The Price Of Inequality: Part 1

In The Price of Inequality, Joseph Stiglitz focuses primarily on the economic and the political, on why the US economic system is failing, rather than other factors that may contribute to inequality.  Although he admits to sweeping generalities, his analysis of inequality is probing.  His explanation of grievances could be used to explain how a people could be driven to violent revolution in any other age but this, given the number of superficial societal checks, balances, and incentives in place by the government and the market

In his introduction, he mentions that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests have included all societal groups but anarchists.  Based on the accounts from various Anarchist blogs and journals I have read, I know this to be untrue because the principles embraced by OWS are anarchist-influenced.

He describes how we came to this era of the Great Recession that lies in contrast to the Great Depression of my grandparents.  From historical readings of the 1930s, until government programs were implemented, there was nothing to support anyone financially.  While there are supports in place now to seemingly help individuals in a time of financial crisis, the corporate powers that be and the political power that they control, those supports are quickly eroding.  The predatory practices that are described to take advantage of individuals, placing them in a figurative economic prison are eerily reflective of the British citizens that were kept in debtors prison before and after the Crown decided to dump several of them on a few ships and start the colony of Georgia.

When he describes the relationship of Inequality to Power, I am reminded of the Warren Beatty film, Bulworth, and the main character’s evolutionary epiphany, where he speaks of racial deconstruction and the collective dividing and conquering of various societal groups that has occurred for at least the last four-hundred years beginning with the British attempt to divide temporary slave, indentured servants from so-called permanent slaves when they feared a violent uprising.  A similar separation and inequality occurs with inner-city urban school districts versus more affluent districts and the manner in which local taxes are collected.

As Bulworth speaks truth to power and Stiglitz weaves a cautionary warning that power wielded by government must change for the United States to survive as a country, I am reminded of a small political revolt of eligible voters in Georgia in the 1790s where a land speculation scandal involved some members of the state house.  The following election state representatives were voted out whether they were involved or not.

Stiglitz explains that markets are shaped by laws, regulations, institutions, and societal norms reflected by and amplified by politics which has allowed an increase of unskilled labour.  However, he misses a key influencer.  According to readings in Jacques Ellul’s Technological Society, technology (or technique) is an uncontrollable, progressive, incremental, inevitable force that neither government nor corporations can control, that has pervaded society since at least the 18th century, that dominates the personal to the corporate whether an electrical power source is involved or not.  Out of the inequalities above, it is the only one that is not discriminatory.

The remaining discriminations that involve economic, class, and race will take time and a revolutionary change in mindset and practical application from the top down and vice versa as Stiglitz describes.  And while the OWS collective demands may seem unrealistic and fantastical, the demands of the Communist Party of the early twentieth century were also viewed as fantastical and unrealistic.  While the majority of Communist Party demands were  not adapted, one major tenet was absorbed and adapted as part of the Democratic Party ticket soon after:  the eight-hour work day and the forty-hour work week.  With persistence and faith anything is possible.

Source:  Stiglitz, J. (2012). The Price Of Inequality [Amazon Kindle version]. New York: W.W. Norton.