Skip to main content

c4ab550346f86f100f1ec601_jo4193c.jpg

The Instability of Inequality

Any economic model that doesn’t properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy, as today's global protests are now demonstrating. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.

NEW YORK – This year has witnessed a global wave of social and political turmoil and instability, with masses of people pouring into the real and virtual streets: the Arab Spring; riots in London; Israel’s middle-class protests against high housing prices and an inflationary squeeze on living standards; protesting Chilean students; the destruction in Germany of the expensive cars of “fat cats”; India’s movement against corruption; mounting unhappiness with corruption and inequality in China; and now the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York and across the United States.

While these protests have no unified theme, they express in different ways the serious concerns of the world’s working and middle classes about their prospects in the face of the growing concentration of power among economic, financial, and political elites. The causes of their concern are clear enough: high unemployment and underemployment in advanced and emerging economies; inadequate skills and education for young people and workers to compete in a globalized world; resentment against corruption, including legalized forms like lobbying; and a sharp rise in income and wealth inequality in advanced and fast-growing emerging-market economies.

Of course, the malaise that so many people feel cannot be reduced to one factor. For example, the rise in inequality has many causes: the addition of 2.3 billion Chinese and Indians to the global labor force, which is reducing the jobs and wages of unskilled blue-collar and off-shorable white-collar workers in advanced economies; skill-biased technological change; winner-take-all effects; early emergence of income and wealth disparities in rapidly growing, previously low-income economies; and less progressive taxation.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/7BfSUkt;
  1. reinhart39_ Sha HantingChina News ServiceVisual China Group via Getty Images_jerome powell Sha Hanting/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images

    Jerome Powell’s Dilemma

    Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent Reinhart

    There is a reason that the US Federal Reserve chair often has a haunted look. Probably to his deep and never-to-be-expressed frustration, the Fed is setting monetary policy in a way that increases the likelihood that President Donald Trump will be reelected next year.

    0
  2. mallochbrown10_ANDREW MILLIGANAFPGetty Images_boris johnson cow Andrew Milligan/AFP/Getty Images

    Brexit House of Cards

    Mark Malloch-Brown

    Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament, and an appeals court ruling declaring that act unlawful, the United Kingdom finds itself in a state of political frenzy. With rational decision-making having become all but impossible, any new political agreement that emerges is likely to be both temporary and deeply flawed.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions