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 "The search for a distribution of wealth acceptable to the majority of people is a recurrent theme in all periods and all cultures."

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology

Economic inequality sets arbitrary limits on whose contributions will benefit society, thereby squandering talent, limiting opportunities, and stifling competition—capriciously restricting the pool of competitors—by class or gender or race or religious belief. As utopian writers envision a future where the extremes of poverty and wealth have been tempered, it is instructive to explore the instruments they employ; by what measures have they defeated poverty or diminished the threats boundless fortunes pose, thereby revitalizing society?



"Utopian alternatives to current, persistent and increasing inequality matter: as William Blake said, 'What is now proved was once, only imagin'd', and so Donald Morris examines a wealth of possibilities, some outlandish, but all conceivable, and many eminently feasible, from a tradition of literary and imaginative forms of political and social theory. A hopeful and invigorating read."

Tom Boland, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University College Cork



Donald Morris 

Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois Springfield. He spent twenty-five years as a teacher—eight teaching philosophy (PhD in Philosophy from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale) including ethics classes at the Marion Federal Prison—and the rest teaching undergraduate courses in federal taxation (MS in Taxation DePaul University), financial accounting, and business ethics, as well as graduate courses in corporate taxation and fraud examination. Between teaching assignments, he spent 18 years as a practicing CPA in the Chicago area. Morris has published articles on business ethics, management, taxation, and utopia. 

Previous books include Taxation in Utopia: Required Sacrifice and the General Welfare (SUNY Press, 2020) an ethical investigation of the actual or constructive tax systems operating to support the most widely read utopias (https://www.taxationutopia.com); Tax Cheating: Illegal—But Is It Immoral? (SUNY Press 2012), an ethical/public policy investigation of the current US tax code and winner the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year (2012) in political science (Silver) (http://www.taxcheating.org); Opportunity: Optimizing Life's Chances (Prometheus Books 2006); and Dewey and the Behavioristic Context of Ethics (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1996).



The Utopian Exploration

"Bread Line at the Bowery Mission, New York, 1928."

This work explores what utopian writers have said about economic inequality. Its transdisciplinary focus is literary utopias—novels of social theory—by authors seeking solutions to the problems of economic inequality. The work challenges our moral assumptions about economic inequality—its potential for resolution—or its inevitability and the ultimate bifurcation of society. It is not an economic treatise but an exploration in social philosophy in its utopian expressions.

"Should reason and society not repair the inequality produced by blind chance?"                                                                                                                          – Étienne Cabet, Travels in Icaria (1847) 

Wild Court, in the Seven Dials district of London, notorious as one of the most dangerous slums. 1855


Measures of Inequality

Plato's ideal society in the Laws stipulates that no one should be more than four times wealthier than their less fortunate neighbors. George Orwell believed that while rigid limitations on income are not possible, "there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation," since "within those limits some sense of equality is possible." Regarding people's intuitions about income inequality psychologist Pascal Boyer reports in Minds Make Societies, "Humans do not generally believe that any individual's contribution could possibly be hundreds or thousands of times greater than anyone else's." 

     While top CEOs received an average of 20 times the typical worker's pay in 1965, their compensation had increased to 278 times by 2019.

 Thomas More



Thomas More's narrator in Utopia (1516) reports, "However abundant goods may be, when everyone, by whatever pretexts, tries to scrape together for himself as much as he can, a handful of men end up sharing the whole pile, and the rest are left in poverty."

Inequality: Five Principal Ills 

Barbara Goodwin reports five principal ills utopians link to economic inequality, 1) poverty, 2) inegalitarian methods of production, 3) class structures limiting opportunity, 4) threats to human dignity, and 5) intrinsic injustice.


"There have been utopians," affirms Goodwin, "who considered that inequality was rooted in human nature to such an extent that the ideal society had to build on it constructively."

Inequality Leads to Despotism

Henry George



"What has destroyed every previous civilization," warns political economist Henry George (1839–1897), "has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power." George viewed the progression of wealth inequality as leading ultimately to despotism. This "transformation of popular government into despotism of the vilest and most degrading kind," George warns, "must inevitably result from the unequal distribution of wealth."

An Exploration in Social Philosophy

Socialist speaker at London's Hyde Park, near the Marble Arch, attracts an audience of working men. 1892

In addition to the utopian authors this book discusses are writers from diverse fields–economists, historians, philosophers, political scientists, psychologists, sociologists–whose insights bring clarity and context to what otherwise appears (to some) an intractable problem—vast and growing income and wealth inequality.


