There is this to be said about the inequality in America today. It has gotten to the point where it is so extreme, it is getting harder to overlook the negative consequences of it. And that in turn, is - slowly - starting to get people to think that, maybe we should do something about it? Further, as it turns out, inequality is looking more and more a global threat on a scale that goes far beyond mere money.
Up close and personal to start, this article in the NY Times by Annie Lowrey looks at two counties only a half-day's drive apart. (H/T to Paul Krugman for pointing to the article.) They might seem to be in two different countries, going by the differences between them.
One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.None of this should come as a surprise. Back in 2009 Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson published the results of analyzing decades of research from around the world in their book The Spirit Level. It is a book you will never hear any of our elites mention (except to attack it), and yet it should change everything we do and think about socioeconomic policies. It's not just a matter of individual choices and consequences; inequality has negative effects that span all of society, including those on the top end. There are resources here spelling out the details.
There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax.
If that were not enough, we have to look at the global consequences of inequality. David Atkins has called attention to a news report on a study sponsored by NASA which spells out how our industrial civilization is heading for irreversible collapse. There are scenarios to mitigate or even avoid it, but it turns out inequality is a key factor here as well.
...Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."emphasis added
Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:
"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."
The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business - and consumers - to recognise that 'business as usual' cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.When investigations from health-oriented sciences, social, and environmental sciences combine with work from economists to rather firmly suggest that too much inequality is potentially fatal for both individuals and the entire planet, it's about time to START PAYING ATTENTION!
Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies - by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance - have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years. But these 'business as usual' forecasts could be very conservative.