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How Inequality Hurts Societies

New global research on equality, inequality, and the happiness of nations. It’s an American issue.

An unemployed man in Singapore collects cardboard waste to exchange for money along a residential area, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP)

American inequality is at towering heights not seen since before the Great Depression. Wealth is packed at the top of the ladder, and dwindling on the rungs below.

The picture naturally makes many uneasy. A new global research effort says we are quite right to worry about it.

Two British epidemiologists say inequality is a public health issue, a national health issue. From crime rates to drug use to teenage pregnancy to heart disease and more, they say, the evidence shows inequality makes countries sick, even the rich.

We investigate inequality, and the health of nations.

-Tom Ashbrook


Philip Aldrick, economics editor for the Daily Telegraph (U.K.) He joins us from Davos, where the World Economic Forum is taking place.

Richard Wilkinson, professor emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School. He’s co-author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

Kate Pickett, professor of epidemiology at the University of York (U.K.) and a National Institute for Health Research career scientist. She’s co-author of The Spirit Level.

Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy and founding director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.  Read his 1994 piece on inequality in The American Prospect – he says it resonates strongly today.

Read an excerpt from “The Spirit Level”:

Inequality: the enemy between us?

By Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

As if to overcome their reputation as practitioners of the ‘dismal science’, economists are now producing an economics of happiness. Ironically, what they find is that most of the determinants of happiness are beyond the grasp of the market. Happiness, rather than being determined primarily by income and possessions, is, at least in rich countries, more significantly affected by social relationships – by friendship, marriage, giving and volunteering.

And it’s not just happening in economics. Researchers across a range of academic disciplines are discovering how fundamentally social we are. Neurologists tell us how the pleasure centers in our brains light up when we co-operate with one another, and that feeling socially excluded activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain. Evolutionary psychologists have explained how reciprocal altruism developed. Epidemiologists have discovered that health is strongly protected by friendship and damaged by low social status – findings which are backed up by research on monkeys conducted by primatologists. And psychologists have shown that the kinds of stress which really get under our skin and elevate our stress hormones are those which contain a ‘social-evaluative threat’, such as threats to self-esteem or social status, in which others may judge our performance.

Where it once took studies of babies’ weight gain to discover that they needed attentive and loving care, it is now studies of death rates which are forcing us to recognize the social needs of adults. What matters most now for health, happiness and well-being is, from early childhood onwards, social relationships, the quality of the social environment, and how we experience ourselves through each others’ eyes.

For thousands of years the best way of improving the quality of human life was to raise material living standards. But we, in the rich world, are the first generation to have got to the end of that process . The evidence on life expectancy, happiness and measures of wellbeing show that there are rapid improvements in the early stages of economic growth, but the gains then diminish until, among the richest countries, all three cease to be responsive to economic growth. The ‘diseases of affluence’ – like heart disease – become the diseases of the poor in affluent societies and, for the first time in history, the poor are fatter than the rich.

At some point in the long history of growth it was inevitable that we would reach a point where diminishing returns set in. That we have passed this point has been masked by consumerism. But what drives consumerism – and makes it an insatiable but zero-sum game – is that rather than being driven by genuine human need, it is driven by status competition, by the need to have goods that show other people how well we’re doing and to keep up with the Joneses. When a large majority, even of the 10 or 15 percent of Americans below the Federal poverty line, have air conditioning, a car and a DVD player, growth has done its work.

In their bones people know this. We know that consumerism is hollow and cannot satisfy our deeper and more important social needs. Similarly, the romantic nostalgia for the 1950s reflects our recognition that, despite our societies being so much richer, people are no happier now than they used to be.

No wonder then that Gross National Income per head has been falling out of favor as a measure of progress in rich countries. Almost twenty years ago the United Nations introduced its Human Development Index and scored each country according to a combined measure of Gross Domestic Product per head, education and life expectancy. Since then, economists have developed many other measures of wellbeing, the ‘Genuine Progress Indicator’, the Happy Planet Index and the like. Most recently, Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen produced their report on measures of economic performance and “social progress” for France’s President Sarkozy.

But if you thought the Stiglitz-Sen report would tell us how to increase human wellbeing, you’d be disappointed. Rather than showing us how to improve wellbeing, they focus only on how to measure it. Even within this limited scope, the suggested improvements are remarkably pedestrian. Despite the sharp contrast between the material success and social failings of modern societies, they keep Gross National Income per head at center stage. The changes they propose are limited to various subtractions from GNI per head to take account of costs which boost economic growth such as longer commuting times, pollution and loss of leisure, while making additional adjustments, such as for the fact that we do not share the proceeds of growth equally. But this report is nevertheless important because it confirms the growing awareness that we have got to the end of the real benefits of growth.

So if the priority really has shifted from our material to social needs, what can be done in affluent societies to raise the real quality of life? Rather to our surprise, we believe we have found a crucially important part of the answer to this question.

Like others, we had been working for some years trying to understand the tendency for health to be better in countries with smaller income differences between rich and poor. There are now around 200 studies of income inequality and health. Other researchers working on violent crime had shown that homicide rates were lower in more equal countries. We started to wonder whether this pattern applied to other health or social problems. To find out, we collected internationally comparable figures on levels of trust, mental illness, life expectancy, infant mortality, prevalence of drug use and levels of obesity, homicide rates and rates of imprisonment, teenage birth rates, children’s educational achievement, and measures of child wellbeing – for each of 21 rich developed market democracies.

To measure inequality we used the ratio of the incomes of the top 20 percent in each country compared to the incomes of the bottom 20 percent. In the more equal countries (Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden) the top 20 percent have 3.4 to 4.0 times as much. In the more unequal societies (USA, Portugal, UK) they have between 7 and 8.5 times as much. By this measure they are twice as unequal as the more equal countries.

Although people have often regarded inequality as divisive and socially corrosive, that did not prepare us for what we found. The frequency of all these problems was systematically related to income inequality. The bigger the income differences between rich and poor in each society, the worse these health and social problems became. And rather than things being just a bit worse in more unequal countries, they were very much worse. More unequal countries tended to have three times the level of violence, of infant mortality and mental illness; teenage birth rates were six times as high, and rates of imprisonment increased eight-fold.

The sense that inequality is divisive was shown by the fact that in more unequal countries, only about 15 percent of the population feel they can trust others, compared to around two-thirds in the more equal ones. That evidence was supported by relationships with social capital and levels of violence – all showing that inequality damages the social fabric of society.

Although the statistics told us that these relationships could not be dismissed as chance, we thought we should check in a second, independent, test bed to see if the same relationships held true. We looked at data for the 50 states of the USA, asking exactly the same question: did the more equal states, like the more equal countries, also do better on all these health and social problems than the less equal ones?

The pattern was extraordinarily similar. What the evidence shows is a tendency for more unequal societies to be socially dysfunctional right across the board. It is not that one country or state has good health but high levels of violence, or high teenage birth rates but low levels of drug abuse. Instead, the pattern is for most problems to become better or worse together.

Our interpretation of these findings is that bigger income differences lead to bigger social distances up and down the status hierarchy, increasing feelings of superiority and inferiority and adding to status competition and insecurity. Some of the causal links are known: the effects of chronic stress on the immune and cardiovascular system are increasingly well understood and must underpin the relationship of income inequality to health. Similarly, the reason why violence increases in more unequal societies is because inequality makes status even more important and the most common triggers to violence are loss of face, disrespect, and humiliation.

What the evidence shows is that problems that everyone knows are related to social status within our societies become much more common when the social status differences are increased. But, surprisingly, the benefits of greater equality are not confined to the poor. While the benefits are much bigger lower down the social ladder, even well paid middle class people live longer and do better in more equal societies. Their children too are less likely to become victims of violence, to drop out of high school or become involved in drugs. The reasons why the benefits of greater equality extend to a large majority of society is, of course, that we are all caught up in status differentiation and we all worry about what others think of us and how we are judged.

How can income differences be reduced? There seem to be two quite different routes. While countries like Sweden start off with large differences in earnings and then redistribute, countries like Japan have much smaller earnings differences to start with – before taxes and benefits. Within the US, Vermont and New Hampshire provide a similar contrast. It doesn’t seem to matter how you get greater equality so long as you get there somehow.

Politics in the future are likely to be dominated by the need to reduce carbon emissions. But there too greater equality has a role to play. Consumerism is probably the greatest obstacle to achieving sustainability. Because the pressure to consume is intensified by status competition, greater equality will be necessary to reduce it. Reigning in carbon emissions depends, more than any other problem, on concern for the greater good. But as inequality weakens trust and community life, it also weakens public spiritedness and concern for the greater good. An international survey of business leaders found that those in more equal countries regard environmental issues as more important. It is also the more equal societies that do best on recycling and foreign aid.

Both our social and environmental wellbeing require that developed societies turn their attention from material accumulation to the quality of the social environment. What is exciting is that greater equality may be the key which brings solutions to the most important problems of our day within our reach.

Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham and Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York. Adapted from The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Bloomsbury Press, NYC, December 2009.

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  • Grady Lee Howard

    Thank you Tom and staff for this worthy topic after so many promotional shows. Please try not to confuse the discussion with technocratic side issues. As for the cardboard recycler pictured in Singapore, it was just revealed by the UN that Singapore has a higher average per capita income than the USA. Nine other countries do also, though this may be skewed by corporate flight to untaxed banking havens. Statistics have proven an expedient method of conveying falsehoods.

    Ouestion: How do we achieve economic leveling in the USA?

  • http://www.beccar.wordpress.com Eugenia Renskoff, NY

    Hi, Tom, There is nothing worse than seeing people have what you need–housing, a good job, all that makes life bearable. Eugenia Renskoff

  • Beverly


    America used to be a country that people looked up to. Really! That was very long ago. I have heard about those days, & have seen television programs from the 50s, 60s, & even 70s. People who were there have said that those programs weren’t so far-fetched.

    Sorry you have to see it as it dies, but these days, we have RIGHTS: the right to free speech, to protest funerals, shoot people we don’t like, & whatever else anybody feels like doing, & God help ANY non-radical who gets in the way.

    The thugs have overtaken America. They don’t have any idea about what’s really in the Constitution, but they have guns, so it doesn’t matter.

    It’s really bizarre, but you’d better get used to it, if you have to live here.

    Did you hear Michele Bachmann last night? She’s even worse than Palin. These odd/sick people can’t be prevented from giving their speeches, or stirring up trouble. They have their rights, you know.

    I hope you’re able to get out of America soon. If not, God help you.

  • Jayco

    Yes, the corrupt capitalist thugs are overtaking America with a plan to wipe out the middle class and poor!!

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    “An unemployed man in Singapore collects cardboard waste to exchange for money”
    What is wrong with the statement above?
    We have not evolved language to understand our current economic environment.
    We live in a world full of economic slavery. It is at least as brutal if not more so than any slavery of the past. The skids of our economic prosperity are greased with the lives of the world’s poorest societies.

    In the US we claim to have “all volunteer military force”.
    Ask your guests if that is a true statement.

    Service to country is a responsibility, it should be required to vote. Read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, it deals with social strata, and it was written in 1958. We have lost much ground in progressive social structure since.

    The scary part is that we are losing the language of debate and compromise, it is being replaced with the language of partisanship and demagoguery.

    When we no longer understand each other, or see our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, we end up doing awful things to them and our world.
    Where is empathy?

  • Joseph

    Beverly stated: “I hope you’re able to get out of America soon. If not, God help you.”

    Yes Beverly. My advice to any young person today ready to enter college would be to try and attend a foreign school in Western Europe, and than stay there and become a citizen there. If they have already graduated try and emigrate there. Unemployed workers over about 45 and retirees or those who are about to retire who are not wealthy enough to live a decent retirement without the promised SS and Medicare they have been paying for all their working lives are screwed. Such Western European countries are quite rightly not interested in taking responsibility for American capitalism’s discards that have become inconvenient.

    I can here what discussion of this issue and realistic solutions will generate from some quarters. “Socialism!” “Class Warfare!” The last always amuses me, because it is something I can always agree with them on. We have had class warfare in America for going on thirty years, and the wealthy have been winning. In fact during the last ten years it has become a rout.

    I also like to engage people who simultaneously profess Christianity and Ayn Rand social and economic philosophy. When confronted with this discrepancy many times they reply with a variation of: “If you give a man a fish you have fed him for a day. If you teach him to fish you have fed him for a lifetime.” Asking them to show me in the Bible where Jesus ever said anything of the sort, and aren’t they just rationalizing pursuing their own self interest contrary to what it actually states in Scripture, often gets them to stop pushing that argument. If not I ask them how many times they personally, and with out any compensation for themselves, taught anyone to “fish” yesterday. Then Christian conservatives (an oxymoron) can be summed up in this sharp political cartoon. http://troubletown.com/uploaded_images/ttown999.jpg

    Anyway studies have consistently shown that there is a gap between “happiness” in Western European social democracies and America. Severe inequality in wealth, like we have in America, produces unhappiness not just for tangible reasons, but also for perceptions of effort versus reward.

  • Nick from MASS

    What I don’t understand it that those that are benefitting so much from this unbalanced-opportunistic economy that is destroying the middle class, is that in destroying the middle class, they are destroying themselves ultimately because our economy is based on the middle class purchasing things and we don’t have the money too spend any longer.

    15 years ago, the banks stopped lending money to individuals to start a single retail business. But you could burrow millions of dollars to start a chain that ultimately would go our of business – and screw manufacturers like us. No sole proprietary stores, not even mid size chains, only a few big blocks – and I have no place to sell my product.

