Bold Visions

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of egalitarian utopianism, a resurgence probably attributable to the demise of socialism and the consequent opening up to more acceptable alternatives. These new utopian visions are useful to review because they lay bare different visions of the good society, force us to identify which visions are consistent with our most fundamental values and commitments, and help establish whether contemporary interventions and reforms (see pragmatic proposals) are indeed helping us realize our most fundamental commitments. We describe below a few examples of currently fashionable utopian proposals for reducing poverty and inequality.

Reducing Inequality in Opportunity

How might we overcome inequalities in family circumstances and better realize our longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for everyone? The proponents of a "stakeholder society" suggest bold institutional changes that allow us go beyond our current quite shallow commitment to equal opportunity (see 'The Stakeholder Society').

Reducing Income Inequality

Should we eliminate all redistributive transfers (e.g., unemployment insurance, social security, minimum wage) in favor of a single monthly stipend paid out to everyone? Could poverty be eliminated altogether with such a bold stroke (see 'Global Labour Flexibility')?

Reducing Spatial Inequality

We have long practiced a form of residential segregation in which rich people cluster together in some neighborhoods and poor people cluster together in others. If we committed to eliminating such segregation, would inequality be dramatically reduced (see 'Race, Class and Markets')?

Reducing Labor Market Inequality

Should macroeconomic policy be revised to generate substantially higher employment rates? Is it high time to rethink old formulas about how much unemployment is acceptable (see Krueger)?

Externalities, Poverty, and Inequality

The poverty rate is high in part because the firms that produce it don't have to bear the full costs of that decision. The firm that wishes, for example, to relocate production overseas can lay off domestic workers without fully bearing all the associated costs, such as retraining costs, increased unemployment benefits, possible deterioration in the mental and physical health of the laid-off workers, or increased crime and drug abuse among the laid-off workers. How might incentives be reengineered to bring into better alignment the public and private costs of producing inequality and poverty?