Viral Inequality

It’s hardly news when a video “goes viral” these days. “Going viral” just means that people are passing something along to more people, and those people are passing it along, and those people are passing it along. Sort of like, well, a virus.

Happens a lot with the internet. It happened before the internet, too. I remember seeing faded fifteenth-generation photocopied jokes passed around the office, long before anyone had dreamed up the prefix “http”.wealth inequality

Going viral just mean that people think something is interesting enough or important enough to send it to others.

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A recent virality that came my way is a video clip about wealth inequality in the U.S.

Inequality, like viruses, is not new. Americans talked about it in the 70s, back in the days when, by some measures, it was actually decreasing. They talked about it more in the 80s. And maybe a little less in the 90s, maybe because it didn’t seem to be getting much worse then. And then more again in the Aughties.

In truth, they never should have stopped talking about it. Inequality has been increasing in the U.S. pretty steadily for decades. It increased severely in the 80s, with the Reagan Revolution of decreasing taxes and “regulation”.

Inequality increased in the 90s, too, despite having a Democratic President and an economic boom. That boom did lift nearly all boats, but it lifted the richest boats a lot more than the poorest.

And the Aughties. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Having a President intent on slashing already-low tax rates for the wealthiest is a sure-fire way to increase inequality.

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Admittedly, there have been many other factors at play in increasing inequality in America. Increased global trade and decreased labor clout among them. Economists are still sorting out the exact reasons why the richest have been getting so much richer than everyone else. Some conclude that it’s mostly an increase in the “returns to skill”, whatever that means.

And there arguably are benefits to increased inequality. Giving people more incentives to work harder and produce more could create more wealth for everyone in the long haul. And wealthy people save more of their money, providing funds for future capital growth. That can be good for an economy.

Picture1But how much incentive do people need? Do $60 million bonuses really motivate CEOs to work all that much harder and smarter than $6 million bonuses? Does having a $1 billion payoff for creating a successful new company really help the economy that much more than having a $100 million payoff?

Or instead, are such insanely huge incentives actually destructive? Do they cause people to use any and every method at their disposal, ethical or not, to fight and kick their ways to the top? Lead people to do things that harm their companies and the country, in their all-out attempts to make just a million more? Lie, cheat, steal, deceive, delude, distort, betray, swindle, defraud, abuse, anything it takes?

To me, there’s no doubt. It’s possible for incentives to be too big, and we’re long past that point.

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Anyhow, this viral video is a great overview of the wealth inequality problems America’s facing these days – well worth the few minutes it takes to watch.

We might not be certain what is causing the huge increases in inequality that we’ve been seeing since the 1980s. But there’s little reason to believe that it’s a good thing, either for the economy as a whole, or for the masses of Americans who are seeing their relative financial positions deteriorate.

And it’s clear what can and should be done about it. Restore the progressive tax system we had, redistribute wealth intelligently and productively, and enact smart regulation to ensure that growth benefits everyone, not just the 0.01 percent.

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4 thoughts on “Viral Inequality

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