    I have been a business owner for 23 years now, I work a gazillian hours, and I can hardly survive any longer – and it is not because of the economy. Our product is a middle class oriented product and nothing in America today is set up for the middle class advantage – only the few Big Block stores that even if they were interested, they want it for less than the cost to make it.

  • Joseph

    Nick stated: “What I don’t understand it that those that are benefitting so much from this unbalanced-opportunistic economy that is destroying the middle class, is that in destroying the middle class, they are destroying themselves ultimately because our economy is based on the middle class purchasing things and we don’t have the money too spend any longer.

    15 years ago, the banks stopped lending money to individuals to start a single retail business. But you could burrow millions of dollars to start a chain that ultimately would go our of business – and screw manufacturers like us. No sole proprietary stores, not even mid size chains, only a few big blocks – and I have no place to sell my product.

    I have been a business owner for 23 years now, I work a gazillian hours, and I can hardly survive any longer – and it is not because of the economy. Our product is a middle class oriented product and nothing in America today is set up for the middle class advantage – only the few Big Block stores that even if they were interested, they want it for less than the cost to make it.”

    What were are seeing is the end result of unrestricted free trade and even more so emergence of an unrestricted and unregulated world capital market. When the Fed pumps money into the American economy, by essentially giving it to major banks, there are no strings attached to what will be done with this money. There has for long been no attitude (dare I call it patriotism) there that it should be used for the benefit of Americans with regard to where to lend or invest that money. Short term return is the only consideration. The race to the bottom that this country has been on will slowly move up the ladder to people like you as well.

  • geffe

    Joseph that depends on which country in Europe.
    First off Europe is having it’s fair share of economic woes in case you have not noticed.

    There is a huge difference between Italy and Germany.
    In the article I’ve linked below the story is about a young woman with a law degree who speaks five languages and she can’t find a job.

    What the Europeans have is a good safety net so the pain of this deep recession. Moving to Europe will not solve anyone’s problem. First off unless you speak three or more languages and have a work permit Europe is not going to solve any young Americans problems.


  • Rob Maranville

    If anyone is expecting the state to solve these problems, they are looking to the arsonist to put out the fire. Corporatism/Fascism is at the core of the anti-free enterprise mentality in the US today. Read some Bastiat if you want to see some prescient socio-economic analysis. Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state, which has nothing but what it expropriates by threat of force. This ranges from the truly destitute, to the creatively slothful, to the middle and upper middle class who survive wholly or partially on contracts with the state, to world dominating corporations like GE who profit heavily from state privilege at the expense of the working public. The state does not hold the answer to the seemingly intractable problem, unless it involves reducing ALL forms of subsidy.

  • Jack Martin, Stanley, NC

    Eugenia Renskoff remains alive wandering the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She once wished to return to Argentina, but things are worse there now. Eugenia is an American citizen, and a published author. She lost her nest-egg in a mortgage fraud, and as an older single, disabled woman, she is now homeless. She has spirit few can match, still envies the fur coats and coach purses, the glittering jewelry of Park Avenue, and longs to be where her exceptional intellect entitles her to be. She came from a comfortable home, but all that is gone now. No family is there for her. She is willing to work, but no one seems to need her skills- writing, translating Spanish to English, and baking.

    She loves New York with its rainbow array of people. She loves the dogs and cats fervently as few humans can. She is tough in survival and tender in spirit. From her posts it appears she is lugging bags and a caged cat with one good arm through the snow.

    I wanted to help you Eugenia but lacked enough money. I couldn’t find anyone who would listen. You deserve a warm place to stay with a hot shower and a laptop for your writing, room for a cat. You couldn’t leave New York and board a train to live with poor strangers in the country. You are holding out for something better.
    That is your right. You can’t stop us from thinking about you. We love you far away but would probably not get along in person. May you find the necessities today, and your well-deserved dreams tomorrow.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    If you click on the Dukakis Center for Barry Bluestone, you’ll find a plethora of great articles. Search “Barry.” He has useful critiques of unions, how they have shrunk our competitiveness and undercut themselves. Also he is onto something in re housing that does not dance-the-dance that led to what I’ll call the American Dream Debacle. He allows that living in apartments has a future. Specifically, in Boston, the population of graduate students at 102,000 (and undergraduates at 234,000) has been driving up the cost of apartments (four students paying $600 apiece causes landlords to expect that for a $1700/month apartment). The huge unfairness to renters (aside from the lack of a mortgage deduction, and the expectation we pay 30 percent for housing EVEN THOUGH that 30 percent is not purchasing the housing in question, just services, taxes, utilities), the huge unfairness is that whole towns and cities choose not to build rental housing; instead they put up “affordable housing” stock, which is by definition a tax break for the developer and is not on the tax rolls, which has lease restrictions that put it off-bounds for students and plenty of others trying to get a real foothold in the economy.
    Bluestone is getting behind a high-rise apartment building maybe at the former Filene’s to serve grad students BU, BC, Northeastern, Suffolk, Emerson, NE Conservatory. “If a private developer financed and built the complex it would remain on city tax rolls… they could ensure 100% occupancy… since grad students usually stay in town for the summer. The units — small studios, one, two and three bedrooms… would range … from low… to upscale” (and revitalize that part of Boston). WOW!
    Another article shows Fitchburg State thinking of a “graduated student village” for thousands of 20-somethings. They wonder how to keep non-students out. They wonder on the other hand how to keep students out. One or the other.
    Yee-gods, I think at the age of 65 I will have to sign up for a graduate course and move to Boston (my housing is always under threat, even if it becomes “historic” housing, the objective is to raise the rent by providing tax breaks for expensive renovations). I need to arrange to be a perpetual student if I want continued housing (or I’ll be consigned to luxury retirement units in no way adaptable for my flourishing little business).
    Planners are HALFway to getting realistic. But not all the way. If they MUST segregate grad students from others, put up one high-rise for each, across the street from each other.
    In cities, the Dukakis Center explains, rental stock is desired by City Fathers (parents) to be as expensive as possible in order to bring in more taxes, and tenants who spend more in town. But outside of cities, rentals are despised as symbols of urban decay and disease — if they exist at all.
    I say that by using rental housing we can live like New Yorkers, causing less global warming, living within bicycle distance of our neighbors and our needs, and we can live in more integrated communities if we can sort ourselves into compatible (plenty-of-choice) rental communities. Hopefully, geothermally warmed and cooled ones. If you want the American dream, to me that is it. Not isolation at a car-drive’s length on a dead-end street and a high-maintenance house instead of a bank account. Yes, I think those houses increase inequality. They drain us of time and energy — and money we could use productively, investing in new businesses and so on.

  • Pancake, with very dark blackberry jam, over McAdenville, NC

    It’s almost time for the really big show. Tom is gargling with lemonade and skimming more books and articles. John Wihbey is securing the guests. It’s gonna be a great day!

    Or is it. Look at the short introductory article in which they claim all but 3% of Americans have achieved the comfort parity they describe. Are these academics out of touch? You bet!

    Here we have a Congress requesting a do-over beginning with Hoover in 1932. This old starship can’t take the stress. I feel it breaking up. Remember McCool wrestling the shuttle to his death over Texas?

    Who is this Eugenia Renskoff person and why isn’t someone helping her?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Angling to get your children into the best school district is a good excuse for location, location, location, and the house thereat is the price of that education. But otherwise, I view homeownership as rampant conspicuous consumption and proof of the individual’s membership in the Secret Society equivalent of Old Boys’ profit-making machinery (the banks who want you to buy a mortgage, not a house), the lawyers, the contractors, with opportunities for corruption at each step of the way. Need I spell it out? But like the health care and insurance industry, to break up the party would cost our economy hugely, in jobs, in taxable profits, etc.
    We are addicted to inequality such as it is. We need the scrapers-by, the ekers-out. We need the parasites at the top and at the bottom. Dare we try to fix it?
    Note: I leave out all the parameters of individualism and personality, and the weight of societal norms upon that. I’m trying to be extreme here.

  • anonymous (you know who)

    Thanks, E.D., for showing us how cruddy it looks to post your pet peeves again and again. You are not the only one. This commentary could be shorter if we checked on the assigned topic before blowing off steam. Save some energy for real community involvement.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Jack, the issue of immigrants from societies that had an upperclass that crumbled is interesting. I’ve known several from the remains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire post-World War II, from the Soviet Union, where standards for security and comfort taught them one sort of pride, but a kind of pride that looks a bit neurotic in America. Books published in another society don’t match what we expect here, and it’s not that easy to interpret. Fellow refugees who know the culture and language that gave birth to those books won’t tell the truth about their evaluation of this emigre, not to an outsider like me. Their scorn for each other may have deep political roots. “You ran.” “You were a glorified apparatchik there, and you don’t realize you’re a human being like everyone else.”
    Just as an example. They may be indoctrinated to assume that certain prerogatives are deserved, like the Declaration of Independence says. But that Declaration does not specify the same rights that are expected. “Identity” in the American sense does not match with “identity” in the ancien regime sense that comes along with the immigrant. The children of immigrants can teach the parents about this. Without children, it’s not so easy to come by.
    Sometimes immigrant organizations from a certain country can assist those who run into real difficulties here. I don’t know what Argentine organizations exist.

  • Lydia MDiv

    Proverbs 13:7 One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth

    Matt 19:24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    Lk 12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

    Matthew 19:21 Jesus answered [the young man who had faithfully observed the Laws], “If you want to be perfect [complete], go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

    Acts 2:45 and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need.

    Acts 4: 34-35 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

  • WMaher

    You know, I thought all these massive and wonderful socialist “New Deal” handout programs were supposed to bring about the socialist egalitarian utopia? What happened? Let’s look at the most important factor of occupational prospects– our so-called free public “education” system, this merit-phobic, union thug-ridden abomination that has money shoveled at it by the billions with zero accountability. At one time, we could afford this socialist charade, but now we have to actually compete with other countries for the first time ever and our free public schools are looking a bit exposed for the joke they’ve always been. On the other hand, our privately(now less private every day) run universities have been the envy of the world from time immemorial. But of course, the socialists will claim the poorly miseducated massess pouring out the public schools were casualties of a conspiracy by Microsoft or Enron, etc. Yeah! Acting on that approach will really get to the nut of the problem, no question! Below are a couple of blurbs from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article: Students Score Poorly on Science Test:

    Results from a national exam revealed that fewer than one-third of elementary- and high-school students have a solid grasp of science, triggering anxiety about U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.

    The scores from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Tuesday, come just a few weeks after an international science test showed U.S. students trailing their counterparts in many European and Asian countries. On that exam, called the Program for International Student Assessment, students in Hong Kong and Shanghai dominated their counterparts in the U.S. and most other countries.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Teachers and education-advocacy groups offered several explanations for the dismal scores on the NAEP exam given to students in fourth, eighth and 12th grade. Reasons included shortages of qualified science educators and of advanced science classes in low-income and rural schools.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    “Science has been left off the national agenda for too long, and now we are paying the price,” said Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “We are seeing a persistent degradation of skills, and we’ve lost a generation of students.”

    President Barack Obama has made science and math education a national priority, warning that an inability to prepare students for careers in these fields threatens U.S. prosperity.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement Tuesday that the “next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors and engineers” if results don’t improve.

    The 2009 NAEP was given to a representative sample of students in 46 states and Defense Department schools overseas. About 318,000 students sat for the exam in the spring of 2009.

    The assessment, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, measures students’ knowledge in physical, life, earth and space sciences.

    The test requires students to apply knowledge across disciplines. It is generally considered tougher than state-administered exams. The test was updated recently to incorporate advances in science, so results can’t be fairly compared with past exams.

    Scores are translated into four categories: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. Proficient represents “solid academic performance,” NAEP said, while basic shows partial mastery of skills.

    Only 31.6% of all students were proficient or better, while fewer than 3% qualified as advanced.

    Thirty-four percent of fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. Describing the life cycle of an organism is an example of a skill demonstrated by fourth graders at the proficient level. Thirty percent of eighth graders met the mark, by demonstrating, for example, that they could recognize that plants produce their own food.

    Only 21% of 12th-graders scored proficient. Identifying the difference between stars and planets is an example of a skill demonstrated by 12th-graders at the proficient level.

    Boys scored higher than girls at all grades and whites and Asians outpaced African-American and Hispanic students. Low-income students posted the lowest scores. Students in cities tended to score lower than those in suburban and rural areas, while students in the Deep South generally scored below students in Northern and Northeastern states.

    Alan Friedman, a physicist who sits on the board that oversees the federal exam, said it was “kind of scary” that so few students scored in the advanced category and far too many landed at “below basic.” On the 12th grade exam, 40% of students were at the lowest level.

    “Science isn’t an isolated trade skill,” Mr. Friedman said, pointing out that farmers need basic science knowledge to understand genetically engineered crops and voters need it to assess candidates’ views on global warming.

    Tom Luce, chief executive of the nonprofit National Science and Math Initiative, said enrolling more students in advanced-placement science courses is crucial to U.S. economic advancement. His group, funded by Exxon Mobil Corp., the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, awards grants to schools to help train teachers and enroll more students into these rigorous curricula.

