I came across Change the Rules this week, a campaigning network looking at the causes of inequality. If you’re a regular reader of blogs like this one, the facts in this video won’t be new to you, but they’re well presented. At their extremes, the inequalities of global wealth are eye watering.
As always, some people watch videos like this and are moved by the sense of injustice. Others aren’t. Inequality is a natural consequence of a capitalist system, they tell me. It creates winners and losers and that’s unavoidable, and we should just accept it.
That’s nonsense. First, it’s nonsense that this situation is unavoidable. Yes, a certain level of inequality is inevitable, but suggesting that these extremes are natural assumes a level playing field and that poor countries just aren’t doing the right thing. That’s not the case.
If you watched to the end of the video, you’ll have seen some of the reasons why global inequality persists. Unfair trade rules, tax evasion and debt are just some of the factors that tilt the global economy in favour of those who are already plenty rich enough. The dollar as the global reserve currency is another often forgotten aspect. The controlling stake of the developed countries in international institutions such as the IMF and the UN is another.
Secondly, it’s nonsense to say that we should accept it. It’s obvious that those disadvantaged by this system would call for greater inequality, but a fairer distribution of wealth is in the interests of the rich as well as the poor.
Extremes of inequality undermine society and create conflict, dividing communities and polarising politics. It erodes trust and makes cooperation difficult as sides protect what they have. Power concentrates in the hands of the richest, weakening democracy and suppressing progressive change. Inequality creates a culture of envy and materialism, driving unsustainable levels of consumer debt as people live beyond their means to try and keep up – a factor in the financial crisis and the ongoing slow recovery. Along with unsustainable debt, this materialist lifestyle is unsustainable environmentally too, putting a strain on the earth’s resources and atmosphere. (As I’ve described before, climate change is not something that America quite literally cannot afford to ignore)
So let’s not be satisfied with the lazy answer that inequality is okay. It’s in everyone’s interests to level the playing field.