Though economic inequality is a ubiquitous and longstanding problem, it took moral advocates, including utopians, to point out the harm that the extremes of wealth and poverty produce in society—and to pose innovative and often practical solutions.


Economist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946) affirms that among the "outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live" is the "arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes."


Inequality, explains economist Thomas Piketty, "is neither economic nor technological: it is ideological and political."


Ignatius Donnelly (1831–1901)



"Political equality does not imply social equality, or physical equality, or race equality."
   —Ignatius Donnelly




"But how happens it that this inevitable inequality is converted into a title of nobility for some, of abjection for others?"
        Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, System of Economical Contradictions


Inequality and Freedom

H. G. Wells




"A man without some negotiable property is a man without freedom, and the extent of his property is very largely the measure of his freedom."          



       –– H. G Wells, A Modern Utopia

 "Utopia's most basic function"– Paul Ricoeur 

Utopian programs for rectifying the extremes of affluence and want are diverse and instructive. Though no single solution has achieved universal acceptance and some proposed solutions have fallen out of favor, exposing the spectrum of utopian options offers a richer understanding of the problem and a stimulus to the moral imagination. The development of "new, alternative perspectives," affirms philosopher Paul Ricoeur, "defines utopia's most basic function."



Inequality: The Rule of the Rich 

W. E. B. Du Bois



"Here in America," announces Matthew Townes, protagonist of W. E. B. Du Bois's Dark Princess (1928), "black folk must help overthrow the rule of the rich by distributing wealth more evenly first among themselves and then in alliance with white labor, to establish democratic control of industry. During this process," Townes continues, "they must keep step and hold tight hands with the other struggling darker peoples."

Hannah Arendt  
Is poverty inevitable and eternal?

"The social question began to play a revolutionary role only when, in the modern age and not before, men began to doubt that poverty is inherent in the human condition, to doubt that the distinction between the few, who are though circumstances or strength or fraud had succeeded in liberating themselves from the shackles of poverty, and the labouring poverty-stricken multitude was inevitable and eternal."  Hannah Arendt, On Revolution 


George Orwell

"It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level."
—George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)


"An army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount—that is our danger."
—George Orwell, "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1941)


Utopian Economic Equality

In Utopia "the welfare of all its inhabitants is the central concern, and . . . the level of welfare is strikingly higher, and assumed to be more long-lasting, than that of the real world."              

––George Kateb



Inequality: Expunging Racism
Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)

Marge Piercy 

In Piercy's utopian Mattapoisett, Connie (Consuelo Ramos) the protagonist inquires, "You saying there's no racism left? Paradise on earth, all God's children are equal?" Luciente, Connie's Mattapoisett guide replies, "Our mems [immediate community], our children, our friends include people of differing gene mixes. Our mothers also." But, she continues, "There's no genetic bond." "We broke the bond between genes and culture," affirms Luciente, "broke it forever. We want there to be no chance of racism again."


Kim Stanley Robinson
Enough for all

Kim Stanley Robinson 



"There is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. . . .  Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader."

     –– Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future (2020)


Key Words

competition, dignity, division of labor, economic inequality, eugenics, exploitation, gender equality, labor unions, leveling, poverty, progressive taxation, revolution, social debt, social philosophy, surplus labor, utopian



Table of Contents

Chapter 1—Inequality: Context and Problems
Chapter 2—Instruments of Change: Economic Reforms

·      alternate allocations of surplus labor
·      allocating surplus labor to the general welfare
·      public ownership of essential businesses
·      workers' cooperatives and associations
·      labor exchanges
·      redistribution of income or wealth: progressive taxation (graduated rates)
·      universal basic income and social security
·      minimum wage laws
·      debt and interest relief
·      other non-progressive wealth taxes
·      curtailing business cycles
·      capping wealth or income
·      cryptocurrency

Chapter 3—Instruments of Change: Social Reforms

·      free universal compulsory education
·      labor unions
·      gender equality in the workplace
·      dignity of work—revaluing work in relation to society
·      expunging racism
·      motherhood as a paying job
·      public housing

Chapter 4—Instruments of Change: Political Reforms

·      public transparency (economic and political)
·      property and the land question
·      population control
·      eugenics and marriage restrictions
·      equalizing opportunity
·      equalizing the physical environment for health and beauty
·      eliminating unemployment
·      reimagining marriage and divorce
·      patents as monopolies
·      labor conscription
·      the expanding universe of universal suffrage
·      universal healthcare
·      restricting immigration
·      liquor as a cause of poverty
·      ending war to end poverty

Chapter 5—Violence and Revolution
Chapter 6—Economic Leveling
Chapter 7—The Future of Economic Inequality: (Mostly) Dystopian Visions