    “There are a lot of children out there who could excel in math and science if we just give them properly trained teachers and a shot at challenging material,” he said.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    anonymous, believe me plenty of my energy goes into real community involvement as well. Yesterday, for instance — it’s ongoing.
    It seems to me Bluestone is the first individual who actually knows what my point is, and is taking huge helpful action, he and maybe the Dukakis Center, so I don’t consider it a waste of energy to set it out here. If this is not a direction the discussion takes, no matter. I heard in the president’s speech the other day a reminder: Geithner is detailed to address this in one way or another. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not panned out the way intended. The American thrust to get as much of our resources as possible into housing is seen for what it is.
    I’m hoping this is the time, and this is the person to start moving forward. If not, I’ll be waiting.

  • Jack Martin

    Ellen and Pancake, I think Eugenia deserves help. She is an American who grew up and attended college in San Francisco. Her sojourn in Argentina was relatively short. She was a tourist who had a romantic adventure there. Eugenia’s father was a Russian Jew from Cossack country who came here via Argentina and picked up an Italian wife on the way. He was a businessman and not an elitist.
    As a polio victim Eugenia may have been sheltered by her family and not received the public assistance she needed. She has worked but is one of us 50ish people who have been eliminated from the networking rotation. Who else can write like she does while living on the street and getting about 15 minutes on library computers twice a day with a line breathing down your neck? If my wife did not provide an income and insurance I would be out on the street just like Eugenia, except it will be 49 degrees F in Stanley today, who knows how cold there in the urban canyons with the wind whipping.
    Please don’t lump my Eugenia with oppressors. She has never hurt anyone. She has no car, no TV, no access to a TV, no microwave, no internet. She is way below what these guys call material happiness, and you are not. So don’t be so smug.

  • William

    I guess life is just not fair to everyone, but if we have a system that does not stop people from upward mobility I think that is the best we can do.

  • Jack Martin

    Mr. Maher
    How can you heartlessly ridicule us for the things selfish people like yourself have destroyed and taken away. You are like a bully taunting the smaller child you just abused.

    You claim to know it all and have it made, so why not luxuriate in your well-earned comfort and leave those less fortunate alone. Or can you not enjoy anything without sadistic contrast?

    You demonstrate well the barriers to the recommendations of these guests. You are incapable of listening to reason and this argument presented for your well-being.

    I’m sorry now I came here to post and was exposed to this fascist bullying.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    (To Ellen and other real estate mavens) Within 18 months I predict a strong and viable squatters movement in the USA. It will be the basis for a new political party that will win some seats. Private property will yield to human rights. An irresistible force fractures an immovable object. Al, your selfish dreams of real estate profiteering are down the toilet.

    And don’t cry little Jackie-victim. If human nature is weak and corrupt capitalism intensifies it. Socialism with citizen involvement tends to tame it. So with a conservative view of human nature I can’t help but embrace socialism. How’s that for a balm on your pale skinned skinned knee? And anonymous: we the posters decide what is relevant to the topic, not you, except for yourself.

  • John

    I guess life is just not fair to everyone, but if we have a system that does not stop people from upward mobility I think that is the best we can do. – Posted by William

    Inherited wealth creates a system that prevents many people from upward mobility as we don’t start on a level playing field. I don’t begrudge Bill Gates his money, but Paris Hilton makes me sick.

  • Bill Minter

    Hi Tom

    Great topic. Westerners continue to try to define Middle Eastern societies with National lines and Nation States that have always been applied by force and have never been native to the region. We need only look back to the Iranian revolution to see this exact same sea change regional revolutionary movement. These are often defined by false states, or even over emphasis on religious definitions (ie Suni Shiite). Do people forget that the real reason for the Iran Irac War was the effort of all those pro western oil states to stop a flow of the Iranian revolution that would certainly have swept all those Westernized monarchies into the sea. That is why Saddam Hussain felt that the US and all of those states owed him after he sacrificed his people to stop that flow. These sea changes are not confined to State lines drawn by outsiders. These are historical movements we have seen before.

    Hope you get this in time.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    I have studied Bill Gates and his father in great depth. I strongly begrudge him his obscenely excessive wealth and doubt the good intentions of his foundation. His business has retarded media and creativity for years. A little good dabbed on top is like a cherry on a cow pile.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Jack, if Eugenia is in the New York City area, I believe there are housing programs such that even if she were habitually drunk or under the influence of drugs, she would be provided housing. I’ve seen documentaries about how this is actually working, whereas in other areas, people have to be sober in order to use shelters or receive public housing. Actually, they are revising this so that people who have been drinking can be sheltered as well. And it is proving far less costly to provide actual apartments rather than ad-hoc motel rooms, for instance. A lot of people go into programs that provide housing for a few months or year or so, and counseling as well, to get them off the drugs. In short, it’s cheaper for society to have people settled. I’m not sure if you think the United States is heading away from that. As for living without TV or internet — you’re talking to the wrong person. I can tell you how to live for decades without a refrigerator or a watch. Too expensive. I had a job and a home business; medical expenses pushed me into a corner. I know that this country makes it terribly difficult to make a go of it under the circumstances. It pushes you to be dependent. Depend on subsidized health care, subsidized housing, what else. Some urban centers provide pretty well, with senior centers and free classes and entertainment and sports facilities. They provide cut-rate services from teenagers looking for a few extra bucks, if you need an air conditioner lifted, for instances. They don’t provide this until you’re 62, I believe it is.
    Anyway, I was managing while being a native citizen, so I had that advantage. My friends who were, actually, healthier, but were not born in this country, were far less sure-footed in angling to stability and lived feeling like victims of a system they had dreamed of living in. For the most part, they were employing me to type their translations and writings, and they really could not afford it, and really wanted me to work for free. So the idea was to sort of seduce me into doing the work out of pure friendship. But I had to live too.

  • William

    The interest in a “bigger government” leveling the economic playing field has pretty much peaked with Obama being elected. Most people realize their success or failure in life is pretty much in their own hands.

  • Sam Osborne

    The stew of inequality is made of cooking a balanced-book diet and our goose:

    In these hard economic times, the response to the current State of the Union is not a matter of just putting people to work doing anything. People need and want to go to work doing what the nation needs done to move on into an ever better future. This is particularly true for young people looking for a better future and elderly Americans remembering the good years and great accomplishments of the past.
    Someone being able to figure out how to employ people to sell candles made in China is nowhere as important as building infrastructure for the nation’s future. All the candle sales do is help China build, at our expense, its better future with infrastructure that it now has well underway—they are taking their nation totally electric with renewable energy and linking their nation with passenger and freight transport by electric powered high-speed rail.
    Balancing the books does not put people to work doing what needs to be undertaken right now: building the advance energy and transportation infrastructure for a livable future. To wait until the books are balanced and to contend that then and only then will such investment and work be undertaken is nothing more than prenotification of national bankruptcy.

  • Lydia, MDiv

    There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. Deut.15:11

    Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother . . . or an alien living in one of your towns. Deut. 24:14

    He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Deut. 10:18

    At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied. Deut. 14:28-29

    Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:6-7

    For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Matt. 25:35

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I heard someone on the radio speak of someone “who had a family that could afford to set himself in business” as if that were the criterion for having a fair chance in this country. It assumes a college education first (or maybe a family business that can let you learn as an intern), but it puts the divide between those who can be an employer versus those who are employees.

    I think the divide is also between those who PAY interest in order to borrow needed money to start a business, versus those who COLLECT INTEREST because they have saved money. Or inherited it.

    Either way, the road to success is not equal access.

  • Zeno

    Its all about opportunity, who gets it and those who don’t. In a rigged system like the US has it does not matter if you have a high IQ, and a natural talent…because you will have little opportunity to use it to your personal benefit. If opportunity is given at all, it will only find advantage it the wealthy are first served.

    This nation has millions of talented people who have proven their abilities through their acumen and their experience…however many of these people are unemployed or immensely underemployed.

    It doesn’t take an education or a large intellect to run an investment bank into the ground, and then bill the public for the crime. That kind of talent can be found at the local car wash.

    The system is upside down, where the immoral morons are in charge of the banks, and the stellar graduates of investment and finance are working at McDonald’s.

  • Brian, Amston, CT

    “Don’t eat in front of hungry people” – Mexican Proverb

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    If I were to call the part of the Economy where Money Makes Money the “Financial Economy”, and if I were to call the rest of the Economy that makes things and provides services the “Regular Economy”, and if I were to call those parts considered together the “Total Economy”, IS THERE A PROPORTION WHERE THE FINANCIAL ECONOMY IS TOO HIGH A PROPORTION OF THE TOTAL ECONOMY FOR A HEALTHY ECONOMY?

    HOW do economists describe my terms, above?


  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I’m not sure what Grady Lee Howard has in mind in terms of socialism. Surely opportunity and competition play a role in a successful nation. The American idea of a safety net I find fault with. The safety net has a gravitational field, pulling into it pseudocapitalists (I call them), drug dealers, all kinds of self-policed ways of earning a living.
    If you created a thicker safety net, allowing for greater well-being for those being subsidized, you may create the semblance of greater equality, but I have found that I have to keep scrambling to keep above the level of subsidies in order to keep the updraft under my business, if you know what I mean. So.

  • BHA – Vermont

    Inequality made this country sick a long time ago.

    - You need to look no farther than the massive push against Single Payer health care. Too bad if “YOU” can’t afford medical care as long as “I” can afford it, I need another vacation home or car or boat, etc.

    - Companies ‘off-shore’ manufacturing because it makes more MONEY for the executives and share holders. Too bad there are no jobs for people here.

    - Executives who “won’t take a job” unless it comes with a gross amount of pay and bonuses if they do well and a GUARANTEE of a gross amount of ‘severance pay’ if they fail and are fired.

    - a tax system where the rich hide their money through loopholes and pay a lower marginal rate than the less well off.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    This topic is what I have been talking about since 1974 when I went from the USA to Scandinavia. I saw this for myself and have been trying to get the word out since then! Thank you for this discussion!

    Why do we NEVER give examples from Scandinavia when discussing contentious issues like public health insurance? BECAUSE we are BASED in the English, class-based system! UNTIL we look seriously at the Scandinavian economic models, we will be unfair in our treatment of so many of our citizens.

  • Jean Marie Gunner

    Great show. As a member of a working class community and surrounded by very supportive friends, I am fortunate to be in a professional position that sustains me, my family and allows me to use my creativity. I started my career in the late 80′s in Chicago in community organizing working with low and moderate income people who were willing to make their issues known to the powers that be who are almost always very well off. As I have aged and gained some wisdom and insight, I reflect back on my own upbringing which was very modest. I grew up in a family and neighborhood with many social issues and very little financial means. I have dedicated myself to a spiritual path of mindfulness and it has occurred to me that the struggles in our own country may be a result of both a lack of opportunity to find fulfilling work and also to utilize our natural creative minds. The widening income gap and inequality decreases the opportunity to flex our creatives minds as individuals and as a society. This leads to greater inequality and a depressed society. It seems to be a cycle — less opportunity and inequality leads to less creativity and new ideas and content society; this then leads to individuals losing interest in improving themselves hence more inequality.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I have had ex-cons try to make a drug-dealer out of me, or others trying to make a prostitute out of me. People don’t like it if someone doesn’t have the same needs, the same benefits. It is an isolating situation. If it is NOT an isolating situation, then you get a sort of segregation. The trick of an identity finding a group with the same perspectives is basic to well-being, similar health, family, finances.
    Does America provide the ability to self-shuffle and find kindred spirits? Maybe, maybe not.

  • Jean Marie Gunner

    I forgot to mention that I am from Buffalo, NY.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Tom, things ARE worse now, that is true, BUT, we did NOT have a time when things were more equal because African-Americans were living in Jim Crow while other Americans were living in what we might call “a period of more equality”.


  • BHA – Vermont

    re: Post by Grady Lee Howard

    I don’t doubt the Gate’s intentions with their foundation. Bill had to get married to figure out there was something of value in the world besides even more money. Prior to that he was least charitable rich guy in the world. I guess his wife let him in on a secret: you CAN NOT spend tens of billions of dollars on ‘stuff’ and you can live on the first few billions without worry for your financial future.

    I wouldn’t begrudge him his money IF Microsoft’s growth was not fueled by trodding just the other side of Monopoly laws on many occasions and buying competitors then killing their superior products.

  • Pat

    The question I want to ask is how does diversity enter into this picture? Japan and Sweden have much more homogeneous populations than the US. Even the states in the US mentioned may have less diversity than the ones cited as having less equality.

    While I completely agree that greater equality should be our objective, I would not want to achieve this by decreasing diversity and holding up homogeneous countries as the standard.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    To attend Davos, $45,000. I believe Jim Lehrer might have put out that factoid last night. I could have misremembered. Someone meant it, anyway.

    By the way, the way we use automobiles exacerbates the inequality. If you are going around by foot, or bicycle, you interact with all sorts of people. You become part of their lives; it is impossible to think of various people as different. Not the way you can if you drive past them at 40 miles an hour.


    could your guest speak to the fact that the societies that are more equal are also more homogeneous?

  • Stef

    USA piled money sky high,
    Has the biggest army,
    Has the most bombs,
    Makes war all the time.THIS IS YOUR IDEA OF BEEING THE BEST ?

  • TomK

    My vision of the USA is a middle class society, so I think our soaring inequality is very bad and fundamentally un-American. In the 50s and 60s one-worker families were buying beach houses and sending kids to college with no debt. The American middle class was the economic wonder of the world. What happened? It’s really obvious:

    1. Tax cuts. High tax rates at the top recycle $ through the economy and prevent them from stagnating in the estates of the oligarchs. Now the middle class pays at a higher rate than the super rich. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and Ted Turner recognize this as nonsense, why don’t the voters? High tax rates at the top are essential for a healthy middle class.

