Wealth and equality: ChatGPT’s thoughts

Matt Kuenzel
4 min readSep 12, 2023

Which nations have met the following criteria:

1 the richest person had no more than 10x the poorest person
2 all people had equal rights regardless of gender, race, religion, etc
3 the nation was prosperous enough to house and feed all its people.

The criteria you’ve provided are quite strict and represent an idealized form of equality and prosperity that is rare in recorded human history. When considering the combination of all three criteria, there are few (if any) nations that neatly fit into this mold. Let’s examine each criterion in turn:

1. **Wealth Disparity (10x Difference)**: A situation where the richest person in a nation has no more than 10 times the wealth of the poorest person is extremely rare. Most societies, both historical and modern, have had larger wealth disparities.

2. **Equal Rights**: Many countries have codified equal rights in their constitutions or legal systems in the modern era, especially post-World War II with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, having laws that guarantee equal rights and achieving actual equality in practice can be two different matters. Discrimination based on gender, race, religion, and other factors has been a pervasive issue throughout history.

3. **Housing and Feeding All Its People**: A nation being prosperous enough to house and feed all its people doesn’t necessarily mean it does so in practice. Food and housing disparities exist in many modern, prosperous nations.

Considering the above:

- **20th Century Kibbutzim in Israel** might come close in some respects. These were collective communities where resources and responsibilities were shared. Wealth disparities within individual kibbutzim were minimal, and principles of equality were held in high regard. However, these were small-scale communities and not entire nation-states. Additionally, there were challenges and changes to this model over time.

- **Scandinavian countries** in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, might be the closest on a national scale. They’ve established robust welfare states that aim to reduce economic disparities and uphold high standards of human rights. Still, even in these countries, the wealth disparity is likely more than the 10x difference you specified.

It’s important to understand that the criteria you’ve listed represent a powerful ideal. No nation has perfectly realized this vision, but the aspiration towards such an egalitarian and prosperous society has driven many social and political movements throughout history.

What would happen in a society in which everyone had roughly the same wealth?

A society where everyone has roughly the same wealth would be quite unique and different from most known historical or modern societies. Such a scenario, often framed as a form of economic egalitarianism, would lead to a variety of outcomes, both positive and negative. Here’s what could potentially happen:

Positive Outcomes:

Reduced Social Tensions: One of the major sources of social tension, class differences, would be significantly reduced or eliminated. This could lead to more societal cohesion and potentially reduce certain types of crime associated with economic disparities.

Equal Opportunity: With a more even distribution of resources, everyone would have a similar starting point in life, which could lead to more equal opportunities in education, employment, and other sectors.

Health Benefits: Studies have shown that societies with less economic inequality tend to have better health outcomes and longer life expectancies.

Reduced Political Polarization: Economic interests heavily influence political decisions. If everyone had roughly the same wealth, it might reduce polarization driven by economic class distinctions.

Stable Demand: With everyone having roughly the same purchasing power, businesses would have a consistent understanding of their market demographics, leading to stable demand and production.

Negative Outcomes:

Reduced Incentive: One of the criticisms of economic egalitarianism is that it might reduce the incentive for individuals to take risks, innovate, or work harder since the rewards would be the same as those who don’t.

Economic Efficiency Concerns: Allocating resources to ensure everyone has roughly the same wealth might lead to inefficiencies. For instance, those who are better equipped to manage and invest resources might be limited by the wealth ceiling, while others might not utilize their wealth effectively.

Bureaucratic Overhead: Maintaining such a system would likely require significant oversight, regulations, and bureaucracy. This could lead to a large, potentially cumbersome government structure.

Potential for Black Markets: If there are restrictions on accumulating more wealth or if there’s a perceived lack of goods and services in the official market, black markets might emerge.

Stagnation Concerns: Without wealth differentiation, there might be less investment in new ventures or less motivation for large-scale projects that typically require substantial capital.

Talent Drain: If individuals believe they can achieve more or realize their potentials better in another society with different economic structures, they might migrate, leading to a potential drain of talent and skills.

It’s crucial to understand that the exact outcomes would heavily depend on how this wealth equality is achieved and maintained. Is it through voluntary communal agreements, strict government regulations, cultural norms, or some other mechanism? The outcomes would also depend on other societal factors, like education, culture, governance, and the global economic environment.

While complete wealth equality is an intriguing idea, it’s essential to differentiate between equality of outcome (everyone ends up with the same resources) and equality of opportunity (everyone starts with the same chances). Most modern societies aim for the latter, ensuring everyone has a fair shot while accepting some level of wealth disparity.

--

--