The Public Interest

Can Inequality Be Cured?

Nathan Keyfitz

Spring 1973

CHRISTOPHER JENCKS has raised in a novel and original form the old question of inequality. Underlying his book Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America (Basic Books, 1972, $12.50) is the assumption that successive additions to a persons income provide diminishing returns in happiness, and hence that the simplest and most efficient way to increase total happiness is for the rich to give to the poor. No empirical data are likely to prove or disprove this statement. Everyone believes it in some degree; no one accepts it absolutely. Jencks knows that his data cannot decide such matters, and he is straightforward enough to tell us at the outset that equality is what he, personally, favors.  We shall return to this basic point later. Meanwhile, there is much in Jenckss study that does have a substantial relation both to empirical data and to social policy in specific areas.

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