    2. Class warfare on unions. Unions got decent wages and conditions for working people, but have been under attack since 1980. Geez, the elite bankers crash the economy, and I think I’ve heard more about the evils of teacher unions.

    3. Offshoring. Under voodoo economics phony free trade, we’ve been told we can’t take any steps to keep American jobs at home. Why, that would be interfering with the holy free market. So, we sit idly by while the jobs go away. The highly paid propagandists at the “American Enterprise Institute” etc tell us no problem, new and better jobs will magically appear. They don’t.

    But here’s a more positive spin: our unbelievable inequality means that Reaganomics is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

  • scott hayward

    Inequality motivates the migration of peoples between countries and within countries. Inequalities in wealth, natural resources, etc. drives groups to seek lands of greater wealth or opportunity. Thus the Mexican and Central American border crossings in our Southwest. Balancing this inequality is the solution to our border problems not walls as The Great Wall, Berlin Wall, Roman walls in Britain and the US border wall.

    The great inequality between Wall Street and Main Street in the US will create social and political instability. There are a number of historical examples of our balancing this inequality, separation from England, The dissolution of the South’s slave labor economy, the busting of the trusts at the turn the 20th century, the New Deal and the Great Society legislation.

    If you don’t balance this inequality it will balance itself.

  • Rashid

    Hi Tom, interesting topic, it concide with my nutritional assessment in the iiner city of Hartford, Ct. The common factor that impact nutritional access greatly in the area is poverty/income. Geographical location of grocery stores in the inner city areas when compared with the upper class neigborhoods that are not too far apart, have had a lot of impact on health outcome.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Not sure where I read it but at one time, I read that anybody who had made it “to the top” money wise, has stepped on, mistreated 100 people to get there. Also, somewhere I read that for all the people clawing their way to the top ( of the heap) what they will find, is everybody climbing down the other side…inequality is worth discussing but remember, the most unequal population will not have their voice heard as they most likley don’t have internet or someone to speak for them.I also know more than a few millionaire, who’s bottom belief is “THEY” deserve to be where they are, in regards to money, and everybody else, deserves to be where they are, it’s their core belief.

  • Joe – Boston

    Very interesting topic – -

    Can you discuss how second generation US immigrants are more unhealthy than first generation US immigrants.

  • Pat

    To expand a bit further on my previous post, it seems to me that you also need to look at the extent of immigration to the country. Immigrants typically require one or more generations in order to achieve middle class income standards. Both Japan and Sweden have extremely low rates of immigration. One way that the US could achieve greater equality would be to reduce immigration. I don’t think this is the direction we want to go.

  • http://myspace.com/danielluccapujol Pujol

    In Democracy In America, De Tocqueville touched on the astounding level of equality of conditions within the United States in the mid-1800′s (amongst the delineated “citizens” of the time) and how it was conducive to republican democracy, and also alluded to the ideological polarization and inequality of conditions as possibly causative agents for the volatile French Revolution. Inequality in the Information Age, can mean mass lack of access to hard information, free access to demagoguery, and a tough blow to deliberative democracy when worrying about things like, “tyranny of the majority”, “unsustainable ideologies”, or “the political process”. It will be hard to collectively solve this problem from a fragmented (different from pluralistic) point of view as a society.

  • Jack Martin

    Ann, you have stated your understanding of our imbalanced economy better than most economists.
    Ellen, you are a good person and mean well, but you also assume “There is all this help out there, especially in New York City.” You are wrong if you think no one slips between the cracks. Meals provided on holidays can’t cut it. I can’t believe you think free apartments are provided for the poor routinely in an area among the highest rents in the world. How can you presume to know so much about apartments, affordable housing and government breaks and incentives when you show you know so little about the real estate market in general? Eugenia has no substance abuse problems. Her main problem is that she remains picky and tries to avoid bedbugs and substance abusers. Some kind people do practical favors for her or let her in to shower. I’m sure she leaves their bathrooms cleaner than she found them. And the jewelry and clothes she is so honest about wishing for? Isn’t this typical of people in our society, to believe that even if they have an imperfect body they can decorate it and be accepted. As a writer her heart and subconscious are very near the surface. She is a delightful and spontaneous friend, not just a crippled homeless wretch. What in you causes you to work so hard to disqualify and dismiss her?

  • Susan

    This conversation calls to mind Andrew Dickson White’s study of fiat money inflation in France. Ours, too, is a textbook case of ignoring monetary principles. News just in that Merkel and Sarkozy promise to protect the Euro. How the heck will they do that? The paper it is printed on has no inherent value to begin with! Our founders knew what they were doing when they included the gold and silver Coin clause in Art 1 Section 10 of the US Constitution. That little clause has been ignored for almost 50 years and now we reap what has been sown.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I see the inequality at the root of political extremism, where misunderstanding seems to be part of the energy. Do the Tea Party really think they can cut the government as if it were a palm tree, down to size? And do I believe the legislature is acting in our best interests? Or that Obama is?
    No. I believe we are being manipulated by lobbyists and campaign financers. In short, the discrepancy in wealth makes transparency impossible.
    I can’t understand the top. The top can’t understand the bottom. The middle can’t understand anything.
    By the time we can’t afford anything because the price of bread (as well as health insurance) has gone just too far, the powder keg of public unrest will be deep, and the total ignorance of everybody as to everybody else will make the unrest totally unmanageable.
    Inequality means lack of transparency. Mutual stupidity. Something like that.

  • http://www.healthypolicies.com Courtney McNamara

    Obama, the Spirit Level and Health Equity: So close yet so far: http://www.healthypolicies.com/2010/04/obama-and-healthy-equity-so-close-yet-so-far/

  • John

    Have the authors taken race into account? The Scandinavian and Japanese societies are more homogenous than the US. When the US had a more equal middle class in the fifties it was restricted to whites. Do people mind sharing the wealth less with people who look like them or share a culture?

  • Tommy

    When inequality is our behavior and large scale decision-making favors unimaginative or staling incentives, it is only to our great loss. When the mass of us are put under, it only means there is no American Innovation, more crime, and harming stress.

    There are great American ideas that press us forward in ambition and fearlessness. But we have a responsibility to this whole, giving, old Earth to carefully direct where those fiery motions go.

    Our Ideas about Money and how value is measured present us with some issues. We refuse to apply a good value to intangibles like knowledge, invention, and innovation that creates better and more abundant jobs.

    Our President has promised to fund the Apollo projects of our time, and I hope that it turns to reality. But gaining merit and unity, and evolving into the purely creating organism that the universe is. No amount of the money that is locked by overlooking human value will send us into Space.

    Equality has value, and if it does not exist, we are left with only a currency that is backed by a depleting and unhealthy system. When people are taken from oppression, we will see the benefit in what we are given back.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    From KY

    In my microcosm I can confirm the authors findings. I am on the verge of losing my home because of supposed FEMA flood plain problems. Point in fact my home has never been flooded, never been threatened. I have however experienced sewage backups in my basement on four occasions in the last 13 years. The reason is because the city has allowed to much commercial development upstream and has not upgraded or maintained the sewer system or capacity downstream. The city has repeatedly refused to take responsibility. They are under an order from the EPA because they have allowed sewers to overflow into streams. There is no concern about the sewage in my and my neighbors homes! The EPA fines were going to be $300-500,000,000 if the city doesn’t fix the problem. The hours spent cleaning up, the despair suffered each time is immeasurable. My losses have exceeded $50,000 in total, a pittance to many, a fortune to me. I don’t want to lose my home. The damage to my finances has sent me into foreclosure once, and I am on the brink once again. Doesn’t really put me in a very strong negotiating position when they decide to buy me out. I can not begin to describe the stress I am under each and every day. If I had a two to three month grace period from the bill collectors constant phone calls I might actually be able to work my way out of this fiasco.

    Most frustrating of all is I have dozens of great ideas, ideas to help society, ideas that could be commercialized, yet I find myself so wrapped up in this daily struggle and I have no trust in society to do anything other than screw me over once more. So the ideas gather moths, and I become more stressed, angry and irritable. I hesitate to expose my ideas because I fear that one of the rich bullies will steal them. Paranoia sucks. Inequality sucks

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Howie the caller is RIGHT ON!

    Tom, why should he keep his cool? They are lucky we have kept our cool so far.

  • Phillip Granberry

    Here is the opening sentence to an article in today’s New York Times. College freshman are experiencing more stress.

    “The emotional health of college freshmen — who feel buffeted by the recession and stressed by the pressures of high school — has declined to the lowest level since an annual survey of incoming students started collecting data 25 years ago.”

    Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen

  • Erin in Iowa City IA

    It has been passed down from the pilgrims to the Founding Fathers to our generation that equality DOES NOT EXIST for citizens of the United States. From slavery to women’s “rights” to the stock market, equality is NOT guaranteed in our consitution. Always a struggle for “happiness”, only the persuit.

  • http://WBUR Carla Trumper

    “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. Deut.15:11

    Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother . . . or an alien living in one of your towns. Deut. 24:14

    He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Deut. 10:18

    At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied. Deut. 14:28-29

    Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:6-7

    For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Matt. ”

    People such as you, make me sick. It is automatic seperation by thought and a supernatural deity.
    Help someone, not with words, with actions.

    Great Topic Tom – now if ALL of us could HELP each other, WE could restore the Middle Class & Working Poor. Logical people consider this assistance, not welfare.

  • Dee (NY)

    The problem in America is that democracy has been supplanted by viral capitalism.

  • Jean Marie Gunner

    I have to comment again — I agree with the last caller! Thank you for saying in passionately. What about some humility again in our country. Our celebrity obsessed and desire to get rich mentality is hurting us, our children, our spirit! It used to be that wealthy people would be quieter about their wealth and have some humility. It is not possible to achieve this sort of wealth so easily with the true lack of opportunity and more even and equal society.

  • Basil Hallberg

    Is there a correlation between income (in)equality and standard of living? or could perhaps standard of living rise and income inequality increase with the same negative effects.

  • Tommy

    When inequality is our behavior and large scale decision-making favors unimaginative or staling incentives, it is only to our great loss. When the mass of us are put under, it only means there is no American Innovation, more crime, and harming stress.

    There are great American ideas that press us forward in ambition and fearlessness. But we have a responsibility to this whole, giving, old Earth to carefully direct where those fiery motions go.

    Our Ideas about Money and how value is measured present us with some issues. We refuse to apply a good value to intangibles like knowledge, invention, and innovation that creates better and more abundant jobs.

    Our President has promised to fund the Apollo projects of our time, and I hope that it turns to reality. But gaining merit and unity, and evolving into the purely creating organism that acts the same as our universe is, would be first to answer us. No amount of the money that is locked by overlooking human value will send us into Space.

    Equality has value, and if it does not exist, we are left with only a currency that is backed by a depleting and unhealthy system. When people are taken from oppression, we will see the benefit in what we are given back.

  • http://ebenmarkowski.com eben Markowski

    Wealth in a vacuum? Does the 1% believe they could have their riches without a society to manufacture, deliver, buy, and maintain the metaphorical goods that ultimately line their pockets. It is not a level playing field as many suggest. For example, the very fact that US Rep. John Boehner had a family business to work in is a major advantage few have. We don’t all need or want to be rich, but we all need a basic social safety net that takes care of all. Lets create a Fair trade capitalist nation/world

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Howie in Boston called about inequality, and Tom told him they say even heart disease is increased with inequality. Howie said good, heart attacks for the legislators who bend to the macro-wealthy — something like that.
    I’m looking at “Pocket World in Figures, 2011 edition” from The Economist, page 84, Cardiovascular disease in 2004, per 100,000:
    Turkmenistan 832
    Kazakhstan 792
    Afghanistan 719
    Armenia 674
    Uzbekistan 663
    Kyrgystan 653
    Russia 645
    Tajikstan 642
    Moldova 634
    Ukraine 633
    Belarus 634
    Somalia 601
    Azerbaijan 593
    Iraq 586


    (I think vodka might be part of it.)

  • Brandon Harvey

    In my opinion, this entire topic is quite naive. The entire idea of equality does not exist in any real fashion. Non equality is a fact of life, as is stress. I strive to teach my kids that fairness does not exist in the real world, and believing that things should be “fair” just sets you up for failure. The whole thing to me is akin to not being able to deal with where your meat for dinner comes from. Trying to level the playing field has never worked long term in any society and stifles personal accountability.

    Brandon Harvey, Danbury NH

  • Gale – Boston

    What is interesting is when you look at poor populations in the US, for example Hispanic immigrants. This first generation Hispanic immigrants are healthier than their children born and raised in the US. Researchers have made a link between social factors and inequality in US society and this poorer health in the second generation.

  • BHA – Vermont

    If you want “entrepreneurial drive” you better detach people’s health care from their employment. It takes a very NON risk averse person to go out on that limb.

  • Christina from New York

    Understanding the general premise for discussion, what metrics are being used to measure a good level of “equality” – is a society better off being equal at one level of socioeconomic status or another? In other words, is a society better off living uniformly at the poverty level, or must they be of a certain status for equality to be deemed an effective measure of societal well-being?

  • Jemimah

    I think that the point has been made beautifully, but now what do we do to rectify this burgeoning inequality in the U.S.? WHAT can we do???

  • Jean-Michel Reed

    the housing collapse and “recession” were the first effects of this income inequality. the middle class has a finite amount of wealth – and it is dwindling fast. in the last 2 years my cable (internet only needed for work – we do not have tv) has gone up 76%. my health insurance has gone up 66% and on and on. all while my income has gone down while i work more. i know i am not alone here – and the end result will not only be that the middle class disappears, but also that the economic base and foundation of the country (and the revenue streams for the rich) will be gone.

