Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.Or, as the GeekWithA.45 put it some time back, "Entire societies can and have gone stark raving batshit fucking insane."
How does growing economic inequality lead to political instability? Partly this correlation reflects a direct, causal connection. High inequality is corrosive of social cooperation and willingness to compromise, and waning cooperation means more discord and political infighting. Perhaps more important, economic inequality is also a symptom of deeper social changes, which have gone largely unnoticed.Please read the whole essay, it's not long.
Increasing inequality leads not only to the growth of top fortunes; it also results in greater numbers of wealth-holders. The "1 percent" becomes "2 percent." Or even more. There are many more millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires today compared with 30 years ago, as a proportion of the population.
Rich Americans tend to be more politically active than the rest of the population. They support candidates who share their views and values; they sometimes run for office themselves. Yet the supply of political offices has stayed flat (there are still 100 senators and 435 representatives -- the same numbers as in 1970). In technical terms, such a situation is known as "elite overproduction."
The gist of it is what Thomas Sowell observed back when he wrote Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy. (OK, one more quote from the piece):
A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.The "elite" and "elite-wannabes" are what Sowell refers to as "the Anointed." They're better than the rest of us because they went to the right schools and know the right people. As that quote from Sultan Knish in the header of this blog says, they
...see themselves as the individuals who have been 'liberated' to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem.
Eric Hoffer observed about such people, they end up as government bureaucrats, bunny inspectors - overeducated mid-level functionaries angry at their lot in life and willing to take it out on the "great unwashed" public. And "Nowhere at present is there such a measureless loathing of their country by educated people as in America." Listen to what he told Eric Sevareid:
The author of the piece doesn't forecast systemic social collapse, but he does predict - well, one last excerpt:
We should expect many years of political turmoil, peaking in the 2020s. And because complex societies are much more fragile than we assume, there is a chance of a catastrophic failure of some kind, with a default on U.S. government bonds being among the less frightening possibilities.Isn't that cheerful news.
And now you understand why gun and ammo sales have been astronomical for the last five years. "Less frightening," indeed.