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How Inequality Is Killing Off Humanity

They're making it nearly impossible to reverse the deadly effects of an unnaturally unequal society, in part because they're no longer connected to the world beyond their estates.

"And then there's the stock market, more than tripling in value since the recession, repeatedly reaching record highs, with almost all of the gains going to the richest 10%." (Photo: NoHoDamon/Flickr/cc)

"And then there's the stock market, more than tripling in value since the recession, repeatedly reaching record highs, with almost all of the gains going to the richest 10%." (Photo: NoHoDamon/Flickr/cc)

That's not hyperbole. There is ample evidence for a growing inability of people around the world to maintain the basic human needs of physical health and mental stability and a living wage and a desire to live in peace. 

Most of us recognize the need for some semblance of equality in our relationships with others. But a smallish group of shockingly wealthy households around the world -- especially in America -- is gaining more and more power along with their wealth. They're making it nearly impossible to reverse the deadly effects of an unnaturally unequal society, in part because they're no longer connected to the world beyond their estates. They police us, they starve our public institutions, they abhor any form of social cooperation, they blame the poor for being poor. The means to restore some balance is steadily slipping away. 

The Richest .01% Are Wealth-Obese 

In the United States, where wealth inequality is extreme and getting worse (see analysis here):

  • The richest 24,000 adults (the .01%) have an average of over $400,000,000 in wealth (mostly financial)
  • The poorest 120,000,000 adults (the bottom 50%) have an average of about $8,500 in wealth (mostly housing) 

Global inequality is similar in the degree of disparity:

  • The richest 500,000 adults (the .01%) have an estimated average of $30,000,000 in wealth
  • The poorest 2.5 billion adults (the bottom 50%) have an average of about $673 in wealth 

Inequality Made Worse: Tax Havens and Tax Breaks and Tax Deferrals 

"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said.

Neoliberalism disdains government regulation, and one result has been trumpeted to the ends of the earth by the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers: Despite their immeasurable benefits from society -- the financial system, tax law, security forces, computer technology -- the world's richest individuals and corporations are stashing away their gains rather than paying for all their benefits. If researchers Saez and Zucman are correct (and they usually are), an incredible $14 trillion of global wealth is being hidden in offshore tax havens. That's approximately the total wealth of the entire United Kingdom

As for the shrinking estate tax, it would more aptly be called the deadbeat tax if more non-working rich kids had to pay it. 

And then there's the stock market, more than tripling in value since the recession, repeatedly reaching record highs, with almost all of the gains going to the richest 10%. Average working Americans, on the other hand, get almost no interest on their meager bank accounts. 

How Inequality Kills 

The life expectancy gap in the U.S. between the richest 1% and poorest 1% is growing, especially with the opioid crisis infecting the poverty-stricken (and typically white) parts of the nation, just like tobacco in the 1950s. Life expectancy for the poorest classes is now equivalent to that of Sudan or Pakistan. After decades of progress in longevity, this stunning turnaround has closely paralleled the decreasing incomes and lack of job opportunities for American workers. It's a similar story for infant mortality: survival rates are higher in more equal countries. Americans at all income levels are experiencing higher levels of stress and mental illness compared to 40 years ago. Even upper-middle-income people suffer mental health problems when living or working around people who make more money. 

Inequality is deadly in another, terror-filled way, for it is the best predictor of homicide, as reported in up to 40 studies. The FBI has found that over half of murders are caused not by theft or drugs or money or tainted love, but by a situation in which the killer has been somehow disrespected. 

It's not hard to see the potential effects of inequality in other parts of the world. In Yemen, for example, attacks by Saudi Arabia continue with American weapons, using American targeting data, and delivered by American jets. Power and water facilities have been destroyed. Schools and weddings and funeral processions and hospitals have been bombed, and a cholera epidemic is raging out of control. Signs of everyday life have disappeared, as the median household wealth has been cut in half in just the last two years. 

From a wall in Yemen’s capital, a hand-painted message cries out to the world: "USA Kills Yemeni People...Why did you kill my family?" 

The Poor Remain Uninformed, the Rich Plan for Armageddon 

The business-oriented mainstream media is keeping people in the dark about the World Economic Forum's choice for the Number 1 Threat to the global economy:  Inequality. In the U.S., a shockingly low 5 percent of the population believes inequality is a major issue, even as they suffer the physical and mental symptoms of a distressingly divided society. Perhaps it's a matter of denial: the International Social Survey Programme curiously concluded that people still tend to think their society is a meritocracy. 

The super-rich, on the other hand, are well aware of the devastation they've left in their wake, and so they're taking no chances, isolating themselves with underground survival bunkers with 9-foot walls and bullet-resistant doors and sniper posts and trip sensors and pepper spray detonators and geothermal power units and anti-chemical air filters and infrared surveillance devices, all of which may sustain life for a few years

Inequality's Final Act 

In his book "The Great Leveler," Walter Scheidel documents the ultimate destinies of desperately unequal societies throughout history, and they're not pretty: wars, revolutions, state collapses, and catastrophic plagues. Says the author about the inevitable equalizing forces, "they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order." 

Even if the super-rich survive for a while in their bunkers, they may walk out into a world that can no longer keep them alive. 

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Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

screen_shot_2017-01-23_at_8.39.57_am.pngPaul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago. His latest book is, Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income. He is also founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org),  and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul [at] UsAgainstGreed [dot] org.

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