  • Dania Baudis

    Eastern Europe? You are all missing the point there. The reason why those systems fell was exactly inequality. The people in power, connected to power, party apparatchik were the privileged ones and finally the rest revolted.

  • Corey Stephen

    Thanks for discussing this today. In a country where corporations can openly buy politicians that don’t even know what the minimum wage is we act as if we are surprised that these things happen. It is all about the bottom line. Jobs will continually get shipped overseas to save money and the rich will continually get richer. The problem is the lack of concern for the welfare of one another. This country won’t improve on any level until we see each other more as equals. Social Darwinism where the rich survive and the poor are weeded out.
    -corey stephen-
    Owensboro, KY

  • John

    Leveling the playing field has frequently worked to prevent social instability (going back to ancient Greece for just one example).

  • Ed Agro

    No surprise that “inequality” and various social ills are correlated. The question is, what are the underlying causal relationships? Might not the resource degradtion of societies including that in the US) living beyond the capacity of the environment to support them at current population levels be the underlying cauise of both the inequality and the obvious social problems?

  • Tommy


    In the State of The Union speech, Obama said we have to Outdo every country in all ways. The “Playing field” itself, I believe, is the problem. We have to inter-innovate and inter-achieve instead of trying to compete like animals. We have a great ability to work as one organism – we are more advanced than we give ourselves credit for. Our universe can work so nicely, and our bodies are a wonder, we should act more as a single functioning unit.

  • Ed Agro

    Sorry, neanty to write “degradation”.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Tom, you went thru Third World Countries and saw the USA as comparatively open to equal opportunity.

    I commuted every day thru some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods before I left for a trip thru Scandinavia at about the same time as YOUR travels. I saw the incredible INEQUALITY of the United States; and I saw that the Scandinavian nations had worked hard for SOLUTIONS to the troubling specter of inequality.

    I KNEW that when I returned home that my parents would have health insurance, but that I would have none, and I already had thyroid issues. I knew that I could not afford an apartment in the region on my own.

    Growing up outside NYC, I SAW from my earliest years the incredible inequality within this country. Traveling thru the South to see grandparents also showed incredible rural poverty. Our parents ALWAYS told us that the people in the poor neighborhoods still applied themselves so that they could live lives of happiness and pride.

    To the writer who said “this is may be the best we can do”, I say: GO TO SCANDINAVIA — SEE THE DIFFERENCE!!! THEY ARE BRILLIANTLY INVENTIVE COUNTRIES; very strong in engineering and environmentalism; THEY ARE TACKLING ENERGY AND GLOBAL WARMING ISSUES, ETC., and THEIR COUNTRIES ARE BEAUTIFUL TO LOOK AT!

    And that diversity, question — people so often throw that up as an excuse to not look at the Scandinavian models. I’m SO glad that the guests addressed this question.


  • Grady Lee Howard

    Susan: How much have you invested in that gold Beck is selling?
    4 or 5 posts inquire about race. The suggestion here is first that some people are of inferior ethnicity and so can’t be wealthy. The second suggestion is that people cannot tolerate the success of persons not of their same ethnicity.
    I thought Republicans were color blind these days.
    Haven’t you heard that all races invent together at IBM, and that’s one of the most repressive and discriminatory environments you can imagine. So your racist broomstick has not wrecked our equality bike. Better ask the T-party for you next line.

  • BHA – Vermont

    Brandon, you have a point – non-equality is a fact of life. I doubt ANYONE is thinking the money should be equally spread among the masses. But there is equality and there is equitable.

    I would love to hear the responses to this question:

    If you make a million dollars a year or more, what is SO SPECIAL about what you do that deserves more money in one year than the majority of people can make in a lifetime?

  • ray

    The wealthy do not benefited by hurting the middle class. Many of them like Warren Buffet know this and say so, but Reaganomics has driven wages down, credit dependency up and now they are going after what’s left of the middle class.

    I remember how this country was once admired.

    Those days are over forever and I’m leaving.

  • Gale – Boston

    Brandon – Inequality is a fact of life and absolute equality does not exist in real life but extreme differences in inequality can effect your healthy.

  • Susan

    Grady: Have you read Fiat Money Inflation in France? If you want to understand the issue that’s a good place to start imho. Then check out the Austrians, Hayek, von Mises, Thomas Woods…as you may know people are starting to listen to them…finally!

  • PBS


    It will explain this phenomenon in greater detail.

  • Dave

    True that the rich should give, invest, and spend more money to balance out inequality. False that it is a great thing to get the government involved in forcing them to do so. Also false that people should ever be born to a right to have others do things for them. Also, a business should never act like a charity and there are a lot of extremely good reasons for lay-offs – mainly we would all be riding buggys, or less, without that sort of cold and hard side of business.

    With freedom comes responsibility, and if you are not responsible, someone will come along to take your freedom and they will usually use some form of government (force) to do so. If you are an irresponsible rich person, or irresponsible poor person, it doesn’t matter. If we all can’t do better by individual choice, and be more responsible by our own free will – why would it be better to hire these same thoughtless people into the government and have them try to solve the problem with a gun?

    It may be that everyone needs to pay more attention at church – rich and poor. And I hate mixing church into conversations about the state.

    Dave – Bowling Green, KY

  • Jack Martin

    Let’s keep Eugenia Renskoff in Brooklyn who has no home, and Charles W. Bowsher in Kentucky who may lose his home in our hearts and prayers.

    You rugged individualists will find it costs you nothing and may be rewarding to wish the best for those in trouble. Hate is very heavy and sinks all boats.

    “All people are created equal…” Where did I read that?
    I will be thinking of our cruelest contrary correspondents and hoping they will wake up to the truth that inequality hurts them too.

    It was a good hurting pain my spirit received as I visited with you today. Where are you gonna squat first, Grady?

  • Susanne

    I’ve long wondered (since Ronald Reagan) about the short-sightedness of the rich who are manipulating our economy and politics; don’t they realize they are shooting themselves in the foot? Economic pies are not fixed in size, and by concentrating the wealth in smaller and smaller pools, they are shrinking, not growing, the economic pie! A nation’s wealth is not its money supply, but its production, and who is going to buy their companies’ products if their workers are reduced to poverty? Henry Ford’s brilliance was not only the assembly line, but also the idea that his workers should earn enough to buy his cars! More equally distributed wealth allows for large markets for products, a higher standard of living for more people, and more consumption.
    Our present situation represents a triumph of ignorance in our country – both in those manipulating our society, and those falling for the sound bites. A sad and scary prospect.

  • Gerald Fnord

    One cannot be decently-off in a society subject to great inequality without ditching either notions of fairness as a moral good or else the ability to see what is around you and reason about it. (The first is often achieved with the aid of one religion or another—Randroidism, marketolatry, dumbed-down Calvinism come to mind—that tells the well-off that they deserve everything they have, as do those with much more and those with much less…the ‘just world’ fallacy in any event.)

    Since those with more money are more influential (and were long before ‘Citizens United’, obnoxious as that decision and ‘Buckley v. Vallejo’ are), this means that living comfortably with massive inequality requires ditching either decency or the ability to observe and to reason…that is to say, either the groups that rule society must be uncomfortable or render themselves unfit to decently and intelligently rule.

    And these groups really _hate_ feeling uncomfortable.

  • Jerry wood

    Wonderful show. I’m glad to hear some conversation on the subject; it’s about time.

  • Dr. Rick

    Speaking from a science perspective not political perspective (I am a scientist and study this topic). More inequality is absolutely associated with poorer health overall.

    I second the point about watching Unnatural Causes from PBS if you are interested in this topic.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    The Mises Institute is one of the worst frauds ever foisted on the public. Billionaires reward bogus scholars who repeat their propaganda with book contracts and million dollar payola. Hernando de Soto is a prime example. His award winning book is trash considering that the biggest banks have failed to register property transfers and have even lost the chain of ownership. And for recommending that campesinos deed their holdings so they could borrow money from the same banks he was given one million dollars by Mises. Did he make a better mouse trap?

    Susan is waiting for the gold standard. Beck is holding her gold in his safe deposit for her. I think I see KreugeRand Paul driving his puffing locomotive coming around the bend, nearing that city on a hill, with the whistle blaring… Oh No, the humanity! The overstoked boiler has exploded and boiled the Tea.

  • Jerry

    The comment by one of your guests on the entrepreneurial spirit of these United States is greatly over rated unless you start out wealthy. Patents or copyrights for example do nothing to protect their holder unless you have the funds to defend those rights in court. If a large corporation decides to produce your idea without compensating you they can easily do so knowing you do not have the financial capacity to sue them and defend your rights in court. The system is a farce.

  • BHA – Vermont

    “The wealthy do not benefited by hurting the middle class. Many of them like Warren Buffet know this and say so”

    Warren is a voice in the wilderness. Perhaps the tax codes would change if he spent all his billions on lobbyists and politicians. That is what it would take to shout down all the other beneficiaries of Reagan/Bush “onomics”.

    I am reminded of a famous quote: “Let them eat cake”. We all know how well that worked out for Marie. She may or may not have actually said it but she lived by its meaning.

    For those not in the know, in the 1700s “cake” was not a double layer baked confection with a lot of sugary stuff between the layers and all around.

    It was the hard, almost inedible, lower crust of a loaf of bread baked in ovens without controlled temperatures (no surprise). Also no surprise that the softer “upper crust” in linked as a description of the wealthy.

    It is the same “as long as I’ve got mine” attitude we see today from many of the top 20% who hold 85% of the wealth *.

    * See this article from UC Santa Cruz:

  • Pancake, frying mad , in NC

    “Unnatural Causes” (8 parts I recall?)is damn good and makes you think. Thanks for reminding us.
    Some of the multi-generational research, about how our grandparents’ lives and those of our ancestors can affect ours are almost eerie. Someday maybe we can accommodate these advanced ideas in planning, medicine, government policy. Right now ignorance rules with hands over ears and eyes and mouth screaming. Maybe money makes its possessors stupid. Let’s research that premise.

  • Elizabeth Martin

    This was a very important program. I wish everyone in position to influence policy could be persuaded to read the book. We are becoming less and less the land of opportunity, and that is a serious problem.

  • TomK

    Brandon, you’re just playing with words. Nobody wants or expects absolute equality, so it’s just a straw-man attack to go on about how there will always be inequality. The question is what degree of inequality we want as a society. We had plenty of rich people and innovation when a CEO made 50x a worker’s salary. Now it’s 500x. In both cases it’s inequality. The question is how much. Ditto for the amount of income going to the top 1%. Now it’s highest since the great depression. Does it need to be that high?

    Henry Ford was a hard core capitalist but he realized that his workers needed to be paid enough to buy his cars. Now the corporations don’t care, they’ll just sell internationally.

    The one thing we can do quickly is raise taxes at the top. Low top tax rates are a disaster for the middle class.

  • Susan

    Grady: you seem to be a bit touchy on this subject. Since you didn’t answer my question re Fiat Money Inflation in France, I assume you have yet to read it. If you don’t mind patronizing the “fraudulent” Mises Institute, you can purchase it there:

  • Jonaid Sharif

    What a wonderful show, Tom. And the Republicans want to cut funding for public broadcasting!

    Although Afghanistan is not a developed country, its farcical initiation into the free market has introduced a problem in income difference not unlike what your guests were discussing. I do not think that the AID money is all that responsible for making the rich richer: it started with the war and the erosion of central government. But the public perception is certainly that way. Most relevant is the perception that white collar crime and blue collar crime sponsored by white collar elite is immune from punishment. The perception of an increased injustice and a more brutally unequal society (where some wedding halls in Kabul don’t even accept fewer than 800 guests!)in my mind has overshadowed so much good that has happened during the last 10 years.

