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Case Study: Wealth Distribution

Case Study: Wealth Distribution

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Recognize and analyze ethical considerations for the distribution of wealth and related topics

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this ethics tutorial is on a case study pertaining to wealth distribution. Know key terms are things to keep in mind this time. So let's go right into the content and then the tutorial.

In this tutorial, we will first look at some basic statements to establish a baseline understanding of wealth distribution, and then we will look at some ethical considerations for wealth distribution. And this will be a wide range of different considerations in the form of a list, some of which will relate directly to theories we've considered, and some won't, but they are all certainly relevant to the discussions surrounding wealth distribution.

First, let's consider a few statements about wealth distribution. There are certainly many issues that surround wealth distribution. However, they generally can be categorized into two main topics, and those are obligations and rights. Does personal wealth involve obligations, and does personal wealth involve rights, and this pertains to wealth distribution.

We can also distinguish between distributing wealth as a matter of policy or as a matter of personal ethics. If it were a matter of policy, then it takes the form of things like social welfare and foreign aid, what we do as a country or a community. As personal ethics, it takes the form of actions such as individual donations and contributions to charity.

There are five basic considerations that we will be looking at regarding wealth distribution. They have to do with rights, moral luck, the difference between First-World and the Third-World concerns, relationship of using wealth regarding charitable organizations, and how consequentialist and deontological theories find value in helping others. So let's first look at rights.

Regarding rights, even if one has a right to one's own wealth, that doesn't mean, necessarily, and it doesn't resolve the ethical issue of whether or not one has a duty to use that wealth in a certain way. So one of the considerations for wealth distribution is, even though let's say I am wealthy and I have a right to the money I have earned, that doesn't necessarily dictate how I'm supposed to use that money, or even if I'm supposed to use it at all. That ethical issue might go unresolved.

Second issue, it's difficult to argue that I have a right to my wealth if it is the result of what we've considered to be moral luck. In other words, if it's a consideration that comes simply from circumstances-- if I'm born into a wealthy family, do I have a right to that wealth? That's not necessarily clear. Inheritance is, in fact, one of the biggest factors in someone being wealthy. But whether I have a right to that wealth is up to question.

Now First-World wealth right often is gained and maintained at the expense of Third-World countries. First-World wealth is derived very often, historically and currently, from the exploitation of Third-World countries. This is very clearly an ethical consideration. Another consideration is that it's very easy for us to use wealth to save lives, and to do so in an easy way through charitable organizations like UNICEF.

So it's easy to save lives and do a morally good thing with excess income by donating to charities when the money would easily go to luxury items. And so those who are wealthy are often placed in an ethical situation of choosing between a luxury item and helping someone out. And it doesn't have to be direct, it can be indirect, right? So if I'm going to spend $1,000 on a watch, why not spend the $1,000 on giving to charity.

And then finally, both consequentialist and deontological theories do find value in helping other. And helping others by distributing wealth, obviously overall utility is increased, and from especially a Kantian deontological perspective, the formulation of humanity is upheld. One thing to note, however, is that extreme interpretations of these might undermine the goals of other ethical viewpoints, such as character ethics by hindering personal flourishing.

In other words, we end up with counter-intuitive results. There's a couple of quick examples. A consequentialist might argue against extreme forms of charity because it adversely affects the donor. Right? The consequences of giving away everything I have is that I become destitute. Well, that hasn't resulted in great consequences.

A deontology just might argue against the extreme forms of charity because it devalues the innate value of the donor's life. Again, I am saying that I'm not worth much at all, I'm not worth anything, I'm not even going to consider myself be fully human because I need to give away everything I have. And so then I'm not valuing myself equally with others. So these are all ethical considerations for wealth distribution.

In this tutorial, we have looked at some basic statements regarding wealth distribution and then a range of ethical considerations that are part of the dialogs surrounding wealth distribution.