Monday, May 26, 2014

THE CURSE OF INEQUALITY

Economic inequality at the levels experienced today wreaks havoc on the lives of all concerned; even those at the top.

Concentration of wealth rather than distribution is contrary to the tenets of social capitalism which is the cornerstone of what productive societies are built.

In his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty places contemporary income concentration in over two centuries worth of historical context, primarily zeroing in on France, Britain, and the United States since the late 18th century. Intense levels of income and wealth concentration have defined our industrial world for generations. The only exception: the decades of the mid twentieth century, a relatively brief interlude when the richest 1 percent’s share of society’s income and wealth dropped substantially in both Europe and the United States.

 Another landmark book on inequality — The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, co-authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have marshaled vast arrays of data and identified nearly every social problem where reliable statistics let us compare how well or poorly the major nations of the developed world are delivering a decent quality of life.
In which developed nations, Wilkinson and Pickett ask, do people live the longest? What nations show the highest levels of obesity? Where do people born at the bottom have the best shot at climbing up? Which nations send the most people to prison? Have the most teenage moms? Tally the most homicides?
People in some developed nations, the Spirit Level documents, can be anywhere from three to ten times more likely than people in other developed nations to be obese or get murdered, to mistrust others or have a pregnant teen daughter, to become a drug addict or escape from poverty.
And the nations that do the best, on yardstick after yardstick, all turn out to share one basic trait. They all share their wealth.
“If you want to know why one country does better or worse than another,” as Wilkinson and Pickett note, “the first thing to look at is the extent of inequality.”
The United States, the developed world’s most unequal major nation, ranks at or near the bottom on every quality-of-life indicator that Wilkinson and Pickett examine. Portugal and the UK, nations with levels of inequality that rival the United States, rank near that same bottom.
People in more equal societies simply live longer, healthier, and happier lives than people in more unequal societies. And not just poor people in these societies, Wilkinson and Pickett emphasize, but all people.