For this meet I propose a balanced discussion of economic equality, and notions of social equality generally--a heated topic these days. By "a balanced discussion" I mean that our aim, being philosophers, shall be to look charitably at the fullest range of possible positions on the matter that we can, and to avoid becoming a meeting of either Occupy Wall Street or the Ayn Rand Society.
According to the statistics going around, the bottom 50% of the US owns around 1% of the nation's wealth while the top 1% owns over 20%, with the top 10% owning over 70%.
Some find this wealth distribution unproblematic--a sign of economic health even. This sort of distribution is the natural result of a society that is willing to reward leadership and innovation. There are a lot of poor people, but: 1) society cannot be conceived as a competition that brings out and rewards the best without accepting that there will be a large population of "the lesser off," and 2) it is arguable, if not demonstrable, that the system that has led to the above wealth distribution is one that makes the lesser off better off--due to the values produced by well-rewarded leadership and innovation--than any other system; it's better to ride the coattails of the rich into the starry heavens than it is to be stuck in the mud of a communist bog.
Others might generally agree with the above but believe that wealth inequality has become too extreme. Our capitalist system is generally the right way to go; we just need a cure of excesses--e.g., to get executive compensation under control via greater empowerment of shareholders--and adjustments in government policy--e.g., adjustments in tax rates.
Still others might hold that capitalism itself is the problem, and that radical wealth inequality is just one of its evil consequences, along with the destruction of the planet, and the production of a culture that requires people who are not actually stupid to cultivate a sort of learned stupidity in order to participate--or else face alienation. Leadership and innovation? Leadership and innovation for what? So that we can watch more channels of cable television on our mobile phones? So that movies can go further in the direction of high-tech cartoons for adults? So that McDonald's can truck its frozen hamburger patties a greater distance? The capitalist "competition" conception of human society is merely a fairy tale that the exploiting class uses to delude itself and con the poor--and one that is turning the world into a nightmare. What we need to do instead of moving forward with capitalism is to think deeply about our human needs and wants and develop an intelligent cooperative system to meet them.
So sayeth those people, and of course there are other positions. To me it seems a basic question in these differing views on economic inequality is that of whether society should be conceived as a competition or a cooperative. While I like the idea of a cooperative society in which everyone gets what they need and has the opportunity to get what they want, I think it is questionable whether this is realistic given human nature. Perhaps society must be a competition, with grave consequences for losing, if it is to bring out the best in people. Or perhaps not.
What do you think on these matters? We'll be interested to hear at the meet.