    Jonaid Sharif
    Augusta Georgia

  • Helen

    I grew up in Chicago in extreme poverty single parent home. My mother was an immigrant from Ireland. We were very much treated unequally, and I perceived at a very young age that I was dirty, not like other people, and much shame. It has affected my life in every aspect of social, relationships and jobs. I am challenged every day to affirm that I am equal, no better than no less than, but it takes a lot of counseling. Even in my home, due to all the stress, worry and humiliation my mother faced, there wasn’t much incentive to be demonstrative. I so epathize with children who are suffering from poverty today, but there is more recognition and exposure to unequality than there was in the 1950′s.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Jack Martin @ 12:13 Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Charles

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Ann, about Scandinavia. I recall something about large refugee populations being taken in there. This from my “Pocket World in Figures.”
    Largest refugee populations (UNHCR, 2008) add 000
    Pakistan 1,780.9
    Syia 1,105.7
    Iran 980.1
    Germany 582.7
    Jordan 500.4
    (I’m thinking spillovers from Iraq and Afghan wars)
    Chad 330.5
    Tanzania 321.9
    Kenya 320.6
    China 301.0
    United Kingdom 292.1
    United States 279.6
    Saudi Arabia 240.6 (etc.; so far not Scandinavian)
    But asylum APPLICATIONS to:
    1. United States 49.6
    6. Sweden 24.4
    10 Norway 14.4

    Government debt, #1 is Japan in 2009 at 189.3% of GDP
    and then Italy, Iceland, Greece, Belgium, Hungary, France, and USA at #8 with 83.9%GDP
    Government spending,
    #1 Denmark at 57.7% GDP
    #2 Finland at 56.2^
    #2 (tied) Sweden at 56.2%
    #4 Iceland 55.9%
    #5 France 55.5%
    #6 Belgium 54%
    #7 Austria 52.7%
    8 United Kingdom 52.1%
    #9 Italy 51.7%
    #10 Portugal 51.6%
    #11 Hungary 51.5%
    #12 Greece 51.3%
    #13 Euro area 50.7%
    #14 Netherlands 50.3%
    #15 Germany 47.7%
    #16 Spain 46.3%
    #17 Czech Republic Republic 45.7
    #18 Ireland 45.%
    #19 Norway 44.4%
    #20 Poland 43.8%
    #21 Canada 43.6%
    #22 Luxembourg 43.2%
    #23 New Zealand 42.4%
    #24 Japan 41.6%
    #25 United States 41.5%
    #26 Slovakia 39.0%
    #27 Australia 37.5%
    #28 Switzerland 33.9%
    #29 South Korea 33.8% (that Obama says is ahead of us in high-speed internet connectivity)

    Highest Percent of population in labor force, 2008 or latest:
    1 Qatar 87.4
    2 Cayman Islands 68.4
    3 Laos 66.6
    4 Macau 62.2
    5 Switzerland 60.8
    Bhutan 60.4
    China 59.5
    #11 Norway 57.6
    #12 Iceland 57.5
    #13 Sweden 55.7
    #14 Denmark 55.2
    … #30 USA (tied with UK) 51.4
    (So, government spending does NOT decrease the participation in the labor force.)
    But what is it spent ON:
    Defense spending $bn, 2008
    #1 United States 696.3
    #2 France 67.2
    #3 United Kingdom 60.8
    Well, maybe human rights do better with less taxes?
    Prisoners total prison population (most recent)
    #1 United States 2,304,114
    (USA is #1 for prisoner rate at 753 per 100,000 pop.)
    #2 China, 1,565,771 (they don’t even make the top 24 in prisoners per 100,000)
    #3 Russia 862,300 (#2 in rate per 100,000 at 660)
    Scandinavian countries don’t make the top 24 in # of prisoners or number per 100,000 population.)

  • Janet Slifka

    It seems intuitively correct that inequality breeds social and physical ills. Looking back at my childhood (& certainly those of my parents) mostly everyone was poor. Since we were all in the same boat it didn’t seem so bad though. Now when we have such easy access to see the vast riches of the very few, and there seems to be no such thing as an “embarassment of riches” it’s much more anxiety producing.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXSyzeVWueI Scott

    Tom, I find it patronizing for you to assume you have the right or obligation to tell a caller to “calm down.” The caller was not calling for violence or threatening you or anyone. Why are you so bugged by the expression of emotion?

    What would society lose if we were all as emotionally-detached as most NPR hosts? Have you seen the SNL spoofs on NPR hosts? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXSyzeVWueI

    The caller’s emotion did not interfere with the clarity of his message and getting emotional with regards to the gross inequality is justifiable.

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    Patents per head, and inequality.

    Look at the example of Robert Kearns, the inventor of intermittent windshield wipers.
    He fought for his patent rights for decades. It cost him his marriage and possibly his health.
    Even though he eventually won in court, in my mind he still lost.
    Today is is next to impossible for the common man to even get a patent, much less defend it.
    I have lots of ideas that I put out their in hope they will help society. I expect I could live on the patent royalties if any one of them works. But society needs the innovation, so it is better to give it away than to hold on and try for a patent.
    Freedom is inversely related to the height of the fences in your life, it doesn’t really matter which side of the fence you are on either. We all lose when we resort to building walls of protection.

    Burt in Mary Poppin’s said
    Bert: You know, begging you pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is in that cold, heartless bank day after day, hemmed in by mounds of cold, heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.
    Jane: Father? In a cage?
    Bert: They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of ‘em, carpets and all.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Yar @ 7:24 Thank you for reminding me of Heinleins Starship troopers where the only people who get to decide if a country goes to war is the people who will actually go. Would definitely reduce the number of wars. I am not sure if it was that book or another one where he outlined a society where all natural resources are owned by all humans. Each is born with a birthright to their “share” of those resources. That birthright is enough to provide basic housing, shelter and any educational path they choose. IF they want to work then they chose what they want to do. Each prospers according to their own efforts and talents, but always has a safety net.

    & Yar at 2:24 Hear Hear!
    Where are you putting your ideas out to? Check into Innocntive.com

    Grady Lee @ 2:27 Hear, Hear!

  • Brett

    Maybe I wax nostalgic in winter…I don’t know, but in listening to the sow and reading comments today I was reminded of a man I met while working in a semi-independant apartment program for people with MH problems in the early 1980′s. I was waiting for one of my clients to show up at a Giant Food for his weekly shopping session and noticed an old man who looked like a haggard Santa Claus too long in the sleigh. He had broken down in the parking lot; his car was past any repairs I could offer on the fly, his small trailer in tow had a flat tire. He was trying to reach a friend in Arlington, Virginia but had heard the friend suddenly past away. There the man was, stranded, without money. His license plates identified the beginning of his journey as Florida. I sensed that his trip up north had been long and arduous and his attempt to reach his friend was some sort of last hope.

    He was Hungarian, had been a Hungarian freedom fighter in his own country. I couldn’t glean much more as he couldn’t speak English very well and I couldn’t speak Hungarian. I couldn’t help the man just then, not because I was callous to his obvious need but because I was simply busy in the moment; I had a work task to complete. I tried to explain to him what I was in the middle of–he didn’t understand. He seemed dismissive of my friendly tone, and I got the impression that he had been met with a lot of generous smiles and superficial concern but little else in his attempt to connect with his friend and sustain himself in his existential push to hold on. It was as if his predicament was some sort of proverbial last straw. I could feel his heart sink as I left him.

    I waived goodbye and went on to complete my evening’s duties of resident shopping assistance, helping another balance a checkbook and instructing another in assertiveness training as he was having difficulty with his boss. After work I went by the shopping center to see if the man in the broken down trailer was still there. The police had shown up and were ready to haul him in and have his vehicles impounded.

    Luckily, I could help. The police knew me well from all of our dealings in various incidents involving my clients. I asked them if it would be possible to allow the vehicles to stay one more night if we could push them to a far end of the parking lot; they agreed, and I promised them the vehicles would be removed by midday the next day. I took the man into my home for the night. We had difficulty filling in the blanks because of our inability to communicate but we had dinner and turned in for the evening.

    In the morning I took him in to work with me and had him stay in my office while I attended various meetings and appointments, much to the disapproval of my boss. I called my brother who had just opened his own business, a car repair garage. The car and trailer were towed and fixed; the man seemed a little confused and very leery of what seemed his only possessions being carted away but understood he needed to trust me.

    After having him in my life for about three days I managed to find a group of Hungarian people in Washington, D.C. who had formed a coalition to help older Hungarian immigrants, many of whom had been freedom fighters. A member of the group was able to translate and, more importantly, offered to take him in and help him get situated with services and a connection with their community. Through translation I found out all sorts of information about the man and about his once proud standing in his own community; about how he had lost his only child in an accident, his wife to cancer, and about his once flourishing restaurant in a small Hungarian community in Florida now gone. There were still many question marks in my mind, but I knew I had done my part, had helped when clearly no one else could have or would have without the man sinking further. It was as if the cosmos called my number, and I couldn’t ignore the ringing.

    This post is way too long, I know, and perhaps self-indulgent. I think, though, that within our own communities, we will need to show much more of the spirit that compelled me to help the Hungarian man. The condition of our country will get worse before it gets better, and I don’t see any substantive solutions coming from government or the private sector any time soon. I’ve always seen the notion of charity as having a level of indignity to it, as well as too much false altruism for the ones extending themselves to help. It is necessary in any community, though, but only as an adjunct to systemic safety nets.

    I do alright for myself, but I am only an illness away from my whole life becoming undone, as are many of us. (Have you ever been close to having a car accident and missed the tragedy by seconds or inches? Sometimes it works the other way around, too.)

    We will never achieve equality in society, but it is incumbent upon our society to make every attempt to lessen the conditions that promote inequality. We can have collective goals, and we can argue about the proper course to take in achieving a balanced and healthy society, as well. Some goals are necessary to attempt, though, even if we never can achieve them.

  • Gerald Fnord

    Pancake, frying mad:

    I don’t think that money makes one stupid, but rather that it creates incentives to act stupidly in some ways (as well as intelligently in others—poor people never have to learn to be smart about holding onto wealth, for example, but rich people tend to educate their children in this).

    My earlier point is that being well-off in a badly-off world creates an incentive to either be figuratively blind or literally morally idiotic (a pun, as an ‘idiot’ was originally a citizen who though only of himself, and never for the polis). Either the rich don’t notice how badly-off so many are, or they notice and convince themselves that this is so for very good reasons and that all is right as right can be; this second course has created a veritable industry in think-tanks dedicated to telling the rich that they deserve every penny and that the less-well-off are so because they are morally, culturally, and intellectually inferior.

    If a rich person avoids either ill, she is left with being unhappy over the state of the world. Some people can’t live with this; the false paths described super make fine opiates. Others are too honest to reject either seeing or moral sentiment, or have had the unfairness of reality thrust upon them often and sharply enough that they viscerally understand.

    But again, there is always incentive for them not to care. Don’t hate them for this, for that’s privileging the gut over the brain, and that’s the fundamental problem.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Grady Lee Howard – I think I saw your guest appearance on Stephen Colbert one night?

    Did you see Stephen’s rant at Mika Brezinski last week on Palin? It is a must see for all of us, and will get him yet another award I think.

    Brett @ 2:39 Wow!

  • TomK

    There will always be inequality, there should always be inequality. The question is, how much? The difference between 50s and 60s America with a CEO making 50x a worker’s wages, and contemporary America after 30 years of tax cuts and job-killing deregulation, is immense! A CEO or bankster today is as far above an average citizen as a medieval Lord was above his peasants. That is not the America I love! Extreme inequality promotes financial crashes and ultimately, revolutions. In the long term it will be better even for the oligarchs if we get back to a middle class society.

  • Zinovy Vayman, Allston

    This discussion could run only after answering THE QUESTION “Why are the Germanic people ahead of the rest of our Planet?”
    What is their secret?

  • Mari

    “It doesn’t take an education or a large intellect to run an investment bank into the ground, and then bill the public for the crime. That kind of talent can be found at the local car wash.”- Zeno

    Yes, it’s all about “who you know” on the upper end of the class scale, not what you know. Good job opportunities had always been awarded this way in the USA, prior to affirmative action, I’m told by my elders.

    The only difference between then and now is the vastness of the shift in economic disparity by volume: 90% of EVERYTHING currently belongs to 1% of the population.

    If this ain’t medieval style feudalism, revisited, I’ll eat my volume of the Canterbury Tales. Might have to, actually, since I’m one of the poor (but smart) peons at the bottom of the class structure. That leather cover should fricassee about as nicely as the Little Tramp’s shoe uppers.
    -Sent from Quincy Point, MA

  • Lydia, MDiv


    So you don’t like scriptural passages–you say I make you sick for supposedly reverting to automatic thought and belief in a deity to help in matters of inequality.
    On the contrary–the whole point is there is no deity to help with this. It’s up to the human animals to curb their appetities and to work for better equality. It can be done. Sell your possessions, give the money to the needy, want less “stuff,” live in ways sustainable for the environment and for justice for all.

    These ancient texts point out ancient wisdom. The poor, the hungry, the immigrant (“alien, stranger in your land”) have always been part of societies through the ages. The societies that have been strongest, healthiest, mentally and physically, have been those who took care of those at the bottom of the economic heap, not solely for religious reasons but because without that effort to share and to level inequities, there will eventually be chaos: homocide, war, injustice, disease, mental stress (the absence of all of which can be viewed as heaven for those inclined to think in those terms). Problems we still have, now. This new book is repeating with scientific data, graphs, and charts, what has long been ancient wisdom. Listen to the older version or not. The message is the same as the ones the authors are providing in today’s show.

  • Zeno

    @ Mari – We will never run out of CEO material in the US. Here is the latest batch getting ready for those Mega salaried jobs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b7mwTK564o

    Almost makes me wish for some catastrophic event that would change the paradigm from favoring their survival to one that favors ours. It would be good to watch them struggle and wither for a change.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Lydia, I went to college with a woman who like me was a religion major, and she came to tell me, about 20 years out of college, that she was giving up her marriage and becoming part of a religious unit that sounded a lot like a monastery, committed to poverty, chastity, and obedience — and above all, service. The women would work together to provide what was determined were needed services to their locality. I have advocated for revivals of that sort of charitable organization, both for the participants and for the localities.
    However, whereas it may have provided most of what was needed in the Middle Ages, I’m not convinced it can do the same in the modern world. Would you have a religiously enabled R&D facility to combat tuberculosis? If this were the Holy Roman Empire, the orthodox church would BE the government, and private enterprise was barely getting on its feet to offer banks as alternatives for financing, whether of the crusades with their various ambitions or for other quests.
    I’m not a historian, but I think a person disembarrassed of much of the wherewithal of modern life might lose the ability to contribute his or her best. My friend, I think, could be placed and provided by her chosen place with all she needed to do what she felt called to do. I don’t think she was carving out any new pathways that required resources.
    Years ago, I heard an internationally prize-winning scientist and philosopher spell this out as follows, more or less. People have a basic level of need in order to enable them to give their best. Some people need one set of things as an enabling environment; others need others. (What if you come up short, I thought. Never mind if you have more.)
    My own experience in managing very close to the edge is that it made me sick and isolated, and, because of both, far less “able” in many, many ways. I am quite aware that no safety net would catch me, although I am very happy a safety net would catch most people. I was well positioned to learn about going the path less traveled; that’s for sure.
    Anyway, the ideas about the immediacy of individuals’ capacity to accomplish so much for their fellow man/woman is ground zero of most religions, it seems to me, and Brett’s example above is a fine one.
    But I think individual objectives (as to others) and self-control (call it that, maybe) is just one part of creating a planet we want to live in. We say we want to keep religion out of government, and yet a unified approach to the difficulties of human life is pretty much a shared undertaking for religion and government. Ancient scripture did not arrive at times when government was split out from worship the way we have it now, and the responsibilities — personal versus communal, moral versus legal — are forever getting reapportioned. I would not say religious conviction can overcome inequalities, but I think the sense of justice is inborn. Ask the nearest three-year-old.

