A project of the
Institute for Policy Studies

We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity, and power in our society.

State of the Nation Address, Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, February 9, 1996

I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States senator.

U.S. labor and community organizer, speech at Coney Island, 1903

Yet hear me, people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.

Lakota leader (1831-1890), at the Powder River Council, 1877

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Anglo-Irish writer (1730-1774)

The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.

American editor and writer (1758-1843)

“So distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough.”
[King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1]

English playwright (1564-1616)

“In the long run men inevitably become the victims of their wealth. They adapt their lives and habits to their money, not their money to their lives. It preoccupies their thoughts, creates artificial needs, and draws a curtain between them and the world.”

U.S. political philosopher (1869-1930)

“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Scottish political economist (1723-1790)

“No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone.”

American political economist (1839-1897)

“The greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad soil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which there are the most homesteads, freeholds — where wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough — a modest living— and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities.”

American poet (1819-1892)

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

ancient Greek biographer (c. 46 – 120 CE)

“Our inequality materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class.”

English essayist (1822-1888)

“A State divided into a small number of rich and a large number of poor will always develop a government manipulated by the rich to protect the amenities represented by their property.”

British political theorist (1893-1950)

“Nature still obstinately refuses to co-operate by making the rich people innately superior to the poor people.”

English social critics (1923)

“Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.”

American philosopher (1817-1862)

“Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.”

English economist (1826-1877)

“The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.”

U.S. President (1858-1919)

“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly. The rich have always objected to being governed at all.”

English essayist (1874-1936)

“Perhaps you know some well-off families who do not seem to suffer from their riches. They do not overeat themselves; they find occupations to keep themselves in health; they do not worry about their position; they put their money into safe investments and are content with a low rate of interest; and they bring up their children to live simply and do useful work. But this means that they do not live like rich people at all, and might therefore just as well have ordinary incomes.”

Anglo-Irish playwright (1856-1950)

“Behind every great fortune is a crime.”

French novelist (1799-1850)

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941)

“Money is like muck, not good except that it be spread.”

English philosopher (1561-1626)

“The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues—not faction, but rather distraction—there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth.”

Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.)

“Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another.”

Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.)