The fruits of inequality

10 08 2011

The newspapers, televisions and radios are full of commentators trying to make sense of the terrible events taking place in Britain.

While there is no excuse for criminality or violence, and I am in no way defending the people taking part in this, there is one particular line of speculation which rings true with me. And I am going out on a limb because I know that some of you, and even some of my dear friends, will find what I am about to propose to be anathema.

Desperate people do desperate things
There is a growing body of evidence that shows that the gap between rich and poor is associated with a grab-bag of negative indicators in society: criminality, violence, incarceration rates, drug use, teenage pregnancy, high abortion rates, poor education rates, unemployment, poor health, (etc).

It seems that it is not poverty in and of itself that is the issue, it is being poor while your neighbours are wealthy. It is the comparative disadvantage that drives people to despair and desperation. It is the lack of hope, that you can ever compete, ever claw your way up the slippery slope.

Following this theory, and excluding instances of severe deprivation such as is currently happening in the horn of Africa, being poor when all around you are approximately the same level of poverty, is OK psychologically.

This fits in with psychological theory (and my psychologist friends can fill me on on the name of the theory) about happiness being a relative term. If you are miserable and everyone else around you is miserable, this is tolerable – normal even. But if you are miserable surrounded by happy people – that makes your misery less bearable.

I am not trying to say that being wealthy is a bad thing. It sure beats the alternative. I think what those who are blessed or lucky, or whatever your understanding of all this is, need to ensure that they don’t pull the ladder up behind them. By all means climb the ladder – just make sure it is there for others as well. Maybe what we all need to survive collectively as a species and as a community, to avoid becoming desperate, is hope.

In the recent GFC apparently a large number of youth centres and clubs were shut down. While the British Government may congratulate itself on its cost cutting to keep the British economy out of the crises currently hitting Greece, Ireland and hanging over the heads of other European countries, the people paying this price are the youth in the lower socio-economic classes. Apparently they don’t feel they have anything to lose.

I spent some time tonight trying to find a website that used to exist that linked all of this data. I couldn’t find it. But I did find a number of articles from peer-reviewed journals that covered the same ground. If you are interested, try googling “gap between rich and poor” and “crime rate” or any of the above indicators.

Hindsight is a marvellous thing.

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