  • Karl

    Religion is the opiate of the masses.

  • geffe

    This essay by Robert Reich, who I think sums up this subject quite well, is well worth reading. Why was he not on this show?


    It’s pretty simple really: wages have remained flat for over 25 years for most working stiffs and they are now falling. The top 2% have more the largest piece of the pie since the 1920′s. You want to have riots and violence keep this BS up.

  • http://www.mikeszine.com mikey

    I’m always annoyed when I hear the Capitalim-Socialism argument. Maybe we should go with common sense. I don’t see many six year olds who own hedge funds so maybe children should be excluded from the “free market” and given a good education and health care. It is idiotic to apply the free market to people who obviously have no choice to compete in the free market disabled, children etc.

    On the side I have no idea why a forty year old man should receive anything more than minimal unemployment insurance and no one deserves a lifetime of welfare payments.

    In addition the free market theory leaves almost no room for our societies most pressing problem – corruption. Any legitimation regulation of corruption in business is spun by Republicans as anti-business. As if selling AAA rated synthetic securities with 100% losses is the same as the government telling a kid what to sell at his lemonade stand.

    You can achieve great wealth in America by creating a great product, idea, or innovation. Or you can deliberately misrepresent costs in mortgage documents, credit card statements, student loan forms and quarterly reports and make much more money.

    Our biggest problem is that the Republican incentive structure in business so rewards graft, corruption, misrepresentation, usury, greed, and fraud that we are overwhelming entrepreneurship, innovation, cost efficiency and all the other noble fruits of free enterprise. We are turning America into one giant network marketing scheme where tricking your neighbor into a bad financial decision is more lucrative than delivering a great product.

  • Rons

    Inequality is neither good nor bad — it just IS. Some people are taller, smarter, or more talented than others. It is a fact of nature, and no matter how desperate we are to change it, any attempts to artificially ‘create’ equality is a fool’s errand.

  • Ron

    Mikey: “I don’t see many six year olds who own hedge funds so maybe children should be excluded from the “free market” and given a good education and health care. It is idiotic to apply the free market to people who obviously have no choice to compete in the free market disabled, children etc.”

    Of course six-year olds don’t have the ability to start hedge funds. They’re the responsibility of the parents. And the disabled aren’t hindered by the free market. If anything, the prosperity fostered under free markets provides for the possibility of a better life than under any other economic system. Why do you assume that charity and the free market cannot co-exist? What makes you think corruption isn’t a problem in centrally planned economies?

    Ask poor children, the disabled or the poverty-stricken how much better their outlook is under fascist dictatorships, commissars or the politburo.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com John Hamilton

    Another way of looking at this topic is in terms of simple correlation. We have a highly unequal distribution of income and wealth, and our entire social system is collapsing. Our regulatory function is effectively corrupt, subservient to the interests of the rich. We are doing nothing to counter the effects of climate change, largely due to the control by the wealthy over the political process.

    Because of the way the laws, the enforcement of the laws, and the making of the laws have all been given over to the interests of the wealthy, the country is controlled by large corporations, chiefly in the petroleum, banking, pharmaceutical and “defense” industries.

    Rather than complain (whine) about this, I prefer to observe, and to suggest an alternative. This system will collapse of its own corrupt weight. We are already getting greatly diminishing returns to our increments of warfare and subversion of democracy around the planet. The Pentagon budget is bankrupting our treasury. We are polluting our waters with excreted medicines, many of which are bogus anyway. Oil will soon become prohibitively expensive. The banking system is on the verge of another implosion.

    We don’t have a political class or a business class that are either capable or willing to make any significant changes in how the system functions. Therefore, the system will continue at its merry pace until it falls off its wall, ala Humpty Dumpty. At least with visionaries like these authors we have some groundwork which can be useful when creating a new system. We will know what not to do. I mean we rhetorically, of course. I likely won’t be around by the time we get around to creating a genuine civilization.

    Madison, Wisconsin

  • Georgia Gilliam

    As a disabled older American that started working & paying into taxes at 8yo (1956) & have been up & down the economic scale, but now down, the inequality is supreme. Besides the strife of poverty, age & ill health that affects people, We who are impoverished are denigrated & disrespected daily by the media & the American Public influenced by the media.

    The Middle Class is so worried about it’s slide down the economic ladder (pushed down by CEO’s that expect to make , not earn, Billion$ off of the Middle Classes’s lives) they too willingly & thoughtlessly attack the Poor as a whole clumping the Elderly, lower wage workers, & single parents into the stereotyping of Poor = Criminal or Lazy.

    Daily, today, I argue with others online that Poor does Not mean Illegal Immigrant. In CA discussing possibly more cuts to Assistance programs which were cut 37% under Governor Schwarzenneggar, the Middle Class quickly hijacks the discussion to be an assault on Illegal Immigrats claiming its all their fault. But which comes down to sweeping American Poor & Dependant under the rug, pushed to the back of the bus behind not only the Middle Class but behind Illegal Immigrants, behind criminals.

    How does this affect our spirit & health? Dangerously. I have pondered suicide not because I want to die but because my whole history is now ciphered as worthless as I am hated for existing in need, & with no prospects, resources or hope to change my economic state. Disabled Elderly Women are starting to beg at market parking lots in our area with signs that say: JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE. & they mean it literally.

    The irony of the middle class coming to hate Assistance Programs is that I once had similiar views until Our American Programs netted me & I came to understand how Us helping Our own is one of Our Greatest American traits. But We are watching as this greatness is being torn down. So the next question is what will America do when all the poor, the children the elderly have no income, are starving in the streets? Hate us for being an ugly sight ruining their day?

  • Ron

    Georgia: “The irony of the middle class coming to hate Assistance Programs is that I once had similiar views until Our American Programs netted me & I came to understand how Us helping Our own is one of Our Greatest American traits. But We are watching as this greatness is being torn down. So the next question is what will America do when all the poor, the children the elderly have no income, are starving in the streets?”

    This sort of outcome will be inevitble for EVERYONE because the “assistance programs” have officially run out of money. Has it occured to you that those programs are being paid for by money that doesn’t exist? Money that’s being printed out of thin air? Today, Social Security pays out more than it collects — a point that we weren’t supposed to see for a few more decades.

    This country, this GOVERNMENT, is broke. Plain and simple. The money isn’t there. “Assistance programs” might be a wonderful thing — but not if the cash you’re getting is worthless.

    One other thing. I see those people too – poor souls in the parking lots with signs saying “NEED HELP – GOD BLESS”. They get a buck or two, then it’s off to Seven Eleven for some beer. Don’t be fooled.

    Virginia Beach

  • Isernia

    The pastor of our suburban mainline church asked a group of active, intelligent lay members to suggest, organize and implement programs for the church’s adult education. He approved highly of my discussion group suggestion -with the theme of
    “A Moral and Ethical Issue: POVERTY AND DECLINE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS.” Though the program was well publicized, only three people out of 300 active members wanted to participate. These are upper middle class folks with big hearts and open pocket books when it comes to writing checks for urban mission programs. However, looking at the larger issues and the effects of income disparity in America seemed too overwhelming. Denial, or perhaps, averting ones eyes from the deeper issues and causes of our social ills is endemic in America today.
    Another lesson learned…it is easier to deal with local realities of poverty and destitution than to think in world terms about them….as in the Spirit Level. i.e. Easier to knit mittens for needy inner-city schools than to face the health, crime, and social discontent stats that come with disparity of income and lack of opportunity in nations.
    Amherst (Buffalo)

  • Samuel Angol

    Hi, I live in the Greater Orlando area in Florida! I enjoy hearing experts discuss their findings on this specific topic. Wilkinson and Pickett verbalized a lot of things that I’ve believed intuitively for some time. Excellent show!

  • Brett

    “They’re [children] the responsibility of the parents. And the disabled aren’t hindered by the free market. If anything, the prosperity fostered under free markets provides for the possibility of a better life than under any other economic system. Why do you assume that charity and the free market cannot co-exist?” -Ron

    What??? Orphaned children can’t rely on their parents, can they? Charity alone can not provide for people with disabilities, or orphaned children, or children with disabilities, or orphaned children with disabilities. Poor parents often can’t provide adequate care to their children with disabilities, unless one wants to use a Dickensian paradigm for human services.

    I also think it would be more accurately put to say that the free market isn’t hindered by people with disabilities rather than saying “the disabled aren’t hindered by the free market.” It would probably be better to say neither, if one wishes to sound intelligent or informed.

    As far as free markets go, people with disabilities CAN be “fostered under free markets” and CAN be provided with “…the possibility of a better life,” sure…well, if the person with a disability is wealthy, anyway. In the past two decades there have been some experiments by for-profit organizations to provide services to poor people with disabilities, with mixed results… results ranging from being woefully inadequate to downright disastrous, that is. And, even if a poor person with a disability/orphaned child is served by a for-profit agency, that agency is still going to charge him/her a fee; his/her ability to pay will come out of his/her SSI, SSA or Medicaid, though. After all, what for-profit company is going to provide services for free/at a net loss? Even churches have to be exempt FROM taxes to operate with any reasonable way to balance their books.

    Charity can lighten the load, so to speak, but, again, it can’t alone provide adequate services.

    It simply is not productive to wave one’s hand and say “This country, this GOVERNMENT, is broke” as an answer to looking at the complex problems of helping people with disabilities become productive members of society without sounding simplistic or ignorant of people with disabilities/the human services field.

    Local and state governments that invest in good prenatal and neonatal care, in addition to good early intervention services, save money in the long run. If they don’t provide those services early on, children grow into adults who then need more expensive services, and they do not become productive members of society.

    Also, in helping people with disabilities transition into competitive employment—a goal we can all agree is a worthwhile one—most employers (the so-called free market) will not take a chance on hiring and training people with disabilities without some sort of subsidy provided by GOVERNMENT/the utilization of a governmental service agency of some kind…I don’t know, maybe it is different on the planet where you live?

    By the way, your view of people with disabilities standing around parking lots asking for spare change to buy beer is, at best, narrow and stereotypical. It’s nothing more than a variation on the old “welfare queens” characterization. Maybe you should go visit some human services programs and see real people with disabilities; it might begin a much needed education for you, Ron. Maybe even visit a program in Virginia, then go visit another program in another state, say, South Carolina, to see the contrast. Virginia Beach has some excellent programs; if you like I could recommend some.

  • Mark in Cary

    There’s a National Geographic special on Netflix that deals with stress. The researcher has been doing that research for 30+ years, and has studied baboons. You’ll have to watch to see why he chose them. Conclusion – station in society is the biggest impact on one’s health and quality of life.

    Big surprise. Those with more live longer and better.

    No wonder they fight for the status quo.

  • Joseph

    Ron wrote: “Inequality is neither good nor bad — it just IS. Some people are taller, smarter, or more talented than others. It is a fact of nature, and no matter how desperate we are to change it, any attempts to artificially ‘create’ equality is a fool’s errand.”

    You make is sound as though wealth is an immutable genetic characteristic like height, intelligence, talent in any area. No it is not. As the study discussed in the program plainly illustrated different countries have widely varying degrees of economic inequality and this results in negative effects as inequality rises. That is unless you think that American’s have in inequality gene that people in Sweden, Japan, etc. don’t have? Now granted during the last 30 years America has gone well down the road to making wealth an inherited result, but this has nothing to do with genetics or any natural law. Also some one like Congressman Paul Ryan would like to cement this in place with his Road Map for America that calls for no taxation of the wealthy (completely eliminating taxes on capital gains, interest, and dividend income and completely eliminating the estate tax). A more proper name for his plan should be Map for a Road Paved with Gold for the Wealthy and a Dead End Road for the Rest.

    I know a woman in my town who works two jobs, a full time job during the day as a cashier in a market and four hours as a bar maid six days a week. With all this effort she does not make more than $30,000 a year. This compared to a corporate CEO that might make $100 million. I bring this up to illustrate that America is so far gone down the road of inequality that we can not even hope to turn it around and achieve a situation like that in Japan where gross income inequality is so far less. Only with government intervention in the picture as in Sweden will it be possible to achieve any sort of healthy balance.

    Ron wrote: “Ask poor children, the disabled or the poverty-stricken how much better their outlook is under fascist dictatorships, commissars or the politburo.”

    Nice straw man argument. No one is suggesting Fascism or a dictatorship, just something more like a social DEMOCRACY as in Sweden.

    Ron wrote: “This sort of outcome will be inevitble for EVERYONE because the “assistance programs” have officially run out of money. Has it occured to you that those programs are being paid for by money that doesn’t exist? Money that’s being printed out of thin air? Today, Social Security pays out more than it collects — a point that we weren’t supposed to see for a few more decades.

