Quotable Words: On Inequality

dividedSome quotes on inequality; today, as in the past, a pressing issue. From David Cay Johnson’s reader, Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality and other sources.

“Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another. “—Plato


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal aliment of all republics.” —Plutarch


“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” —Matthew 19: 21-24


“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”—Adam Smith


“The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.” —Noah Webster


“The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” —Theodore Roosevelt


“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” —Eugene V. Debs


“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” —Louis Brandeis


“American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.” —Joseph Stiglitz


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt


“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” —Frederick Douglass


“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” —Warren Buffett


“America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.” —George Saunders


“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.” —Thomas Piketty


“All social inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient, assume the character not of simple inexpediency, but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical, that people are apt to wonder how they ever could have been tolerated; forgetful that they themselves perhaps tolerate other inequalities under an equally mistaken notion of expediency, the correction of which would make that which they approve seem quite as monstrous as what they have at last learnt to condemn.” —John Stuart Mill


“Our inequality materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class.” –Matthew Arnold


“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly. The rich have always objected to being governed at all.” –G. K. Chesterton


97px-Père-Lachaise_-_Division_48_-_Balzac_07
Balzac, credit: Coyau / Wikimedia

“Behind every great fortune is a crime.” –Honore De Balzac

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