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Poverty as Injustice

Across Western advanced economies, a widespread sense of malaise has given rise to a debate about what the state can and should do to ensure economic justice, particularly for those at the bottom of the income ladder. As always, the fundamental question is whether public policies would help or hamper growth and dynamism.

NEW YORK – In much of the world, there is concern over abysmal wages for the less advantaged and the many victims of racial and gender discrimination. Though tax credits for low-income single mothers provide support and contribute to the development of their children, there are still signs of poverty among working people: malnourishment, poor health, and substance abuse.

Less appreciated is that many low-wage workers often must pass up meaningful work because it pays too little. And without a “good job,” these workers cannot have “the good life.” Such outcomes, particularly in advanced economies, are grim signs that something is wrong: the problem is not “inequality,” but a high degree of injustice.

Wide swaths of society are deeply frustrated with the downward trend in the rewards of work and enterprise. Since the 1970s, there has been a general decline in job satisfaction and a virtual cessation of real-wage growth in the United States, and later in the United Kingdom, France, and perhaps parts of Germany and some other countries. Moreover, real interest rates have sunk nearly to the vanishing point. Underlying this is a decline in innovation. Clearly, some fault in the mechanism of human satisfaction has not been adequately addressed.

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