    This country, this GOVERNMENT, is broke. Plain and simple. The money isn’t there. “Assistance programs” might be a wonderful thing — but not if the cash you’re getting is worthless.”

    The money is running out because of an unwillingness to collect it. Our current national debt is also intimately tied to the rise in income inequality over the last 30 years. Fiscally irresponsible tax cuts led to decades of deficits and build up of debt. The accumulation of wealth at the top did not happen in a vacuum. Government spending continued over those years maintaining a society that made that wealth accumulation possible. The bill is now due and one of the first place to look for payment is from the people who most benefited from these years of Reagan/Bush trickle down voodoo economics.

  • Marc

    So, you’ve got an advocacy group for equality that comes out with a study that says obesity, illiteracy, homicides, health, mental illness, immune system, kids dropping out of high school, bad breath, whatever is caused to a large extent by inequality. And the suffering is caused largely because they are disrespected??? And to make it sillier, the rich in countries with great inequality suffer as well – cause they feel bad? This is so biased, they deserve a Nobel prize.

    I think that there is gross inequality in the US. That CEOs make so much, for example, is just bad for the country. But studies like this are more simplistic, agenda driven sales pitches than real analysis.

    What a couple of light weights.

  • http://www.dogoodgauge.com/site/DoGoodGauge/page_contents/display/145 The Do Good Gauge

    The people have it within their power to change the economic disparity. A revolution is not required. Start small, one district at a time.

    Click on the “Posted by” name to read a proposal titled Democracy Rules. The entirety of the website describes how internet technology can facilitate democracy through civil discourse.

    Please, let’s start the discussion. Change will occur through collaboration, not funding.

  • http://www.kodiakbrewery.com Ben Millstein

    Equality does not have to mean equal outcome, just equal opportunity.

    Kodiak, AK

  • http://www.mikeylong.com Michael Long


    I love the Communist Dictatorship argument. You completely missed my point. Do you really think the only choices are Communist Dictatorship or Free Market? Do I have to live in Soviet Russia where all commerce is controlled or a failed state where no commerce is controlled? Every western country on earth aside from the United States recognizes that some people are not capable of competing in the free market such as children or those with a physical or mental disability.

    Ron illustrates the problem with American ideology. He sees the world as simply a choice between Capitalism and Socialism. A more accurate view of modern America is that it is a struggle between two types of Capitalism. In entrepreneurial capitalism you attempt to make money through innovation, efficiency and opportunity. Society must create a fertile ground for this through education, and fair representation in judiciary and political processes.

    America used to practice entrepreneurial capitalism but in recent years we have moved more toward an oligarchic type of Capitalism. In this type of Capitalism no regulation is required. The judiciary and political process can be purchased. You don’t need to innovate in an oligarchy because you can squelch competition. It is almost impossible to compare products – the market doesn’t work because you can never understand the “real price” which is hidden in the details of the contract. Great examples of this type of Capitalism are credit cards, student loans, synthetic financial assets and just about every other business that competes on how much they can misrepresent the price of what they are actually selling. Until the market begins to work again, until executives are incentively to create successful companies instead of quarterly bonuses. We will continue to suffer for our stupidity.

  • CS in NY

    The Nat Geo documentary highlighting Sapolsky’s field studies on primate stress and health, mentioned by Mark above: (also found on Netflix) http://www.pbs.org/stress/
    I wish it had been mentioned during the program because it adds important scientific evidence to the discussion. We can argue about political policies to no end, but research such as this makes indisputable the effects of stress (and its various social/economic causes). Thanks for the show and discussion.

  • Alex Wolf

    We need to put things in perspective.

    Things have not gotten so much worse in America as many here say. But things elsewhere have gotten so much better (than they were), that to many the actual American Way of Life in USA comparatively seems less attractive than it was.

    Secondly, the general view of the future in America is much worse than it used to be. And I think, justifiably so, given that the Nation as a whole gives no sign of being ready to do what it takes to achieve a turnaround.

    Also in politics there are far too few real conservatives in financial matters (people who do not object to justified spending but do not tolerate waste or pork spendings) and too many ossified political Conservatives oblivious to the the needs of social justice and the future of the economy. There also are excessively powerful special interests, both in business and organized labor.

  • Edward Owens

    Wow! On Point’s ability to bring us ground breaking reporting on things we already know is amazing.

    Keep up the good work while I continue to listen to Digital Audio Books at work instead of NPR the National Propaganda Regurgitator.

    Now how about another Global Warming – Carbon Taxing debate between two guys who are really on the same side like you had before. That was very enlightening. It enlightened me to NPR selling out.

  • Joan

    The author is right the moral must guide the technical
    not the other way around as it is today…

    Corporations and their technology and waste are such a destructive force to the enviroment today….They must be reined in and be made accountable and pay their fair

  • http://twitter.com/sgsilver Steve S.

    I was disappointed that gender inequality was not mentioned at all in the discussion.

  • http://www.saleemali.net Saleem H. Ali (Vermont)

    Finally a good empirical conversation on inequality.

    I had a rather unpleasant encounter with the British Minister for International Development on this topic. He was reluctant to even consider the issue and responded with frightful arrogance:

    Here is a link to an article I wrote about my experience:


    Also a radio commentary for Vermont Public Radio on this theme:


  • Jarrod Barnett

    Just did anyone notice that all the countries that have higher equality have no military to keep up? This allows them to have more money to make people more equal. Especially when they are not in war with anyone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/merit.tukiainen Merit Tukiainen

      FYI Finland has a very important and efficient military which regularly participates in UN peacekeeping missions.

  • Alexis Meza

    Inequality has always been present, if we look back at history there has always been inequality. Nowadays, I think inequality has come out of control. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket said that the U.S.A is one of the top countries in which inequality is greatly present. There is a visible gap between the rich and the poor, and unemployment is increasing. There are many causes to health problems among the different economic classes, and I do agree to some extent that inequality can be a factor. People that can not provide for their family have a lot of stress, not having a job causes a lot of stress because then you don’t have money. Stress is a sickness, it causes for your nerves to be a wreck and it can lead to depression. Depression can lead to suicide, and suicide is a cause of how some people find escape from their awful situation. So I do agree with the co-authors of The Spirit Light, I think that a more equal economy is a healthier way to run a nation. The wealth can be equally distributed, but it can also have some kind of competency among the individuals. Innovation can still be present, and inequality can go down. It is hard to achieve an equal nation, but if nothing is done soon, more people are going to keep suffering.

  • Austin

    I think that it is interesting that we can link all these health, and community problems to the inequality of wealth in areas. I am thankful to live in America, where it was pointed out that due to a middle class the severity of the problems we encounter due to inequality are not as severe as a whole country. Being a college kid, I feel as though the main goal in life is to make it to the top tier of the economy. College kids are pressured so much to be successful that the thought of failure can drive some of us mad. Some main problems that can come from this are depression, stress, and irritability. If we could strive for more equal economic dispersion, than we (as a country) can be a more healthy and happy place.

  • Hilary

    I think it is very interesting that in this show it mentions how inequality can bring your health down. It can cause stress physically because everyone wants to get to the top. It can become physically exhausting. I think its neat how thing we dont think about daily can really cause health problems in us all.

  • Michael

    Inequality, the sense of social disparity, has been and always will be wherever you go. I agree that it can lead to stress and minor health issues, but only if you allow it to affect you that severely. Everyone wants to make a name for themself in this world, and make millions while doing so. If this is what you want….DO IT! Now we are talking about the increasing measure of inequality, but why are we only focusing on one’s wealth? Wealth has become the focus of the world and will always divide people into classes. Maybe to take away from so much stress we could remember that all people are equal despite what their bank account says.

  • Julien From Lexington KY

    Inequalities has been in our societies since the 10th century . It will always be there in the next 500 years.
    People think that Inequalities is wrost TODAY because with the INTERNET and the easy access to NEWS and the Globalisation, the average people are much more inform and aware of whats going on in Comparaison to the PAST where people were LESS aware of whats going on outside of their small town . Technology has raise much more CONCERNS and AWARNESS which give us the ILLUSION that things are getting wrost since its more in front of our eyes and in every days conversation with the influence of the Media and information Technology .

  • http://taxcutsfortherich,thepoorbedamned john shaw

    What Killed the Most Robust Economy on the Worlds History
    Is Everyone Missing the 800 lbs Tax Guerilla in the Room?
    It Was The Bush Tax Cuts Stupid
    Sometimes problems can seem so complex yet the answer is staring us right in the face. Such is the case of the Great Recession and now this slow moving recovery.
    When GW took over the reigns as Commander in Chief, the economy that he inherited was said to be so strong and self regulating that recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past. Yet due to his genius he managed to screw it up.
    Why blame Bush? Well let’s see. By pandering to corporate America he borrowed money during a time of war and lowered taxes so low that it also stalled the economy. But wait you say, Republicans following W’s genius say that extremely lower taxes spur the economy, right?
    Well let’s go back to the only thing that Bush actually did to affect the economy and we will find ourselves at the Bush tax cuts.
    Why did this so hurt the US economy?
    1) At a time of war when revenues needed to increase to keep from borrowing more and more money, W, in his genius gave the US a HUGE tax cut. Kind of like telling your employer that you want a HUGE pay cut right after you buy the most expensive home you can.
    2)The tax cuts accomplished more than plummeting the US into huge unsustainable debt.
    3)The W tax cuts also completely stalled the huge US economy. Wait a minute, how could cutting taxes stall this huge economy? The W tax cuts created a disincentive for the small business man from hiring and investing in his own company. In the 90s when tax rates were higher, small businesses would look for ways to hire new employees or buy that next piece of equipment they were putting off buying when their taxable income got close to the next incrementally higher tax rate. Incrementally higher tax rates actually motivates every business of every size to hire employees and purchase equipment they would normally put off just to keep themselves under the next incrementally higher tax rate.
    After the Bush tax cuts took affect, a new business gauge became popular. Its called the “Business Efficiency Rating. This is a rating that shows how businesses are doing more with less. Less investment and fewer employees. This is due to the lack of tax incentives that disappeared after the W tax cuts. This was great for Wall Street as it made company profits rise and bad for Main St. Do you see a Republican pattern here?
    If 2M small businesses are moved to hire just 2 employees per year to stay under the next incrementally higher tax rate, then that would add 4M new jobs a year or an additional 340,000 jobs per month. At current rates of 150,000 jobs per month, this would add close to 500K jobs per month, that would be enough jobs to bring us out of this jobs recession
    John Shaw is a financial strategist, author, mortgage broker & Realtor. He has served in the mortgage, real estate and service sector for more than 25 years and has owned and managed his own companies during that time.. Reach him at (336) 345-9306 or johnrichardshaw@gmail.com

  • Slipstream

    Very important topic, and I wish more could be done it, but I fear that at this time not much can be done. Certainly the power that the extreme right wing has these days would make attempts to reduce inequality virtually impossible. Look at the Citizens United decision, which reversed decades of precedents, and said yes, the polticial process is up for sale, it is a matter of free speech. And the Religious Right will support this stuff too, never mind what Jesus had to say on the subject.

    But I don’t think the right bears all the blame. For a while there America was one of the greatest societies, maybe the greatest, in human history, with a strong middle class and very little poverty. Unions were a big part of this. But our unions are now often devoted solely to protecting the salaries and pensions of long-term members, and not to the good of society. And another big problem is that poor folks tend to multiply at much higher rates than upper and middle class people do, thus pushing up the poverty rates. I say we need population controls, along with a stronger middle class. But this will be hard to accomplish with the likes of John Roberts and Mitch McConnell running things.

  • Kenny

    Great article, so true I feel. But one musing, is it the economic disparity that is effecting the values of the society? Or is it the values of the society effecting the disparity?
    Kenny from Wisconsin

  • Brennan511

    ["Hi Tom" {I just want tobe NORMAL, geo-naturallyseasonal flight by knite...}]
    cooperation & social inclusion and selling your self at “market” is a HIGHLY QUANTIFYABLE geographic & normative equation, that undermines our greed [ambiguity...] the TYN man [A.N.N.Y.T.] is the safety we LOVE & DESERVE …quantitatively -a love of specific qualities and surgical removal of IGNorance in foreIGN desIGN and ISOL…ation.
    the “ISO” [isometric] aint an “isol” , but GODS HAND scientifically directE

  • Brennan511

    Inequality within a specific socio-economic [indeed ethnic] Class is the real “react-able” SECONDARY NORMS [geo cultural] that ‘witch…’ you can’t see [consummerism -loosing, despite money]
    The person who has “the right stuff” for their CLASS and culture, but is “growing up” in the worst possible geographic location [1st gen], that is UNNATURAL INEQUALITY, that is the invisible “burn/scar”. the “TYN”-man will quietly make tears,,,[injustice]; consume oil [confusion] and global warming; and in moral desperation/lonelyness do drugs or AX the virgins.
    ?TYN is the inequality FULCRUM to leverage social justice [geo-youth of normative dys-history 1st gen.
    WAR is the greatest cop out to this QUANTIFIED SCIENCE t.y.n. A.N.N.Y.T. the filter that will ID & liberate specific statistics

  • Anonymous

    All of the very equal countries are also highly homogeneous.

  • Anonymous

    …just looked it up, the more equal U.S. States are also more homogeneous. (Vermont 98% White / New Hampshire 97% vs. New York State 75% White)

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