PRINCETON – Inequality has been named as a culprit in the populist incursions of 2016 and 2017. But what is inequality, and what role does it play in inhibiting or encouraging growth, or in undermining democracy? Does inequality kill, say, by driving people to suicide or to “deaths of despair”? Or is inequality a necessary evil that we must tolerate at certain levels?
These are questions I am often asked. But, truth be told, none of them is particularly helpful, answerable, or even well posed. Inequality is not so much a cause of economic, political, and social processes as a consequence. Some of these processes are good, some are bad, and some are very bad indeed. Only by sorting the good from the bad (and the very bad) can we understand inequality and what to do about it.
Moreover, inequality is not the same thing as unfairness
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