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Chapter 3. Converging CrisesInequality

The Spirit Level – Why Inequality Kills

Abstract and interpretation of Wilkinson and Pickett (2010). The Spirit Level. Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin.

Details of the research can be found at www.equalitytrust.org.uk.

High inequality has strong negative effects on societies, at the bottom as well as at the top. People die sooner in more unequal countries, mainly because social status has a staggering impact on health and wellbeing. Using a wealth of data and meticulous reasoning Wilkinsons and Picketts reach this conclusion: socio-economic inequality stands out as a crucial factor explaining life expectancy and many other problems like violence, drug abuse, mental illness and obesity.

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How the World developed Inequally

Eurasia only land mass with comparable climate. Source: 4thtransition.ws

It’s Geography, stupid! The world developed in an inequal way mainly because of the way the landmasses are laid out. No decisive cultural differences, no genetically better races. Jared Diamond compellingly argues how it’s geography, because large landmasses with comparable climates result in more diverse species over time – and thus more species usefull to support human life. Like what? Like wheat and horses.

This gave Western peoples advantages like guns, germs and steel. PBC made a documentary series based on the book by that title. Watch it here. Brilliant.

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How the divorce between power and politics leads to increased insecurity

People feel more insecure because politics and power have been disconnected. Multinational corporations make decisions within transnational market conditions that can just marginally be controlled. This feeling of insecurity undoubtedly goes with the fear of losing jobs and material welfare; legitimate fears. Zygmunt Bauman describes them:

Power is the ability to act, Bauman argues. Politics is the ability to decide what will happen. Power and politics have been torn apart. Where politics used to have power to make thinks happen, they can now only make plans but have limited power for their execution.

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Ill Fares The Land – Tony Judt (2010)

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

Free market atrocities have to be balanced by government. Judt describes how the wellfare state, built upon the ruins of the Second World War, has been squandered since Reagan and Thatcher adopted neo-liberal market fundamentalism. Every statesman and citizen should read this book. I think the argument is powerful and of life-saving importance. On top of that, I like timely and seemingly-pathetic statements.

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Inequality

Inequality is mortally dangerous.[1] Socio-economic inequality is a most perverse side effect of globalization under a neo-liberal market economic ideology. The rich grow richer while the poor lag behind. The bottom billion, World Bank economist Paul Collier calls them.[2].

Inequality within countries is the most problematic; on the large global scale, inequality between nations seems to be decreasing mainly because of the surprising development in parts of Asia and Africa. Research shows that inequality within countries has numerous disastrous social effects.[3]

Money buys you stuff, but also other people’s time. So what happens when you have a lot of money? You gain power over others. The more money, the more you can decide upon. Where money accumulates, power is concentrated. The power to keep your assets safe, as well as the power to have other people working for you. As long as markets are not corrected for the self-inflating effects of big capital, free markets lead to growing inequality.

  1. [1]Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level, 2010: 81-84.
  2. [2]Collier, Paul (2007). The Bottom Billion. Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  3. [3]Judt (2010)