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Does Inequality Lead to Violence?

Two researchers have combined inequality and a number of other factors into a statistic that tells us a society’s risk of erupting into violence.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the US is at high risk.

I studied inequality in grad school, and it was clear that inequality researchers equate high levels of inequality with political instability and social unrest. The last time there was inequality this high was before WWII, and different countries’ political unrest manifested differently: Italy and Germany elected authoritarian leaders, while the US elected a left populist.* Both led to major changes in policy, to say the least.

Trump was an outcome of political instability (as well as an instigator of it). But if we don’t resolve our deep structural problems, inequality at the core of them, we will end up with someone far worse than Trump. The researchers come to the same conclusion, saying the numbers “herald a disturbing future for the US that won’t be solved by politics as usual after the 2020 election.”

The only way to ward off the coming violence is to drastically reduce inequality. While tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, billionaires have increased their wealth by $854 billion — and that is just since COVID began in March. We need a wealth tax to reduce the wealth of the highest; we need a Medicare for All system (as every other major country has had for decades) to stop the hemmorhaging of low-income American’s money; we need to start thinking about debt forgiveness for both medical debt and student debt; and we should provide a job guarantee as a social safety net.

We can choose not to do that, but we should be careful just how far down the inequality path we go. We’ve probably already passed the breaking point.

*I wrote an article in 2016 warning of the dangers of inequality and a Trump election.

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