This article is about the catchphrase. For the theoretical process, see wealth condensation. For a full discussion of the social, economic, and political phenomena to which the phrase refers, see economic inequality.
"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.
to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and want. They have exemplified the saying, “To him that hath, more shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that he hath shall be taken away.” The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty.
The character Gatsby orders the character Klipspringer, sitting at the piano, "Don't talk so much, old sport... Play!" and Klipspringer breaks into the Whiting, Kahn and Egan song.
In political and economic rhetoric
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.
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 statistics, the phrase "the rich get richer" is often used as an informal description of the behavior of Chinese restaurant processes and other preferential attachment processes, where the probability of the next outcome in a series taking on a particular value is proportional to the number of outcomes already having that particular value. This is useful for modeling many real-world processes that are akin to "popularity contests", where the popularity of a particular choice causes new participants to adopt the same choice (which can lead to the outsized influence of the first few participants).
^Degregorio, William (1997). Complete Book of U.S. Presidents: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Gramercy. ISBN0-517-18353-6., p. 146; quotes "all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer" and sources it to Schlesinger, Arthur (1946). The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown., p. 292
^Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1909–14). A Defence of Poetry (from the Harvard Classics: English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay. Bartleby.com.
Hayes, Brian (2002). "Follow the Money". American Scientist90 (5): 400. doi:10.1511/2002.5.400. — Hayes analyzes several computer models of market economies, applying statistical mechanics to questions in economic theory in the same way that it is applied in computational fluid dynamics, concluding that "If some mechanism like that of the yard-sale model is truly at work, then markets might very well be free and fair, and the playing field perfectly level, and yet the outcome would almost surely be that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."
Rieman, J. (1979). The Rich Get Rich and The Poor Get Poorer. New York: Wiley.
David Hapgood (1974). The Screwing of the Average Man — How The Rich Get Richer and You Get Poorer. Bantom Books. ISBN0-553-12913-9.
Rolf R Mantel (1995). Why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Universidad de San Andrés: Victoria, prov. de Buenos Aires. OCLC 44260846.
Ispolatov, S.; Krapivsky, P.L.; Redner, S. (1998). "Wealth distributions in asset exchange models". The European Physical Journal B2 (2): 267–76. doi:10.1007/s100510050249. — Ispolatov, Krapivsky, and Redner analyze the wealth distributions that occur under a variety of exchange rules in a system of economically interacting people.
Chung, Kee H.; Cox, Raymond A. K. (1990). "Patterns of Productivity in the Finance Literature: A Study of the Bibliometric Distributions". The Journal of Finance45 (1): 301–9. doi:10.2307/2328824. JSTOR2328824. — Chung and Cox analyze a bibliometric regularity in finance literature, relating Lotka's law of scientific prductivity to the maxim that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer", and equating it to the maxim that "success breeds success".