Income Inequality: A Crisis in Consciousness

Dec. 12, 2011 by Terry Garrett

What do you call a poor person who works as hard as a rich person?  (See the answer at the end of this article)

Income Inequality: A Crisis in Consciousness

TED Talks: Richard Wilkinson takes the stage and enthusiastically presents the data that reveals the story about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the consequent harm to society. Only recently has the statistical evidence met with the experience of so many. It has reached a critical breaking point. A point at which the experience of so many overwhelms the status quo.

It's not surprising that those in control of government and worldwide corporations would not wish to hear the cries of unfairness. After all, they have achieved a level of success that they believe secures a place of safety from the disaster experienced by the 'others'. There is also the paradoxical phenomenon of those adversely affected by current economic conditions defending the status quo. We see this playing out in the Stockholm Syndrome too. It may seem irrational, but there it is.

Pay very close attention to the following statistics presented by Wilkinson. They will establish the basis for unrest.  We have fundamental flaws in our system.

There is one primary takeaway fact that you need to know: Income inequality shows a marked effect between income groups and life expectancy relative to one's income position within a society (our social status), but not among different societies.  Between countries of the world measuring life expectancies (in years old) bears no correlation to income per capita. Wealthier countries do not show higher years life expectancy as a rule. Within a country there is a correlation between the poorest and lower years life expectancy, and wealthier population and higher life expectancy.



Some will argue that this just proves that richer folks are smarter and more capable than poorer folks; thus, the differences in wealth. "If you are ambitious, educated and disciplined you can get ahead of the pack." While those attributes can serve you well, they are no substitute for being born into a wealthier household. The US, which ranks near the top in differences between the top 20% and bottom 20% strata of incomes (the top is 8.5 times greater than the bottom), shows less social mobility than comparable wealthy countries like Sweden and Japan. If you're born rich in the US you're much more likely to remain so for your life and if you're born poor, well, good luck.

It is not enough to argue that poor people are lazy and stupid and that rich people are smart and industrious, because we all know what a silly rule that is.  To compare the opposite ends of the wealth/poverty spectrum hardly seems fair, but it demonstrates a gap that is so significant that most people can't help but feel outraged at the super rich and feel sad for the poorest among us. The super rich (as individuals) may not have caused the condition of the poor, but we all share the responsibility of a failed system that punishes a growing class of our population in ways that will in a very short time push us back two centuries in social progress.

What we cherish in our society we also have to regard with suspicion if we are to be honest with ourselves. Getting ahead in our society has always been admired when we 'beat the odds' so to speak. Intuitively we know it's many times harder for a poor or middle class person to become rich in the US, and that is precisely why we admire them all the more for that achievement. When was the last time you complimented a fourth generation Rockefeller for achieving great wealth?

As much as we admire exceptional achievement, we can't allow the foundation that supports those high-achievers to erode and eventually collapse. That is the middle class. It is essential to promote high achievement and also a gateway for social mobility.

The greater the income inequality we tolerate, the greater our anxiety and stress and the more we clamor for material things that represent social status. Indeed over the past 50 years we can point to this dynamic as having caused the apex of our consumer orgy—the housing bubble.

If the past 150 years represented the crisis of materialism, i.e. how to mass produce more in order to feed mass consumption, then we are now entering the crisis of consciousness. We have to take stock of our values and put our spiritual selves in alignment with the world we are creating for the next millennium. Having solved for the excess abundance of materialism, we must now solve for its right use. As we're discovering, it won't be easy. But, it is necessary.

FYI: This Press Democrat piece is worth a read:

Sonoma County's widening income gap hits home

What do you call a poor person who works as hard as a rich person?  Lazy.