Chapter 2: Public Debt and Private Wealth
* Hassan Bougrine INTRODUCTION Even though economic theory recognizes health, knowledge and education as important elements of human wealth, in popular debates on wealth the general focus is still on the acquisition of physical and ﬁnancial assets. For instance, the Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary deﬁnes wealth as ‘the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time’. This deﬁnition reﬂects the widespread importance of material wealth in the lives of individuals in contemporary (capitalist) societies. Aside from some perverse needs that may be qualiﬁed as sheer greed, it is clear that the purpose of seeking to accumulate such wealth is justiﬁed by the desire to ensure our well-being throughout our lifetime, as well as that of our offsprings. The question of why some people are stupendously rich while others are extremely poor has always been at the centre of the debate on social issues. At the heart of the debate is the issue of equal opportunities to acquire wealth. While in aristocracies wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and passed on to their descendants and heirs, in democratic societies we expect everyone to enjoy the comforts of the good life that wealth provides. In reviewing Tocqueville’s (1835 ) work, Robert Goodin (2001, p. 68) summarized what he considers Tocqueville’s major distinctions between ‘democratic wealth’ and ‘aristocratic wealth’: a) whereas aristocratic wealth is inherited, democratic wealth is earned. Democracies offer ‘equal opportunities’ in ways that aristocracies do not, when...
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