Among other factoids mentioned: the median US household earns more than 93 percent of the world's households. Something to chew on next time someone claims to be part of the victimized 99 percent.
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Cross-national comparisons suggest that inequality can literally undermine democratic institutions, perhaps because the very rich find them inconvenient. The political scientist Christian Houle finds that inequality is associated with an increased “probability of backsliding from democracy to dictatorship.”
Many of the causal links are obvious. Those with money to invest in campaign contributions and lobbying exercise a disproportionate influence on political outcomes. Apparently, a few super-rich individuals can supersede the influence of a business community that has more to gain from political compromise.
As The New York Times pointed out this weekend, Republicans — financed by the billionaire Koch brothers — began plotting this government shutdown over Obamacare soon after the president began his second term.
Furthermore, what people feel may be at least as important as what they think. The shutdown is fueled more by anger than by analysis. Its hot-tempered, intransigent mood seems entirely consistent with a new wave of social science research documenting the relevance of phenomena below the surface of the conscious mind, like loss of trust, emotional frustration and displaced aggression.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett provide a broad summary in “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger,” showing that income inequality across states within the United States, as well as across countries, is associated with a higher level of socially dysfunctional outcomes in a variety of domains, including health, education, obesity and incarceration.
They contend that increased inequality intensifies social stress, making it difficult for individuals to successfully collaborate. While they don’t insist this dynamic is biologically hard-wired, they mention evidence that primates and monkeys living in strict social hierarchies often behave more aggressively than others, attacking their inferiors and seeking to appease their superiors.Newsflash about The Spirit Level: its conclusions are garbage as The Economist noted last year:
“The Spirit Level” caused a sensation when it was first published in Britain, probably because it reflected the post-crash Zeitgeist. Its conclusions, however, have been largely debunked. In a devastating critique, published by the Democracy Institute, Christopher Snowdon showed that Mr Wilkinson and Ms Pickett made highly selective use of statistics.