The Wrong Way to Fight Inequality


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The Wrong Way to Fight Inequality Blog Image

Why in News?

  • In recent years, the issue of economic inequality has garnered significant attention worldwide, with scholars and policymakers delving into its complexities and implications.
  • French economist Thomas Piketty recently released a study titled "Income and Wealth Inequality in India, 1922-2023: The Rise of the Billionaire Raj."
  • Amid the debate on redistribution of wealth, it is important to examine Piketty's findings and the ongoing debate on economic inequality and wealth redistribution in India.

Data Interpretation of the Magnitude of Inequality

  • Piketty's research reveals startling statistics regarding the extent of economic inequality in India.
  • In 2022, the top 1% of the Indian population possessed 40.1% of total wealth and earned 22.6% of total income, while the bottom 50% owned merely 6.4% of total wealth and earned 15% of total income.
  • Despite the declining share of income for the bottom 50%, their real income and standard of living have improved significantly.
  • Data from the World Inequality Lab suggests that the total real income of the bottom 50% increased over four-fold between 1991 and 2022.
  • However, the disparity in income shares between different socioeconomic groups underscores the limited economic freedom available to the bottom 50%, hindering their ability to compete effectively in the market.

An Analysis of Correlation Between Economic Growth, Wealth and Inequality

  • Historical Context
    • India's economic history is marked by distinct phases, each characterised by unique economic policies and developmental trajectories.
    • The pre-independence era was characterized by colonial rule, with a predominantly agrarian economy subject to exploitative economic practices.
    • Following independence in 1947, India adopted a socialist economic model, emphasising state intervention and public sector dominance.
    • This period saw limited economic growth and modest reductions in inequality but also entrenched structural barriers and inefficiencies.
  • Transition to Market-Oriented Policies
    • The pivotal shift towards market-oriented policies began in the 1980s and gained momentum in the 1990s, under the banner of economic liberalisation.
    • These reforms aimed to dismantle regulatory barriers, promote private sector participation, and integrate India into the global economy.
    • The dismantling of the License Raj, trade liberalisation, and fiscal reforms were among the key policy measures undertaken during this period.
  • Economic Growth Dynamics
    • The transition to market-oriented policies ushered in a new era of economic growth and dynamism.
    • India's GDP growth rate, which averaged a meagre 1.6% per year between 1960 and 1990, surged to an average of 3.6% per year between 1990 and 2022.
    • This acceleration in economic growth was accompanied by increased investment, technological advancement, and integration into global supply chains.
  • Impact on Inequality Due to Economic Growth
    • While economic growth expanded the overall size of the economic pie, its distributional consequences were far from equitable.
    • Piketty's research highlights how income and wealth disparities widened significantly in tandem with economic liberalisation.
    • The share of national income accruing to the top income percentiles surged, while the bottom segments experienced stagnation or decline in their share of income and wealth.

Challenges of Wealth Inequality: A Comprehensive Examination

  • Structural Dynamics
    • Wealth inequality is often symptomatic of broader structural dynamics within an economy.
    • In the case of India, historical legacies of colonialism, caste-based discrimination, and unequal access to resources have contributed to the concentration of wealth among privileged segments of society.
    • Additionally, policies favouring certain industries or interest groups can perpetuate wealth disparities by providing preferential treatment to select individuals or corporations.
  • Market Dynamics
    • While market economies theoretically reward entrepreneurial talent and efficient capital allocation, the reality is often more nuanced.
    • Wealth accumulation is influenced not only by individual merit but also by factors such as access to capital, education, and social networks.
    • Consequently, those with existing wealth and privilege are better positioned to leverage these advantages, perpetuating a cycle of inequality.
  • Government Policies and Privileges
    • Critically, wealth inequality is not solely a product of market forces but is often exacerbated by government policies and regulatory frameworks.
    • Rent-seeking behaviour, crony capitalism, and regulatory capture can grant undue advantages to certain economic actors, allowing them to amass disproportionate wealth at the expense of broader societal welfare.
    • Moreover, lax enforcement of antitrust laws and inadequate measures to curb monopolistic practices can further concentrate wealth in the hands of a few powerful entities.

Divergent Perspectives on Wealth Redistribution

  • Advocates of Wealth Redistribution
    • Proponents of wealth redistribution argue that addressing inequality through progressive taxation and social welfare programs is essential for promoting social justice and equitable opportunity.
    • They contend that concentrated wealth undermines democratic principles and perpetuates social stratification, hindering social mobility and exacerbating poverty and economic insecurity.
    • Advocates often cite moral imperatives and principles of solidarity in advocating for policies that redistribute wealth from the affluent to the less privileged.
  • Critics of Wealth Redistribution
    • Critics of wealth redistribution raise several objections to interventionist policies aimed at redistributing wealth.
    • They argue that excessive taxation and redistribution can stifle economic incentives, discourage investment and entrepreneurship, and undermine economic efficiency and productivity.
    • Moreover, critics contend that government intervention in markets can lead to unintended consequences, such as market distortions, rent-seeking behaviour, and bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Way Forward

  • Alternative Approaches
    • Instead of direct wealth redistribution, critics often advocate for alternative approaches to addressing inequality, such as expanding access to education, promoting economic growth, and fostering a conducive business environment.
    • They argue that policies aimed at enhancing human capital, promoting innovation, and reducing barriers to entrepreneurship can generate inclusive prosperity and empower individuals to improve their economic circumstances.
    • Moreover, critics emphasise the importance of addressing structural impediments, such as regulatory barriers, crony capitalism, and corruption, that contribute to wealth concentration and economic inequality.
  • Navigating the Middle Ground
    • The debate on wealth redistribution reflects broader ideological and political divisions regarding the role of government, the efficacy of market mechanisms, and the trade-offs between equity and efficiency.
    • Navigating a middle ground requires reconciling competing priorities and finding pragmatic solutions that balance the imperatives of economic growth, social justice, and fiscal responsibility.
    • By promoting constructive dialogue and evidence-based policymaking, societies can strive towards a more equitable and sustainable economic system that benefits all members of society.


  • While Piketty's findings highlight the urgency of addressing inequality, the efficacy of wealth redistribution measures like a wealth tax remains contentious.

Ultimately, the path forward lies in offering greater economic freedom for all segments of society, enabling them to compete equitably in the marketplace and share in the benefits of economic growth. 

Q) What factors contribute to income inequality on a global scale?

Income inequality on a global scale is influenced by various factors such as disparities in access to education and healthcare, uneven distribution of resources, trade policies favouring developed nations, technological advancements leading to job displacement, and systemic issues like corruption and political instability in some regions.

Q) How does income inequality impact global economic stability?

Income inequality can destabilise the global economy by reducing consumer spending, hindering investment opportunities for the disadvantaged, fostering social unrest and political instability, and hampering overall economic growth. Additionally, it can exacerbate poverty cycles, widen the gap between the rich and poor nations, and undermine efforts towards sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

Source:The Hindu