Fight inequality or poverty?

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Moises Naim argues that fighting poverty needs to me a more important priority than reducing inequality - despite political pressures to the contrary.

Yes, in-equality is morally repugnant and politically corrosive. But it is also stubbornly immune to direct government interventions. The world has a long history of failed attempts at fighting inequality, including changing the tax system, labour market interventions, reform of property rights, massive subsidies, protection from foreign competition and price controls; the list is endless. Nothing has worked. Countries that are unequal have stayed unequal. In the past 25 years, no country that suffers unequal distribution of wealth has succeeded in permanently decreasing its inequality. More often than not, good intentions have led to waste, corruption and even more inequality.

What to do, then? Let us stop fighting a battle we cannot win and concentrate all efforts on a fight that can succeed. The best tools to achieve a long-term, sustained decline in inequality are the same as those that are now widely accepted as the best available levers to lift people out of poverty. Provide access to better education and health, clean water, justice, steady jobs, housing and credit. The recipe is well known, even boring. These goals are not good fodder for a rousing speech. And they will not bring down inequality as quickly as one would wish. But focusing on these indispensable goals will certainly close one important gap: the gap between our good deeds and our best intentions.

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