Inequality Reexamined

Inequality Reexamined

Inequality Reexamined

Inequality Reexamined


Professor Sen revisits the issues tackled in his previous seminal work, On Economic Inequality, first published in 1973, and provides new analyses and insights in this crucial area. This original and incisive book brings together and develops some of the most important themes of Sen's work over the last decade. He notes that the difference between virtually all contemporary ethical approaches to social arrangements lies not in whether they demand equality or notDSthey all demand equality of somethingDSbut in what sort of equality they propound. Any claim to equality must take account of the diversity of human beings and their characteristics. Sen argues in a rich and subtle approach that we should be concerned with people's capabilities rather than either their resources or their welfare. Sen also looks at some types of inequalities that have not yet been studied as systematically as inequalities of class and wealth have been. These include, inter alia, the important issue of gender inequality.


This monograph, as the title indicates, is about re-examining inequality. But it is also about the evaluation and assessment of social arrangements in general. The former depends on the latter.

Equality of What?

The central question in the analysis and assessment of equality is, I argue here, 'equality of what?' I also argue that a common characteristic of virtually all the approaches to the ethics of social arrangements that have stood the test of time is to want equality of something--something that has an important place in the particular theory. Not only do income-egalitarians (if I may call them that) demand equal incomes, and welfare-egalitarians ask for equal welfare levels, but also classical utilitarians insist on equal weights on the utilities of all, and pure libertarians demand equality with respect to an entire class of rights and liberties. They are all 'egalitarians' in some essential way--arguing resolutely for equality of something which everyone should have and which is quite crucial to their own particular approach. To see the battle as one between those 'in favour of' and those 'against' equality (as the problem is often posed in the literature) is to miss something central to the subject.

I also argue that this common feature of being egalitarian in some significant way relates to the need to have equal concern, at some level, for all the persons involved--the absence of which would tend to make a proposal lack social plausibility.

Central Equality and Entailed Inequality

The crucial role of the question 'equality of what?' suggests that we can see the disputes between different schools of thought in terms of what they respectively take to be the central social exercise in which equality is to be demanded. These demands would then qualify the nature of the other social decisions. The demand for equality in terms of one variable entails that the theory concerned may have to be non-egalitarian with respect to another variable, since the two perspectives can, quite possibly, conflict.

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