The issue of equality has been raised throughout history. In its various forms, inequality has often given rise to revolutionary ideas and revolutions. So, what could be more natural than to call for greater equality? However, it is necessary to discuss what equality means. Does it only refer to equality before the law and equal opportunities? Or does it mean equal living conditions?

In an emerging economy like Vietnam, inequality shows in many places. While most Vietnamese lived in similar economic situations around 1975, this changed drastically after Doi Moi in 1986.

The perception of the rich in society is important. Here, the standard benchmark of the Gini index to measure inequality in society is a widely used tool to identify possible rupture lines in societies. The Gini often implies that low social inequality is associated with justice and stability. Countless studies have been conducted on the Gini. But is it really the case that equality is the highest value in itself? After all, there is also equality among slaves, serfs, and the unfree. During the French colonization of Indochina, there was a certain equality among the ruled. However, is this equality worth striving for?

Economic growth is also often associated with economic disparities because while all citizens may become more affluent, some may become richer than others. China and Vietnam, for example, have managed to achieve a remarkable economic rise from which most citizens have benefited. This is also the case in my home country, Germany. Two hundred years ago, there was abject poverty and famine, but this is no longer the case today after the triumph of the market economy. Worldwide, the average standard of living of a worker, a farmer, or a clerk is higher than it was decades ago.

But at the same time, some people have become immensely rich. How are these rich people regarded? Do the relatively poor begrudge the relatively rich their fortunes? Do the poor wish the rich harm and only high taxes? Or is the achievement recognized and taken as an incentive for the poorer to try harder?

Only a few scholars have devoted themselves to this interesting topic of the perception of the rich in society. Among them are wealth researchers like Dr. Rainer Zitelmann, who conducted a study on the “Social Envy Coefficient” and the “Rich Sentiment Index” in seven Western countries. Zitelmann is currently working on a study on Vietnam, which will be published soon.

With Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s support, the Faculty of International Economics at Foreign Trade University Hanoi (FTU), led by Prof. Vu Hoang Nam, had also taken up this wealth perception topic in Vietnam. The results of our study, which was conducted meticulously and with all scientific care, are truly impressive. The study surveyed 1,207 Vietnamese with interesting results:

• Only five percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I have very little sympathy for the rich,” while 64 percent disagreed with this statement.

• Only 7 percent agreed, “The rich only benefit themselves, not others,” while 72 percent disagreed.

• Only 3 percent supported, “The rich have done nothing for the country,” while 89 percent opposed it.

Comparing these results in Vietnam with those of Zitelmann’s study in Western countries, it quickly becomes clear that the Vietnamese are characterized by a significantly more positive attitude toward wealth than Zitelmann found out for Western countries. This could be an indicator of the stability of Vietnamese society and the optimism that one day the less wealthy will be able to get ahead themselves.

It is a reminder to continue on the path of extending the influence of the market economy. [C]

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Tim Burrill
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