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«Europe is fixated on economic equality»

The question of too much or too little social equality cannot be decided with the help of statistics alone, said Prof. em. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht at the 21st Reichmuth & Co Lecture at the University of Lucerne.

It also depends on the perceived equality and the formative ideas of equality of a society. According to Gumbrecht, a literary scholar and philosopher, three ideas of equality can be distinguished: equality before the law, economic equality and cultural equality.

Equality before the law had developed in Europe from the late 17th century, when the emerging early capitalism with its social dynamics challenged the old society of estates. The idea of economic equality, on the other hand, only became effective with industrialization and especially with the revolutionary year of 1848. The visible poverty of the proletariat in the cities generated the desire for a compensatory redistribution by the state, says Gumbrecht. Cultural equality, in turn, builds on equality before the law, but expands it to include the idea that not only individuals but also groups and cultures have a right to equality.

While Europe pays particular attention to economic equality, the U.S. is more concerned about cultural equality, says Gumbrecht. This is reflected in the idea of affirmative action in favor of minorities. At elite universities like Stanford or Harvard, “affirmative action” is omnipresent, he says, while the idea of economic equality for all citizens is not. Despite these differences, the entire West is at an impasse, Gumbrecht concludes. The more equal a society is, the more it fixates on the remaining inequality.

See the video from the Institut für Schweizer Wirtschaftspolitik (IWP) to see what paths Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht proposes to solve the West’s fixation with equality.

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