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Wealth Inequality In America (And The World)

Steve Pavlina wrote a blog post recently about this video which has been circulating the internet:

It’s a good video and worth watching.

If you’re ADD like me and just want the summary, though, I think this frame says it all:

wealth

This is a visual representation of the wealth distribution in America. The top 1% owns so much that it had to be “restacked” into that giant pillar on the right.

I found Steve’s interpretation of this to be a little… off, to say the least.

I know this video is imbued with a fear-based mentality, but looking beyond the attitude, I find the stats inspiring. It shows that each individual has a tremendous potential for growth. … instead of worrying about what wealth percentile you fall into, think instead of how you could deliver 10x, 100x, or 1000x the value you do now. How could you become one of the top creative contributors on earth?

It’s like Steve – and people like him, as he seems to represent a breed – wants so much to have a good “mindset” for earning money that he deludes himself to the obvious problems with wealth inequality.

To start with, Steve seems to assume that the value you produce is exactly the same as the amount of money you earn. That’s the trouble: it’s not. A CEO doesn’t produce much more value than any other member of their company; they are just in a position of power to demand more money for their efforts.


Believing In The Money System

Steve also gives me the impression that he really believes in the money system, that he really believes that people should “earn” the stuff they want and need.

I don’t believe that. I believe that in times of plenty like ours, no one should be expected to have to struggle to survive. No one should go without basics such as food or medicine.

There’s the thing: if you look at the graph, you can see how easy it would be for no-one to have to struggle again. If you shaved off just one of the ten stacks of money which Mr. 1% owns, you could bring all the poor people up to middle class level easily, and then some.

And if you only wanted to stop people from being below the poverty line (the point in the graph at 15.1%), it would take an almost imperceptible proportion of the country’s wealth.

The Basics

Well, I guess Steve understands this. I think he partly wanted to communicate that we shouldn’t gripe about the situation, which I guess is true enough. Bitching about rich people won’t bring us out of poverty in itself. In fact it can reinforce a victim identity which will actively keep us there.

But I don’t think we should turn around and act like the current situation is desirable either. It’s not. The inequality is absolutely, unequivocally unjust.

And it wouldn’t really be a trouble if we all had the basics. But the thing is we don’t all have the basics, and many others live under the threat of one day not having the basics. A rich person’s private jet just can’t compare. For the price of a private jet you could save hundreds of lives with the basic medicine which many can’t afford. Not sharing that money in this situation is as bad as murder.

Let it be clear that I am extremely skeptical of the justice system and don’t like the word “murder” — it contains a judgement which I don’t agree with. But still, if we held the products of rich people’s inaction up to the same standards as we’d hold the products of an action, we’d call it murder, and punish it.


My Takeaway From This

Steve Pavlina had one good point, in my opinion:

The data itself is neutral. It’s just a bunch of numbers and has no inherent meaning. If you have an emotional reaction to any sort of data, including your personal financial data, it’s not the data itself that’s causing that — it’s your interpretation.

I agree, and it was helpful to think about my own emotional reaction here. It’s common to rage against rich people, and I think that that can be a sort of blindness like anything else.

I don’t think we need anger here. But I do think awareness of the issue is good.

My takeaway from this is that politically, we should work towards a redistribution of wealth.

And I don’t mean communism. I’m thinking more along two lines: 1. Tax the rich (omg! radical!) and 2. Create a basic guaranteed income.

The basic guaranteed income has been done as an experiment, notably in Canada. For a four year period in the 70s, a small town gave benefits to all people and families earning below a certain income. The apocalypse ensued (sarcasm):

Only two segments of Dauphin’s labour force worked less as a result of Mincome—new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren’t under as much pressure to support their families.

I think this shows once and for all that the whole idea of threatening people with poverty in order to keep the economy going is just wrong. Wrong and inhumane; and I think there is no excuse for it anymore.

I think a basic guaranteed income is not such an impossible political goal. Probably, it is going to be harder in America than in Europe. But in Europe, in some countries, we already have systems of unemployment benefits which mean that no-one ever really needs to end up on the streets. The guaranteed income would be a step further, but it would not be unthinkable. Not at all.

We Are Powerful

Of course rich people don’t want to give up their wealth. And rich people are powerful.

But seeing just that, I think, is a limited perception. Their power is not absolute; or else unemployment benefits wouldn’t even exist.

I think it is possible to tax the rich and guarantee a basic minimum income for the poor. The solution is just two words: political involvement.

If we ignore politics and just let the rich continue to run the country, we will get what we get. But if we get organised, get informed, and make sure that the government knows we are watching; if we manifest our power through protests, strikes, civil disobedience and whatever else is necessary — then I do believe we can make this happen.

I’ve often said, if only people got as passionate about social justice as they did about sports, the world would change in an instant.

We are all so much more powerful than we believe.


 

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