How Wealth Inequality Kills

 January 26th, 2018

By Paul Buchheit

Guest writer for Wake Up World

Wealth inequality kills. 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, 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, 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.

Also see: Now Just FIVE Men Own Almost as Much Wealth as Half the World’s Population

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.

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 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.

Inequality is also deadly in another way, for it is the best predictor of homicide, as reported in up to 40 studies. According to the FBI, 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 repressed or disrespected.

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 #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, preparing 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.

Revolution: 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. Says the author about the inevitable equalizing forces, “They shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.” 

Recommended reading by Paul Buchheit:

About the author:

Paul BuchheitPaul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (including www.youdeservefacts.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). His latest book is, Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income. Paul can be reached via email here.

This work first appeared on www.commondreams.org and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


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