Politics of Poverty

5 reasons you should really be “spooked” by inequality

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Halloween is traditionally a time for superstitions, folklore, myths and omens. Inequality is making them come true.

1. The monster of inequality is growing bigger!

  • Seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago.
  • In 1983, a CEO in the US made 40 times as much as his average worker; now he makes 331 times as much.
  • The number of billionaires worldwide has more than doubled since the financial crisis.
  • Eighty-five people on the planet own as much as the poorest half of humanity. And between March 2013 and March 2014, these 85 people grew $688m richer each day. That’s almost half a million dollars every minute. Every. Single. Minute.

2. Extreme inequality is toxic!

The growing divide between the rich and poor is setting in motion a number of negative social consequences. High levels of inequality are linked to shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives, and higher rates of obesity, teenage pregnancy, mental illness, imprisonment and addiction. Economic inequality adds new dimensions to old disparities, such as gender, geography and indigenous rights.

3. Extreme inequality may urge people to grab their pitchforks!

Greater inequality has been linked to higher rates of social unrest, violence – including domestic violence – and crime, particularly homicides and assaults. Compared to more equal countries, those with extreme economic inequality experience nearly four times the number of homicides.

While this affects everyone, violence and crime have a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty, who receive little protection from the police or legal systems, often live in vulnerable housing, and cannot afford to pay for private security. Countries in Latin America starkly illustrate this trend. Despite the social and economic advances of the last two decades, Latin America remains the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world, with 41 of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities, and one woman murdered every 18 hours. A staggering one million people were murdered in Latin America between 2000 and 2010.

Greater inequality has also been frequently linked to a higher risk of violent conflict. In fact, many of the most unequal countries in the world are affected by conflict or fragility. Alongside a host of political factors, Syria’s hidden fragility before 2011 was, in part, driven by rising inequality, as falling government subsidies and a fall in public sector employment affected some groups more than others. Inequality is part of the combustible mix of factors making conflict or substantial violence more likely.

4. Inequality will turn you into a scary mommy (or daddy).

Every parent wants their kid to succeed and hopes the next generation can achieve a life that’s progressively better than their own. But rising inequality is making it harder to envision a good life for your kids. In countries with higher levels of inequality, it is easier for parents to pass on their advantages to their children, advantages that less wealthy parents cannot afford. And as my colleague recently lamented, we are transmitting a lot of this anxiety and ambition from inequality onto our children. Only wanting the best for them, we’re pushing them to achieve with a vague idea that only if they’re in the top 1 percent will they really be economically secure.

5. The witch’s cauldron reveals that inequality’s toil and trouble is predicted by our birth place.

Nowhere is the striking importance of a birthplace more evident that the Ebola crisis in today’s headlines. The inequality of outcomes from Ebola infection – and whether you live or die – is a stark reflection of the fact that the single most important factor dictating the outcomes of your life – income, health, opportunity – is your place of birth. Nothing else is as important, and nothing could be less fair.

The effects of this lottery of birth have never seemed starker than they do right now: thousands of people in West Africa have died of Ebola, simply because they were born in poor countries that aren’t equipped to prevent or contain a disease outbreak. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Even though inequality is getting scary, there’s no need to be spooked or to run and hide. Poverty is not inevitable—it is the consequence of political choices and we can tackle it by fighting extreme inequality. Join us to EVEN IT UP!

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