Since time immemorial, there is an alarming inequality existing among men. It is ironic how wealth is distributed with apparent discrepancies, resulting to an overwhelming amount of money acquired by some while others remain in the pits of poverty. Perhaps some would perceive the possession of billions of dollars as morally unacceptable, while others would view this as a natural consequence of human nature. It is quite alarming how extreme standards of living is plaguing our society and impairs our basic function as human beings. But this has been the problem since the first existence of man. And perhaps this nothing but a natural tendency, and that the actual nature governing mankind is that there is a law of equity.
Individual needs is basically thought to determine his resource acquisition. Or at the very least, it would serve as a baseline or a standard as to how he would lead a decent kind of living. Therefore philosophers and people in general have defined that the needs of society would be the primary established factor for justice and wealth distribution. Are men created equal therefore should not acquire more than his neighbor? Or are men inherently unequal, being that others are superior than the ones next to them?
Some ask, “Is it right that some people have acquired billions of dollars through business dealings while other people live in great poverty?” Two renowned philosophers have shared their views on how the distribution of wealth should be. John Locked said, “God gave the world to men in common.” He believed that the available property in nature has become the restriction within which man sets his labor and standards of living. It is his belief that each man has his own right to work, to own, to consume, and not to be transgressed. He further elaborated, “Which measure did confine every man’s possession to a very moderate proportion, and such as he might appropriate to himself without injury to anybody, in the first age of the world” (Hutchins 1952, p. 1047).
There should have been enough resources for everyone to live on, yet these resources seem scarce for most. The world is given to men and therefore each has an equal right to everything the earth could offer. How much a man works would determine how much he earns. His labor would equate his wealth acquisition as his capacity to consume is regulated by his ability to produce. If one has excessive amounts of wealth, then this entails that there is waste. And this waste is a violation of nature’s laws. Because of money, man has become able to accumulate wealth through time, saving inheritance and working for more to bequeath. Because money is not perishable by time, man only keeps on having more of it without any possible limits. Money allows wealth accumulation without causing injury towards others (Hutchins 1952, p. 1047).
Rousseau on the other hand, believes that there is an inequitable acquisition of wealth and that men are created unequal. He believes that it is not money itself that is the cause of the existence of inequality of mankind, but the property itself. He even thought of the first man who has made an enclosure to a piece of land and claimed it his that made others believe him is actually the real founder of civil society. As it has become a right to establish ownership of a property, this wealth amassed makes one to want more and expand what he already owns.
Others tend to ignore the poverty that surrounds them, and when asked if they take notice on these, as perceived by Rousseau, they try to not care as it would affect their interests of owning more. They want to protect their possessions from the threats of being attacked or taken. Mankind has established a civil law that they propose is for the purpose of security for everyone, yet the truth is that they only initiate this as to secure their ownership of property and power.
This instead results to the violation of the rights of the poor, as it only curtails their chance to improve their standards of living. It actually chains the poor and only makes the rich even wealthier. This consequently lead to the destruction of natural liberty, it only fixed the law of property and inequality, and turned transgression into a right, only for the advantage of the few (Hutchins 1952, p. 1048). When others’ are harmed, man is therefore given the “right to punish the offender, and be executioner of the law of nature” as proposed by Locke.
Rousseau believed that it is contrary to nature that only a few should be privileged to have an extensive amount of wealth while others, a multitude of others, are in dire need of the basic necessities of life. This is why he proposed that there should be a government that would repair this and allow each and everyone to be provided with the minimum needs that they have. A “government should prevent extreme inequalities of fortunes” not by forcibly taking a man’s possession from him, but instead prevent him from accumulating it. It is more of preventing the people from becoming poor or too rich (Hutchins 1952, p. 1048).
It is indeed a fact that each human being should have an equal access to whatever resource they need. They should be given equal opportunities to survive and to lead a certain standard of living fitting them. Cause I believe that there is indeed inequality and inequity among mankind. Both Locke and Rousseau presented strong thesis on the question of wealth acquisition. Theirs are quite complementary to some degree as they share that each man has a right of property. Each affirmed that the problem of poverty is not a problem that could be easily resolved, nor would there really be a solution to it, once the right of property is admitted. The right of property is said to be sacred and is a basic right of citizenship to a country, yet there is quite a difficulty in securing the property of individuals without attacking it on another.
I believe that it is true poverty is an inevitable consequence of property, as war is an inevitable consequence of sovereignty, and in neither case can the cause be abolished. Both proposed that men should be equal, and men should prevent, as asserted by Hegel himself. Men should think that they are equal, as to prevent transgression against each other. But the truth is that everyone is created different, and these differences entail that there are inequalities in abilities and skills among man. But it does not mean that one has a greater importance than the other, they are simply different.
But their differences in particular areas mean that it can be in the form of wealth. Men as a whole are equal, but in particular aspects, they are not. And that is the truth that the universe holds. I believe that Rousseau’s proposal of a government safeguarding the interests of its citizens by preventing mass wealth acquisition or extensive resource scarcity is ideal. But this is as promising as it is almost impossible.Because just as communism failed, humans have this natural tendency to outdo the other, and that the selfishness inside would dominate the want to put things in their proper places. Those who would enforce these proposals are themselves men and therefore fallible, making the entire thesis too unrealistic in for the human setting.
If Locke was asked the given question, he would say that it having wealth despite the poverty of others is immoral but technically moral. Because money has legitimized wealth accumulation as it allows one to become richer without causing another human being to become poorer. However it is immoral, as men are created equal and must all have enough resources necessary for them to lead decent lives. Men are not accountable to his neighbor unless he transgresses the other’s rights. He only answers to himself therefore he has the right to become whatever he pleases within the bounds of not causing harm to others.
If Rousseau answers the same question, he would say that it is definitely immoral, however a common occurrence, and must be prevented by all means. This is why he proposed that a government should prevent extreme ends in society. This is quite the dream of many, as all have wanted a society that exists in respect. That there should be a society with its member without any source or reason of jealousy, or competition, because everyone should have enough. But the truth is, man knows no bounds and does not want enough. Man wants to have plentiful of everything, and this is the major source of all the conflicts in our world today and for all of history. In times when he himself is threatened of his possessions, his life or other material wealth, he would not instinctively act in accordance for the common good but for the good of himself alone. And if given the chance to have access to conveniences that the world has to offer, he would definitely take it.
The central issue that plagues mankind is the existence of money or property or any form material possession. Perhaps it is immoral in the sense that it creates disparity and it questions what moral obligation does a human being have. For indeed, how can one sleep at night in their lofty beds while others sleep in the dumpsters with newspapers as their blankets? How can a person spend on useless jewelry when his money can actually save millions of lives from the face of death because of starvation? And how can life be so cruel to those who did not intend to become poor but because they are born that way, they have to suffer the same kind of life?
Both philosophers attempted to condemn the existence of money. But money is one commodity that governs human existence and will dictate man’s society for eras to come. It is almost impossible to put equality among people. People determine what they would have, and they must work for what they need. This is the concept of equity for it is quite unfair that one would work harder than the other and acquire just as much just because they are told equal. It is more appropriate that man works for himself and has every right to become whatever he pleases as long as he does not violate the rights of others.
Adler, Mortimer J. “Wealth.” A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World.
Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952. 1038-1049.