“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a catchphrase and aphorism sometimes evoked, with variations in wording, when discussing economic inequality. Its most common use is as a synopsis of a socialist criticism of the free market system (capitalism), implying the perceived inevitability of what Karl Marx called the Law of Increasing Poverty.
The line is often cited by opponents of uncontrolled capitalism as a statement of fact and by supporters of capitalism as an example of an erroneous belief.
Thomas Picketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century , 2014, presents a body of empirical data spanning several hundred years that supports his central thesis that the owners of capital accumulate wealth more quickly than those who provide labour, a phenomenon widely described with the term “the rich-get-richer”.
According to Marx, capitalism was supposed to inevitably lead to ruin in accordance with certain laws of economic movement. These laws are “the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall,” “the Law of Increasing Poverty,” and “the Law of Centralization of Capital.” Small capitalists go bankrupt, and their production means are absorbed by large capitalists. During the process of bankruptcy and absorption, capital is gradually centralized by a few large capitalists, and the entire middle class declines. Thus, two major classes, a small minority of large capitalists, and a large proletarian majority are formed.
In the United States, the phrase has been used frequently (in the past tense) to describe alleged socioeconomic trends under the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush presidencies. Defenders of the Reagan policies characterize this claim as inciting class warfare.
Commentators refer to the idea as a cliché in discussions of economic inequality.