuring that the inequalities are mitigated and that the majority in any society can reap the benefits of economic prosperity is crucial for sustainable and equitable growth.
In earlier times, kings and queens or war lords and feudal lords ruled over the masses. In the 21st century it would seem to be the heads of industry and other elites in society that have accumulated significant concentrations of wealth, while the masses that we commonly refer to as “the middle class” seem to be on a slippery course in maintaining their quality of life. Government policy in the form of taxation or regulations can play an influential role in how wealth is amalgamated or disbursed within a government’s borders. There are also then forces that extend beyond borders, such as global trade or the proliferation of technology that can have an impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in any nation. Again, government can play an influential role, though, if the issue is a global one then any individual government may need to come to terms with other governments or unilaterally take measures it deems in the best interests of its citizens, such as raise or lower import duties.
In his 2013 documentary Inequality for All, Robert Reich makes a compelling argument for ‘Middle out Economics’, namely that growth is ultimately driven by the middle class. In his more recent article in the Economist, President Barack Obama advocates for free trade, globalization and technological advances as he believes they contribute to prosperity for all, if managed properly. He too, however, acknowledges the need for more equitable growth so that wealth is not concentrated among a few and income disparity is not a perpetual curse of a capitalist society. While each makes somewhat differing arguments, the essence of what both espouse is similar: growth should occur in a way that allows prosperity to be more widespread. Ultimately, it does mean that economic policies and political agendas should focus on ensuring a strong middle class that is able to live in a society with good infrastructure, affordable health care and access to quality education so they can gain the knowledge necessary to properly take advantage of inevitable technological advances in an increasingly globalized world.