Economic Inequality: A Condition for the Rich, by the Rich?

In “The Upshot” column in today’s issue of The New York Times, Robert J. Shiller speculates that economic inequality will continue because people of means either ignore it or actively support policies against more equitable redistribution of wealth. In his essay, “Today’s Inequality Could Easily Becomes Tomorrow’s Catastrophe,” Shiller, in concert with other economists, expresses pessimism about any future correction to inequality or the likelihood that economic policy will undo the consequences of inequality we see in today’s communities and nations.

Shiller points to a book written in 1983 by Harvard economic philosopher, Amartya Sen, noting:

No one seems to have an effective plan to deal with the possibility of much more severe inequality, should it develop. In the disturbing book “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation,” (Oxford, 1983) Amartya Sen, a Harvard professor, documented an extraordinary thing: In each of four devastating famines in different parts of the world, there was enough food to keep everyone alive. The problem in each case was that the food was not shared adequately. Systems of privilege and entitlement permitted hoarding of food by people of status whose lives went on much as usual, except that they had to brush off starving beggars and would occasionally see dead bodies on the street.

If you would like to watch a 1973 depiction of this privilege and its effects from Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, “Asani Sanket” or “Distant Thunder,” a YouTube upload of the film is linked below.

FYI: Because this is an uploaded version of the film, the quality suffers a bit.

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