Before 2016 rolls around, the wealthiest 1% will have half the wealth of the world. That means their wealth will equal the wealth of all the rest of us, the unwashed 99%. One of the 1% will have the wealth of 43,750,000 others.
Inequality is commonly measured with an index developed by the Italian economist Corrado Gini in 1917. A Gini coefficient of 0.0 means perfect equality: everyone has the same wealth. A Gini coefficient of 1.0 is perfect inequality: one person owns everything. This is the direction we are headed.
Just since 1969, the US Gini coefficient has risen from 0.35 to 0.5. But the 0.5 measure has already receded into the past, and now it’s worse. In fact, inequality became consistently worse over each of those 46 years. There were no periods when it improved. This is an utterly dismal record for a democracy to have, suggesting that it’s not a real democracy because We-the-People, especially the poor, were consistently cheated of our share of the considerable wealth of the country.
the wealthiest 1% will have
half the wealth of the world.
If it were possible, inequality in the US would be perfect in another century and a half, with a Gini coefficient of 1.0, one person owning all wealth. That won’t happen, of course, but the important question is: What could reverse this malevolent trend?
We live in complicated times, and a number of things could upend the donkey cart and leave us all sprawled in the dust, rich and poor alike. These include skyrocketing world population, which has zoomed past 7.2 billion already, and will undoubtedly create dreadful famine with many deaths at some point; global warming, which will add ten feet or more to ocean depth within the century, flooding great parts of coastal land and increasing the temperature enough to make vast swaths of agricultural land useless; the end of cheap energy, making food and everything else much more expensive; and unpredictable catastrophes such as major volcanic eruptions, violent weather, worldwide disease epidemics, and so on. A disturbing scenario any way you look at it, because some of these things are certain to happen, and others are likely.
What could reverse this malevolent trend?
There are models of perfect inequality from the distant past. Chinese emperors claimed to own everything, and everybody else nothing, a Gini score of 1.0. The king’s army and his court lived well, by his majesty’s grace. The peasantry existed for the sole purpose of providing wealth for the king. They lived in misery. Incidentally, the black plague came along and upset that donkey cart.
In more recent centuries we have the nobility of Europe, in the feudal system, which was hardly better than ancient China. As we all know from “Downton Abbey”—surely a dependable source—some of the nobility did feel responsibility for those under them, but then, they themselves were also dependent on the wealth that the lower classes could generate for them. The rising middle class upset the Downton Abbey donkey cart.
A number of things could upend the apple cart
and leave us all sprawling in the dust.
But the most significant force for equality might even be worldwide revolution of some sort. Let us hope it is not as bloody as the French Revolution, but it could be violent, because if the very rich would readily surrender even part of their treasures and privilege to those they consider their inferiors they would already have done so. They already are isolated by their wealth, and defended by their own security forces. But nobody turns to revolution unless they have nothing left to lose.
It might be kind of nice if we had an actual democracy, in which the rest of us had power equal to that of the 1%, rather than the government being controlled by a few people who have so much money that extracting more from us is not even remotely useful to them.
It might be kind of nice if we had an actual democracy.
Unfortunately, democracy fades as inequality rises.
Unfortunately, democracy fades as inequality rises. Now millions of dollars are spent daily by the 1% on lobbyists, who inform congressional money worshipers how they are to vote. Too bad there are so few congressional “representatives” who actually represent the interests of the other 320,000,000 of us.
What is needed now and in the forever future are changes that compel Congress to take equal account of the needs and interests of the 99% of us whose welfare is largely ignored, that is, We the People. We of the 99% are individually powerless, but combined could easily have the necessary political power. We have only to figure out how to join together.