UNDESA World Social Report 2020
February 15, 2020 4:42 AM   Subscribe

U.N. warns that runaway inequality is destabilizing the world’s democracies. The U.N. report is unusually clear-eyed on the power dynamics underlying today’s inequality struggles. “People in positions of power tend to capture political processes, particularly in contexts of high and growing inequality,” the report states. “Efforts to reduce inequality will inevitably challenge the interests of certain individuals and groups. At their core, they affect the balance of power.
posted by smoke (21 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sufficiently large concentrations of private wealth is an attack vector for democracies. High marginal tax rates, socialized medicine, trustworthy publicly-funded media and well-funded public education, in a modern information economy those are all elements of national defence.
posted by mhoye at 5:42 AM on February 15 [27 favorites]


Runaway inequality is eroding trust in democratic societies and paving the way for authoritarian and nativist regimes to take root, according to a dire new report from the United Nations.
Filing that one under No Shit, Sherlock.

Seems to me that if you need to read a UN report to grasp this particular aspect of the bleedin' obvious, you've simply not been paying attention.
posted by flabdablet at 5:56 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Filing that one under No Shit, Sherlock.


It's certainly easy to say that in a snaky kind of way, but if you talk to a wide range of people, at least certainly in Australia, there are many who do not feel that way at all.

Witness attacks on Labor at the last election, calling their absolutely milquetoast centrism "socialism".

Indeed, if reaction to franking credits, moves to means test tax breaks etc is any illustration, the only agreement you'll find in who the elite is, is "not me".

Villains are typically foreigners or their companies, politicians, unions, a few "heel" multinationals etc. Witness the whinging about cgt on properties for Australianslliving overseas coming in.

This is a real failure of our education system, media, and politicians - this inability to sell the very real message that inequality hurts everyone, even the wealthy.
posted by smoke at 6:11 AM on February 15 [18 favorites]


if you talk to a wide range of people, at least certainly in Australia, there are many who do not feel that way at all.

I do. And I have been feeling absolute despair at the complete disinclination of so many to pay any attention whatsoever to politics or economics for at least two decades.

Most of Australia seems perfectly content to keep subsisting on pap extruded from the arsehole of the Murdoch media koala and watching my compatriots live that way and form their opinions that way drives me mental.
posted by flabdablet at 6:20 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


The rich have broken the social contract of liberal democracy and for what? To collect money for sport? These people have more money than one person could ever spend in a lifetime and yet they still want to rig it so they get more.

I feel like the rich are so obtuse on how far the system can be stretched that if they were to start to see their fellow upperclassmen head to the gallows, they would merely invest in guillotine futures.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:23 AM on February 15 [27 favorites]


So how do we fix it other than at the sharp end of a stick? The entire apparatus of industry, media and governance has been completely co-opted and only the thinnest veneer of "democracy" clings to it through obviously rigged elections. What do? What do?
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:27 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]


Were they thinking of Bloomberg when they wrote this? Because I sure am.
posted by Foosnark at 6:43 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=q9ZZ is a somewhat flawed measure because more of the workforce is now in "gig" jobs with no unemployment insurance coverage, but FWIW this is one measure of the health of the US economy, it graphs the # of employees / # of layoffs, i.e. how many years until everyone is laid off.

We've been on quite an excursion since 2014 -- the 2010s was the only decade on record w/o a recession in the USA.

I suspect change is only going to come when the graph goes below 2.5, not when it is above 12.5.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:29 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


seanmpuckett:

For one, stop dreaming of the sharp end of the stick. Too many people are dreaming of the People’s Revolution without considering that other People than wield sharp sticks too. In other words, a populist uprising won’t be the one we want, and even when it is, it almost always goes right to shit.

The answer is always boring: The steady accumulation of support and political power, taken through coalition building and argumentation. What other actual alternative is there?
posted by argybarg at 7:30 AM on February 15 [25 favorites]


I think this episode of Hidden Brain on the rise of "political hobbyism" did a good job of capturing how politics is increasingly like sports fandom (group allegiance, identity, national scale) and less about the accrual of actual power (community-level organizing, local politics).

Gut check: Along with your strong feelings, do you do political work at the community level? If so, good on you, and do more, because that's our only antidote.
posted by argybarg at 7:50 AM on February 15 [12 favorites]


Seems to me that if you need to read a UN report to grasp this particular aspect of the bleedin' obvious, you've simply not been paying attention.

If the report were three sentences long, this would be true. The thesis statement of a report usually isn't astounding new info; the purpose of the report is to explain how and why that's true.

"Wealth & power inequities are destroying democracy" is obvious to anyone who's been watching the news and putting together the cause-and-effect details. But when someone's not sure about that - because they haven't been avidly watching politics and news for the last half decade or so - it's useful to have a report that provides receipts.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:40 AM on February 15 [12 favorites]


Financial power has been essentially identical to political power ever sense money existed as a concept, for example see David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years. It's only in the past several hundred years that financial power and political power have been meaningfully distinct. General democracy, the idea that everyone should have political power simply because they exist, has only been around for maybe a hundred years. It's very new and fragile.

