Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Why international inequality is the price we pay for freedom

Differences in wealth between the haves and have-nots are not inherently bad, although the richer set's excesses should be controlled for the benefit of society

By Ralf Dahrendorf

When wealth turns into unchecked power, something must be done to restrict it. What has come to be called money laundering, that is, the attempt to turn illicit gains into legitimate riches, provides one example of the need for action. There are others, including the question of inheritance taxes, which have long been regarded as a necessary component of a free society.

Nevertheless, while a free society recognizes limits to inequality, it also accepts that inequality exists, for it provides hope for many by showing what one might achieve with ability and luck -- or perhaps even luck alone. Inequality adds color and variety to societies; it is one of the marks of lively, flexible, and innovative countries. It is thus not bad in itself, even if its excesses must be capped in the name of citizenship for all. Social exclusion and personalized power through wealth are always unacceptable. But if we want freedom, then social and economic inequalities are a legitimate, and necessary, price to pay.

Ralf Dahrendorf is a member of the British House of Lords, a former rector of the London School of Economics, and a former warden of St. Antony's College, Oxford. Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences

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