The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer" is a catchphrase and aphorism sometimes evoked, with variations in wording, when discussing economic inequality. Its most common use is as a synopsis of a socialist criticism of the free market system (capitalism), implying the perceived inevitability of what Karl Marx called the Law of Increasing Poverty.
- when the laws undertake... to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society... have a right to complain of the injustice to their Government.
William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the U.S. (1841), said in an October 1, 1840 speech,
- It is true democratic feeling, that all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
- to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and want. They have exemplified the saying, “To him that hath, more shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that he hath shall be taken away.” The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty.
The phrase resembles the Bible verse
- For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
"Ain't We Got Fun"
The phrase was popularized in 1921 in the wildly successful song Ain't We Got Fun, and the phrase is sometimes attributed to the song's lyricists, Gus Kahn and Raymond B. Egan. The line is sometimes mistakenly attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald. It appears in The Great Gatsby, as
- the rich get richer and the poor get—children!
The character Gatsby orders the character Klipspringer, sitting at the piano, "Don't talk so much, old sport... Play!" and Klipsprinter breaks into the Whiting, Kahn and Egan song.
In political and economic rhetoric
The line is often cited by opponents of uncontrolled capitalism as a statement of fact and by supporters of capitalism as an example of an erroneous belief. Thus,
- The modern-day statistical work of Stanley Lebergott and Michael Cox confirms this Smithian view and disputes the commonly held criticism that under a free market the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
According to Marx, capitalism will inevitably lead to ruin in accordance with certain laws of economic movement. These laws are "the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall," "the Law of Increasing Poverty," and "the Law of Centralization of Capital." Small capitalists go bankrupt, and their production means are absorbed by large capitalists. During the process of bankruptcy and absorption, capital is gradually centralized by a few large capitalists, and the entire middle class declines. Thus, two major classes, a small minority of large capitalists, and a large proletarian majority are formed.
In the United States, the phrase has been used frequently (in the past tense) to describe alleged socioeconomic trends under the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush presidencies. Defenders of the Reagan policies characterize this claim as inciting class warfare.
Commentators refer to the idea as a cliché in discussions of economic inequality, but one that they argue to be accurate nonetheless:
- It's a cliché, perhaps, to say that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". But in the 1980s and 1990s, cliché or not, that is what took place in some regions of the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
In statistics, the phrase "the rich get richer" is often used as an informal description of the behavior of Chinese restaurant processes and other preferential attachment processes, where the probability of the next outcome in a series taking on a particular value is proportional to the number of outcomes already having that particular value. This is useful for modeling many real-world processes that are akin to "popularity contests", where the popularity of a particular choice causes new participants to adopt the same choice (which can lead to the outsized influence of the first few participants).
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- The rich get richer (statistics)
- Capital accumulation
- Matthew effect (sociology)
- Preferential attachment
- Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor
- Sang Hun Lee (1973). "Communism: A New Critique And Counterproposal". Freedom Leadership Foundation.
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- "William Henry Harrison quotes". James Richard Howington (personal web page). Retrieved 2006-08-12.
- Degregorio, William (1997). Complete Book of U.S. Presidents: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Gramercy. ISBN 0-517-18353-6., p. 146; quotes "all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer" and sources it to Schlesinger, Arthur (1946). The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown., p. 292
- Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1909–14). A Defence of Poetry (from the Harvard Classics: English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay. Bartleby.com.
- Matthew 13:12, King James translation
- "Ain't We Got Fun". Retrieved 2006-08-11.
- "Ain't We Got Fun". Don Ferguson. Archived from the original on 2004-12-10. Retrieved 2006-08-11.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott (1998) . The Great Gatsby. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283269-7. p. 76; also at Project Gutenberg of Australia 
- Skousen, Mark. The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers. p. 26
- James K. Galbraith. "The rich got richer." Salon Magazine, June 8, 2004
- Edward N. Wolf. "The rich get increasingly richer: Latest data on household wealth during the 1980s." Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #36. 1993.
- Alan Reynolds. "Upstarts and Downstarts (The Real Reagan Record)." National Review, August 31, 1992.
- Jude Wanniski citing Bruce Bartlett, "Class Struggle in America?," Commentary Magazine, July 2005
- James L. Dietz, James M. Cypher (2004-04-01). The Process of Economic Development. United Kingdom: Routledge. p. 15. ISBN 0-415-25416-7.
- Hayes, Brian (2002). "Follow the Money". American Scientist 90 (5): 400. doi:10.1511/2002.5.400. — Hayes analyzes several computer models of market economies, applying statistical mechanics to questions in economic theory in the same way that it is applied in computational fluid dynamics, concluding that "If some mechanism like that of the yard-sale model is truly at work, then markets might very well be free and fair, and the playing field perfectly level, and yet the outcome would almost surely be that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."
- Rieman, J. (1979). The Rich Get Rich and The Poor Get Poorer. New York: Wiley.
- David Hapgood (1974). The Screwing of the Average Man — How The Rich Get Richer and You Get Poorer. Bantom Books. ISBN 0-553-12913-9.
- Rolf R Mantel (1995). Why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Universidad de San Andrés: Victoria, prov. de Buenos Aires. OCLC 44260846.
- Ispolatov, S.; Krapivsky, P.L.; Redner, S. (1998). "Wealth distributions in asset exchange models". The European Physical Journal B 2 (2): 267–76. doi:10.1007/s100510050249. — Ispolatov, Krapivsky, and Redner analyze the wealth distributions that occur under a variety of exchange rules in a system of economically interacting people.
- Chung, Kee H.; Cox, Raymond A. K. (1990). "Patterns of Productivity in the Finance Literature: A Study of the Bibliometric Distributions". The Journal of Finance 45 (1): 301–9. doi:10.2307/2328824. JSTOR 2328824. — Chung and Cox analyze a bibliometric regularity in finance literature, relating Lotka's law of scientific prductivity to the maxim that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer", and equating it to the maxim that "success breeds success".