Growth or Equality: Two Competing Visions for America’s Future


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 Photo by Yasin Hassan 

Korten mugshotDr. David Korten ( is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the WorldHe was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 2011

Editor’s note: This post was originally published by YES! Magazine, and is licensed under Creative Commons.To repost, follow these steps. 

The current political debate in America hints at an unspoken, but profoundly important choice between two radically different visions of the path to prosperity for all.

  • One vision holds that inequality is an essential and beneficial precondition to unleash the economic growth needed to end poverty and heal the environment. Freeing the rich from taxes and cumbersome regulation will unleash a wave of productive investment, job creation, and prosperity that eventually will trickle down to enrich us all.
  • The other vision holds that inequality bears a primary responsibility for the political, economic, social, and environmental failures that threaten the future of America and the world. America already has the world’s largest economy and one of the world’s highest per capita income levels. Further growth for growth’s sake is not the answer. Our priority need is to reallocate and redistribute our economic resources to get the outcomes we really want.


Equality: The Evidence

British epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson has done an exhaustive review of the evidence on the relationship between the distribution of wealth and indicators of physical, mental, and social health across and within countries. His research demonstrates that on  virtually every indicator, more equal societies enjoy more positive outcomes than less equal societies.  

Figure 1, below, graphs the results for the world’s high-income countries. By a substantial margin, the United States ranks first in inequality and has the worst outcomes on a range of indicators of physical, mental, and social health (see also Wilkinson’s TED talk).

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