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Journal Article

The Moral Economy of Inequality: Popular Views on Income Differentiation, Poverty and Wealth


Sachweh,  Patrick
Projekte von Gastwissenschaftlern und Postdoc-Stipendiaten, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;
Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main;

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Sachweh, P. (2012). The Moral Economy of Inequality: Popular Views on Income Differentiation, Poverty and Wealth. Socio-Economic Review, 10(3), 419-445. doi:10.1093/ser/mwr023.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-AEAC-2
This article asks how ordinary people in Germany perceive and legitimize economic disparities in an era of rising income inequality. Based on in-depth qualitative interviews with respondents from higher and lower social classes, the paper reconstructs the ‘moral economy’ that underlies popular views of inequality. While respondents agree with abstract inegalitarian principles—i.e. income differentiation based on merit—they are concerned with specific instances of inequality, especially poverty and wealth. These are criticized because they are seen to imply intolerable deviations, both upwards and downwards, from a way of living presumed as universal, thereby fostering a segregation of life-worlds and social disintegration. Thus, perceptions of injustice do not seem to be based on the existence of income inequality as such, but rather on the view that economic disparities threaten the social bond.