• Tag Archives politics
  • 5 Spooky Facts about Power and Inequality You Probably Didn’t Know

    What better way to get in the Halloween spirit than a spine-chilling binge of the viral Two Sentence Horror Stories on Netflix? If you still don’t get your fill, you can head over to Reddit for more “bite-sized scares.”

    Two of the most outspoken critics of economic inequality look like they’ve been working up their own scary #TwoSentenceHorrorStories leading up to Halloween:

    Power, money, influence—inequality is a frightening concern for many people. The way it is debated these days is even scarier than Demi Lovato’s infamous zombie outfit. Our former president called inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” while partisan politicians paint one side as a bunch of heartless monsters and the other side as brainless as the living dead.

    To help us all have a more informed (and civilized) conversation about this important issue, here are five facts about inequality you might not know.

    For most of human history, there was a single story of how the rich got rich. The ruling political class extracted great sums of wealth from everyone else. Kings and emperors topping the list of the 10 richest men of all time reported by the BBC earlier this year include Mansa Musa I, Genghis Khan, Emperor Akbar I, and William the Conqueror.

    Only recently, through the expansion of market economies in the late 19th and 20th centuries, have entrepreneurs and business tycoons cracked the list of the world’s wealthiest.

    There is something quite different about the fortunes amassed by plunder and those generated by providing the world with Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook.

    Entrepreneurs can generate enormous wealth by making people in society better off. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, like the old days, we also see the politically connected working with government agencies to rig profits.

    When thinking about economic inequality in our modern world, we should be careful to differentiate between the economic means and the political means of obtaining wealth.

    This differentiation also helps illuminate the real worries people have about inequality, which brings us to my next observation.

    I’ve been reading everything from Teen Vogue to the Economic Policy Institute to understand what people are saying about economic inequality. The challenges are nuanced, but the primary concerns young people have are crystal clear—it’s all about power.

    Those attacking inequality emphasize the fear that wealth means the power to control. It’s as if the rich are a species of vampire who prey on the weak and feed on the blood of their victims. Once charmed, the victim will obey the vampire master’s command for eternity.

    There is truth to the age-old story of plunder by the ruling class, and everyone agrees that power corrupts. So, even if we differentiate between the economic means and the political means of acquiring wealth, shouldn’t we be worried that the wealthy possess too much power?

    In their study of markets and corruption, Georgetown University’s Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski concluded:

    [P]olitics corrupts markets. The more politicized an economy becomes, the more private actors try to rig regulations and the law to cheat consumers and competitors. Instead of trying to keep the nasty market away from pristine politics, we should be trying to keep nasty politics away from the market.

    Reaching a similar conclusion, the 2018 Economic Freedom of the World report suggests an

    …intrinsic link between economic freedom and other measures of human well-being—such as infant mortality, equality, happiness, and extreme poverty rates.

    Additional studies of the 50 states discovered that limiting the size of government, the level of taxation, and the level of labor market regulation decreases inequality and increases incomes of the poorest 20 percent at the state level.

    Your concern that some people have too much power is justified, but this is a problem with politics, not wealth. High levels of government control over the economy tend to breed corruption and structural inequality. Open markets of dynamic cooperation tend to decrease inequality and increase wealth for the most disadvantaged.

    Any good politician knows perception matters more than reality. Facts don’t win emotional arguments. You can actually drive a person further away by offering corrective information that challenges a wrong view or seems to dismiss their own personal experience.

    When someone contradicts our views in a debate about a sensitive topic like inequality, our bodies respond in much the same was as being physically attacked. Like being chased by a chainsaw-wielding monster in a haunted house, our natural response is fight or flight.

    In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt offers insights from moral psychology we can use to navigate ideologically charged conversations and help build bridges of understanding.

    Haidt’s lesson is one of humility. We are all much less rational than we think. Our emotional intuitions come first, and then we engage in “motivated reasoning