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New Left Review I/24, March-April 1964

Dorothy Wedderburn

Pensions, Equality and Socialism

Discussions and proposals about pensions seem to increase in number and complexity. But for socialists the criterion by which the effectiveness of any set of proposals is to be judged would, at first sight, appear to be a simple one. Our society is characterized by gross inequalities in the distribution of wealth and income. Socialists will ask how far do the benefits to be paid to today’s pensioners, or those proposed for future pensioners, together with the methods of financing the transfer of resources involved in the payment of such benefits, contribute to the reduction of these gross inequalities of wealth and income. Having said this, however, we must recognize where the criterion leads us. To reduce inequality we must transfer resources from those who have more to those who have less. This means identifying those who have more and those who have less. Unless there are reliable indirect measures of those with ‘more’ and those with ‘less’ we may be led to a direct test—a ‘means test’—and this, historically, has become associated with second-class citizenship. In other words it has become associated with inequality of treatment of different groups or classes within the society.

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Dorothy Wedderburn, ‘Pensions, Equality and Socialism’, NLR I/24: £3

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