The Redistribution of Wealth And The Notion Of Chance


In “What Social Classes Owe Each Other”, Sumner introduces the familiar dialogue surrounding redistribution of wealth and class inequality during the early days of the nineteen hundreds.  William Graham Sumner was not a man of the Monopoly, but instead a man of the academic. He taught Sociology at Yale and believed in Social Darwinism and how it was prevalent in American society. Sumner goes on to explain that the American people try to claim that there was no such thing as social “classes”, when indeed he argues there is no way around the distinction of class in society.

Unlike many people like Andrew Carnegie, who commented on the ideas of social and economic inequality and the importance of the “trickle down affect” from the wealthy to the lower class; Sumner believed that this ideal served as an injustice to America’s economy as a whole. Sumner was not keen on the idea of the super rich handing out money to the poor, because of the potential implications it could serve. Engaging with the ideas of Social Darwinism, to Sumner it was more important to see every citizen do their best, and to strive to work as hard as they could with what they had . To Sumner, the redistribution of wealth would not benefit the economy, but rather enhances class distinctions and perpetuates this idea of the haves and have nots within the class system.

Both Carnegie and Sumner believe strongly in the idea that every man should have the right to pursue their happiness however, Sumner’s thoughts are unique in the way that he was so harshly opposed to the American’s wealthy elites frivolously handing money to the poor, and rather finding ways to motivate the lower classes to want to strive to achieve the successes of the upper classes.

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