Look at this picture of Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, shaking hands with Larry Ellison, head of Oracle Corporation. Would an ancient Roman have made any distinction between these two?

Something feels wrong about framing what's happening as financial inequality destabilizing democracies. Democracy hasn't been around long enough to be stable. I wish we framed it as more goal oriented, such as whether more or less people are fed, housed, and getting needed medical care. Anyway voter turnout is consistently below 60% in the U.S. presidential elections so there's 40% of the people who don't care about democracy as such anyway.
posted by bright flowers at 8:53 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Democracy has been no great shakes, at a national level, for a long time, if ever, in the U.S. Vote every now and again, maybe write a letter to your representative, and that’s about it. That’s been federal politics my whole lifetime.

What’s different has been the collapse of local politics, such as it was. The climate activism group I help run can’t get people to stop talking about Trump. Yes, he sucks; got it. How about this fuel efficiency bill in the state House? How about canvassing for state reps who will back the fuel efficiency bill? Crickets. Everyone is so absorbed with reality-TV politics and nitwit narcissistic fantasies of “revolutions” that they won’t do the actual damned work — too boring.
posted by argybarg at 9:09 AM on February 15 [14 favorites]


> if you talk to a wide range of people, at least certainly in Australia, there are many who do not feel that way at all.

It's maddening how many people have been conditioned to fight against their own interests. Most of it hinges on the notion that all transactions are zero sum, which is soaked into their brains from birth.

For example, at my job we have regular town hall meetings with a Q&A portion done with an online form that allows anonymous questions. At the last one, I saw multiple posts complaining that our time-off policy is unfair because people are "abusing" it. These people would rather endanger their own benefits than allow someone else to possibly get more time off. It's such a narrow-minded, short-sighted mentality.

I guess my point is that one smaller facet of the income inequality problem is the sizeable chunk of the population that has been trained to accept or even embrace it. Economic quislings, I suppose.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:25 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The climate activism group I help run can’t get people to stop talking about Trump. Yes, he sucks; got it. How about this fuel efficiency bill in the state House? How about canvassing for state reps who will back the fuel efficiency bill? Crickets.

The left has been infatuated with the "brass ring" theory of politics - take control at the top, and you can get the entire system to change. It's basically trickle down politics, and works just as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:49 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


I saw multiple posts complaining that our time-off policy is unfair because people are "abusing" it.
The handful of times I've heard that IRL, the underlying complaint was more, abusing it, and then I/the team/the rest of the department scramble to cover their workload. People usually love a generous time-off policy, provided that they're not too taxed in their primary positions to take on (or, sometimes, even figure out how do -- not many companies cross-train nowadays) these additional tasks.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:47 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Would an ancient Roman have made any distinction between these two?

Presumably an ancient Roman would correctly discern that the unfathomably rich patrician who owns resources indispensable to the state is more powerful than the diplomatic functionary likely to be swept out with the next change of titular ruler.

More under the Republic than the Empire, but still.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:58 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I had been thinking of Pompeo more in the context of a Roman senator than bureaucrat but I agree with you that Pompeo specifically is much more the latter. If it had been Rex Tillerson in the picture then I would have been more on the mark.
posted by bright flowers at 2:21 PM on February 15


Iris Gambol, yeah for sure. But like how some people thrive doing remote work and others don't, that's strictly a low-level management problem. Same thing if your coworker was late every day. Bringing it up in a company-wide public forum is such a passive aggressive dick move. I think it put my back up in particular this time because I've been thinking about the captured right-wing that's been mobilized against itself and against the rest of the general public.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 3:18 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Scrapping citizens united would be nice. I don't see how though, it seems like something that's gone beyond the point of no return.

Billion dollar campaigns are pretty gross too. It doesn't seem fair that Bloomberg gets on the debate stage when other candidates had to drop out for money concerns.
posted by adept256 at 3:30 PM on February 15


It's maddening how many people have been conditioned to fight against their own interests. Most of it hinges on the notion that all transactions are zero sum, which is soaked into their brains from birth.

Coupled with the notion, with or without evidence, that the reason that they're not seeing the benefits of those transactions is because a nebulous group known as THEY are siphoning it all away through systemic abuse.

THEY vary from time and place to time and place. There are, of course, occasional individuals who do engage in benefit fraud and deception for personal gain, but much as with Republican's incessant demands for voter fraud investigation, one anecdotal example is trumpeted as proof that there are thousands or millions more engaging in the same behavior, and that fraud has become an accepted norm for those (insert a race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, place of residence, political affiliation, occupation or other distinguishing characteristic here).

It's sleight-of-hand, of course: blame the poor and unfortunate for why ridiculous amounts of America's wealth and assets get channeled to an ever-shrinking elite. Curse someone with no viable healthcare options for going to the one place where care shouldn't be denied -- the Emergency Room at the hospital -- and then blame them for why healthcare costs are so high. Accuse those who can't find meaningful work of being lazy and shiftless. Promise members of the out-group that they're supposed to be in the in-group, and that all they have to do to gain that status is vote for the right authoritarians. And yet, when they do and their situation does not improve, do they reevaluate that decision?

Of course not. It's THEIR fault, instead.
posted by delfin at 11:55 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


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