Monday, June 20, 2011

Income inequality: a barrier to common propery management?

Joseph Stiglitz, writes about the growing (and growing) income inequality in the US in the May 2011 Vanity Fair.

"The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent." 

The article goes on to list a series of reasons why this has happened, and then ends with this zinger.

"The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late."

This raises a lot of troubling issues.  The first amongst them is stability:  in other countries people riot over such inequality and we can see evidence of such riots and revolutions all around us this year (see the accompanying post--an OpEd that my friend and colleague Dominic Johnson and I wrote a few months ago). Do we really want this in our future?

But putting that aside and focusing on our collective environmental future, the fate of us all depends on being motivated to work together to solve some collective problems:  global warming, pollution, the management of fisheries, etc.  We need society to work together and yes, I believe that we do need government to provide some services and infrastructure.  Research, whether biomedical or into new battery types, often starts out as government-funded before generating spin off companies.  The government, not the fisheries industry, is best placed to provide objective assessments of fisheries stocks. But what we see is that many call for less government and less government control and regulation in the US.  The majority of these initiatives are supported by those with a lot.

I do not want to discount the efforts of those who have (and I honestly don't care if it's because of their hard work, luck, or by being born into the right family), I want to move beyond this and focus on how we work together to create a more equitable society that will inspire people to work together.  I want a future in the US that doesn't need a revolution to change things!

Discussion questions:

How, without, revolution, can we create a more equitable society?  How can we inspire and engage those who have to share?  How can we inspire and engage those who do not have to engage in the political process and have their voices heard?  After all, voters, not those with the most money should be able to elect a government that represents their interests.  Indeed, voters should be able to elect a government that represents all of our interests!

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