Growing Inequality--An Addendum to Yesterday's Blog Post

In another example of synchronicity, I stumbled into this excellent series of articles on inequality by Timothy Noah. The link is to the first of 10 separate articles. The whole series is available as a pdf. Noah presents a lot of good data showing the growth of inequality since about 1979. The gist of the trends are nicely displayed in a short slide show.

There is much too much in the series to reduce to blog size. Noah ends with these couple of paragraphs.

I find myself returning to the gut-level feeling expressed at the start of this series: I do not wish to live in a banana republic. There is a reason why, in years past, Americans scorned societies starkly divided into the privileged and the destitute. They were repellent. Is it my imagination, or do we hear less criticism of such societies today in the United States? Might it be harder for Americans to sustain in such discussions the necessary sense of moral superiority?

What is the ideal distribution of income in society? I couldn’t tell you, and historically much mischief has been accomplished by addressing this question too precisely. But I can tell you this: We’ve been headed in the wrong direction for far too long.

Sustainability demands that we reverse direction. It's long past time for all those touting their environmental sustainability initiatives to look much more seriously at their contributions to the continuing rise in inequality in the US. To be green, although better than not being green, is not enough to create environmental flourishing. More to the point of this blog, it says nothing about human flourishing. Like the upward carbon dioxide trends in the data from Mauna Loa, the inequality trends for the US continue their upward trend. There is little doubt that the policies of the new Congress will tilt the curves even more steeply upward.

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Both the global system and the human societal systems are complex. There are limits to how much stress they can tolerate without jumping to some unknown new regime. "Let them eat cake," a perfect metaphor for inequality, still serves to connote the instability of social inequality. The carbon dioxide data are indisputable. Knowledge of the science of the global system suggests the possibility of a similar "revolutionary" shift. The time to address and reverse these trends is long overdue. They are graphic warnings that the possibility of flourishing is receding. To deny this possibility is to court unnecessary human and global catastrophe.

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