Frederick Neuhouser talked on “How to Criticize Inequality: Lessons from Piketty” (10/20/2022)

Frederick Neuhouser

Guest lecturer Frederick Neuhouser’s take on “How to Criticize Inequality: Lessons from Piketty”

Whereas most critiques of inequality criticize disparities in wealth directly—emphasizing the evils and dangers of inequality itself—in fact, the most effective justifications for inequality have historically been indirect, proceeding from a certain conception of the right to own property as sacred and inviolable, granting owners a nearly unlimited right to dispose of their property unconstrained by considerations of distributive justice or the public good. Such conceptions of private property open the door to justifications of very large economic inequalities: if individuals have an indefeasible right to do with their property as they see fit, then any inequalities arising from iterations of free exchange must be recognized as legitimate outcomes of the rightful use of that property, regardless of their social consequences. For this reason, effective critiques of economic inequality must focus on something more fundamental than its negative consequences: they must also criticize the widespread belief in the sacrosanct character of private property, as well as the overly individualistic conception of freedom that private property is taken to realize for its owners. The solution, anticipated already by Rousseau and Hegel, is not to reject private property altogether but to reconceive of the rights it bestows on owners as constrained by considerations of justice and the public good.

Link to a recording of Frederick Neuhouser's talk: