Income inequality leads to violence

The money-grubbers at banks and multinationals make our society sick

The rich are also victims of income inequality. In countries where the differences are greatest, such as South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, they live behind high walls with barbed wire. Large amounts must be spent on security. They live in fear that something will happen to their children. We are not that far in Europe yet, but we are moving in that direction. The thousands of immigrants who drop out of school and the large numbers of immigrants with no or poor education, form an increasingly large class of paupers without any future prospects. As soon as automation and robotization will virtually eliminate jobs for unskilled workers, we can expect an uprising of the hordes. The wealthy do well now to convert their villas in forts.

The link between income inequality and violence in society is undisputed. However, much more is going on. In their book 'The Inner Level: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and Improve everyone's well-being, theBritish researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are offering convincing evidence of a strong link between income inequality, physical and mental health problems and problematic social relations. In countries where income inequality is greatest, life expectancy is lower, mental disorders are more common, there is more dropout, there is less trust in each other, there is more crime and more people are in prison. There is also less social cohesion, less willingness to volunteer or to help others. The general conclusion of these researchers is that income inequality affects the heart of our well-being.

Wilkinson and Pickett also get rid of myths to properly explain income inequality, for example that the differences would stimulate creativity and initiative or that they are simply the result of tendencies inherent in human nature, such as competition, individualism and aggressiveness. In countries with high income inequality, there is more economic instability, which has an negative impact on economic growth. Moreover, it is not the lack of talent or laziness that causes low status, but it is their low status that does not offer people the opportunity to develop their talents and escape passivity.

The link between income inequality and the problems just mentioned may be causal. This is because in the event of major differences, the low status of the underclass is even more clearly expressed. This is an attack on self-esteem. People with a low social use different strategies to cope with their lack of self-esteem. A common reaction is an inflated self-image, a kind of narcissistic representation of oneself. This is reflected in the hiring of expensive cars for wedding processions or simply to drive around with friends in the city. Another reaction is consumerism, with the result that even more debts are incurred. Social media also provide an outlet for their feelings of inferiority: in countries with large differences in income, bullies are 15 percent more likely to be bullied on social media.

Now that the rich are getting richer and the middle class, along with the lower social class, have to give up more and more purchasing power, there is an increase in mental health problems: 75 percent of adults experience stress and 32 percent sometimes walk around with suicidal thoughts. The use of medication against depression is going too far. In The United States 25 percent of the population has a psychiatric disorder; in the Netherlands this is 15 percent and less than 10 percent in Japan, Germany, Spain and Italy. In the latter country the income differences are also large, but thanks to the close family ties this has less negative influence.

Do we want a safe society where everyone is supported to get out of the poverty trap? Then we must draw the consequences. I will mention a few. CEOs of major companies and banks can best return to a situation of thirty years ago where managers never earned more than ten times the salary of the average worker. However, if they find normal what in fact is abnormal, namely a salary or bonuses hundreds of times more than what their employees earn, then they must be held responsible for much psychological and social misery in the world. EU officials and members of parliament who receive salaries and pensions, which are not in proportion to what citizens earns in their own country, must be held responsible for the unbelievability of politics.

As a final conclusion, I would like to point out the immorality of immigration policy. By admitting all those immigrants who will stay unemployed,  the foundation is laid in the West for a society full of violence and psychological misery. The situation in the countries of origin will remain hopeless. The world is better served by a Europe where prosperity is not being destroyed by millions of welfare recipients and unemployed. A strong European confederation will be better able to assume its responsibility for Africa and the Middle East, provided that we retain our identity as a Jewish-Christian civilization. Isn't that a civilization where the rich are camels that can't go through the eye of a needle?

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   © Juliaan Van Acker 2024